I walked into a client’s conference room to kick off a new project a while back and noticed a stack of (printed!) PowerPoint decks in the corner. The authors were big, recognizable names in the advisory/consulting world. There was a bit of dust on the top one, as if they hadn’t been opened for quite some time.

“What’s this?” I asked. 

“Oh, that’s past consulting deliverables,” the client answered. “They promised we would get better results by hiring them, but nothing worked out. They never really understood our business.”

Hmmm. Time to clean the conference room?

A consultant worth hiring will always want you to succeed. But be wary of one promising RESULTS.  Why? Because a promise too early doesn’t allow for setting up the right tests, understanding how to measure success (it might not be what you think going in), or figuring out how (and when) to be brave.

But here’s the biggest reason: because the right expert resource will give you the tools to be brave. To try things you might not otherwise have tried that have a chance of moving the needle on your acquisition and retention. To listen to your constituency in new ways which help you think like your prospect and audience member. To validate what’s working, and help you find ways to identify what isn’t and change it. 

Sometimes the reason to hire an expert is to stop the train before it derails. Knowing what NOT to test is as important as knowing WHAT to test. 

If you are considering retaining an expert to help you move your acquisition, engagement and retention needles, use this checklist:

10 Tips for Working With an Outside Member Acquisition, Retention, and Engagement Expert

1 – If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Results don’t happen magically, or just because something worked elsewhere. Results are the outcome of hard work and good processes, not promises.

2 – Allow time in the consultative process to explain your organization’s current realities. Share your past experiences, including things that didn’t work. (It’s possible it was an execution flaw, and not the test itself). Don’t rush to the solution because you (and your hired expert) may not solve the right problem.

3 – Don’t abdicate the work. You need to be a part of the “sausage-making” to effect true, long-lasting change. If someone says they will deliver a complete turnkey solution and you won’t have to lift a finger, be wary. That may mean they have more confidence in their ability to invoice you than in their ability to transform you.

4 – Ask for examples of process, not results. Case studies can be misleading and are generally written from the perspective of the agency trying to win your business (i.e. making promises of results). Better: learn how the expert will work with you and your team, because success takes planning, time, and the truth is there’s not one simple solution that will change your outcomes.  Success is the result of a lot of little things working together, delivering improvements all along the journey.

5 – Look for a partner, not just a vendor. Partners get in the yoke with you and are committed to traveling with you. Vendors get paid for delivering a tangible “product” according to your specifications. There’s a place for both, but if you’re looking for true expert advice, don’t confuse it with buying a commodity.

6 – Resist the temptation to put words in their mouth. If you say “We have a retention problem” and the expert says “I will fix your retention problem” you won’t get the outcomes you want. A good expert is part detective, part professor, and part historian with an archive of past successes and failures. If you define the solution before you let the expert do some sleuthing, your problem may remain buried.

7 – Be prepared to test things that might seem difficult. If you have an organization fraught with “we can’t because” and “we’ve always done it this way” mentality that can never be changed, then save your money and skip the expert. Because if you retain an expert/coach, you aren’t spending money to have them tell you everything is just fine. You’ve recognized you have room for improvement. 

8 – Be wary of recommendations of change for change’s sake. You’re doing a lot of things right. Before you replace or eliminate something, look at the test results. Just because something is perceived to be expensive or redundant doesn’t mean it’s not effective. 

9 – Don’t expect (or believe) overnight miracles will happen; on the flip side, be leery of long term commitments, too. Give your expert partner time to understand your processes, recommend tests for improvement, and read results. But don’t commit to an infinite time frame, either. If you’re not getting insights and improvements, it may be time to move on and you don’t want to be locked into a one-sided relationship. 

10 – Work with someone you trust. And maybe even someone you enjoy working with. That’s the sign of a true partnership.

The right expert partner will treat your business like it’s their own. And you win.

Remember this: it’s your business. The outcomes belong to you. An expert is an augmentation, not a replacement for your own “ownership” of the problem AND the solution. The best expert will know when you need to be led and when you need to be nudged, but they will never take full credit for the outcomes. 

Still wondering if hiring an expert to augment your team is a good idea? Read this article for additional perspectives.