Advanced Viral Marketing for Professional Interims: Importance of the Interim & Provider Catch-Up Meeting

A. INTRODUCTION

This is Alf’s third blog related to interim management. In the first blog, Alf shared with our “virtual” aspiring Interim Manager that he (Alf) had four searching questions for him/her and suggested that he/she reflect carefully and come back and see Alf again in a month.
As explained in the first blog, Alf has over twenty years experience as an Independent Interim Executive and is often asked for some tips by new entrants to the industry.
Alf planned to run a series of related blogs on and around this theme. So to make it easier to read, Alf adopted two actors:

  1. “Virtually” – Virtually is an old sage of an Interim Manager, with lots of scars, war-stories, anecdotes, and knows absolutely everybody in the industry.
  2. “Friendly” – Friendly is our aspiring Interim Manager. Friendly is serious about becoming an Interim Manager but does not want to make too many mistakes in learning the ropes. Friendly is looking to Virtually as a virtual Mentor.

Both “Virtually” and “Friendly” are characters created for this blog. The second blog was very much given over to Friendly answering the four questions identified by Virtually. Friendly has a vivid imagination and answered all the questions in the twenty-second century!

When Alf shared the second blog with Gavan Burden of Burden Dare, Gavan liked it so much and both agreed to collaborate and jointly write the next blog.

B. BACKGROUND

Alf and Gavan felt that the regular interim manager/intermediary “catch-up” meeting would provide the context for the third blog. The regular catch-up meeting is an opportunity for both the interim and the provider to share market intelligence.
In an age when Viral Marketing is the holy grail, there is still an important place for the traditional “catch-up” meeting over a coffee. The “catch-up” meeting is used with both intermediaries and clients.

In order to protect confidentiality, Alf and Gavan agreed to introduce a third character to the blog, namely “Helpful”. For the reader’s simplicity, the two original characters and the new one are summarised below:

  • “Virtually” – Virtually is an old sage of an Interim Manager, with lots of scars, war-stories, anecdotes, and knows absolutely everybody in the industry.
  • “Friendly” – Friendly is our aspiring Interim Manager. Friendly is serious about becoming an Interim Manager but does not want to make too many mistakes in learning the ropes. Friendly is looking to Virtually as a virtual Mentor.
  • “Helpful” – Helpful is our “Quality” Interim Management Provider (sometimes called intermediary or agency). “Quality” interim providers typically reached senior management/board level in their primary career, either in the Private or Public Sectors. The other model of provider is the “High Street” model which generates lots of replica consultants, typically with a career in recruitment, often trained in an organization like Michael Page. “High Street” interim providers often see interim management as an extension of the volume recruitment contract market but with more sector specialization – historically they were typically attracted by the higher margins in interim management.

Strategically, the “Quality” providers are specialists, or niche players, often associated with a search/headhunting business; whereas, “High Street” are classic, broad-line players, often with the strategic advantage of having the industry’s lowest cost. Quality providers must truly differentiate themselves with superior service offerings, performance & quality, with appropriate branding. Providers who are neither “Quality” nor “High Street” would be described by Michael Porter (Harvard strategy guru) as “stuck in the middle”, without a viable strategic offering.

C. INTERIM CATCH-UP COVERSATION

Helpful the Provider

Hi Virtually, come on in and sit down, how have you been?

Virtually the Interim

Good thanks, I finished an assignment two months ago. I’ve had a great break, doing some travelling. Now I’m looking for my next challenge

Helpful the Provider

Tell me about your last assignment.

Virtually the Interim

Virtually described the assignment and gave Helpful a couple of potential leads to follow up then asked: “How has the market been?”

Helpful the Provider

In all honesty, it’s been quiet, Virtually. There has been some movement but mostly what I call “must do” jobs: integration work at the banks, some low end permanent work at the consultancies, some IT infrastructure rationalisation and some outsourcing. So the vast majority has been cost saving work. Obviously we have also seen a lot of interims coming out of the public sector and an increasing number of people taking packages and wanting to take interim work.

Virtually the Interim

That’s interesting, so how do I, as an established interim manager, differentiate myself from those people coming out of permanent jobs?

Helpful the Provider

That’s a concern, Virtually. If a role comes through, a quality interim provider, you will have nothing to fear. We all will look to place “career interim managers” – they are proven and the only ones you can really rely on. They have the repeat track record with multiple clients and won’t leave a client in the lurch by taking a secure full time role when it comes along.

The greater concern is roles that either get filled by a “friend of a friend” directly or contract recruiters pushing upwards in the interim market in an attempt to increase margins.

Virtually the Interim

That’s interesting what’s happening to rates and margins?

Helpful the Provider

It depends. If the role is for scarce skills then they are holding up, but otherwise they are both under pressure as clients look for value for money. The other factor, of course, is framework agreements which tend to focus on cost rather than value created – the ROI from the interim’s intervention, if you like.

Virtually the Interim

So how should I differentiate myself do you think?

Helpful the Provider

Now, more than ever, you have to look at “bang for buck”, that’s really important. Have you seen Gavan Burden’s paper on “useful tips for CV writing” – it’s on his website, on the useful downloads page.

Virtually the Interim

No I’ll have a look – what does it say?

Helpful the Provider

You have to clearly set out what a client will get for their money. So what have YOU actually done on an assignment? Not what happened whilst you were there! Clearly set out the numbers in absolute values which are clearer than percentages. For instance if you saved £5m out of a £20m project that is helpful as it tell the reader the size of the project and the extent of the savings, but if you just say you saved 25% the reader doesn’t know if the project was a small, medium or large one. It’s helpful to set out span of control and any contract extensions too. Repeat work is also a good sign.

Virtually the Interim

Good tips! As you know, I have always focused on a three core areas (my verticals) and I have three areas of specialisation (my horizontals)

Helpful the Provider

How have you found that working for you?

Virtually the Interim

That’s worked well but, bearing in mind the market, is it sensible, or even possible, to write my CV so that it enables me to become more mobile across sectors? What do you think?

Helpful the Provider

You’re fortunate, if that is the right word, in that you have delivered a number of infrastructure programmes, and you already have a slightly cross-industry CV. There is no doubt that clients can pick from candidates with relevant industry skills as well as content, but if you have already delivered a similar programme in a different industry then you become a credible candidate.

One thing I’ve been experimenting with is sending clients a spider graph showing the qualities of the candidates mapped against each other, the issue has been accurately calibrating the axes – if you can’t do that it has no value, so I’ve tended to use hard facts and numbers, such as assignment size and scope, years as an interim, absolute number of assignments – all the things we talked about before.

Virtually the Interim

Tell me, does it make things more difficult with the market so fragmented, so many suppliers? How should I know which interim providers are the ones to contact?

Helpful the Provider

Virtually, you’ve been around this market for 15 years or so, you have a great understanding of the key players. The best interim management relationships are personal relationships acting on a “trusted advisor” basis – that way we get to know the finer points of how a client works and the sort of people who will succeed and they get an immediate personalised service as the quality providers know their interim candidates too. Providers who don’t really know their candidates are really operating a contracting model.

Virtually the Interim

I see, and that still works for traditional suppliers, does it? I thought that might have changed now there are so many players?

Helpful the Provider

Well there are always going to be new entrants into markets – the barriers to entry are very low, but that doesn’t mean service levels are adequate. It’s up to clients how they wish to fill their vacancies, but I’m still seeing loyalty and getting referrals, so I must be doing something right!

The key to all assignments is making a win/win/win, so the client, the interim and myself are all happy.

Virtually the Interim

So how do you source your new candidates now? Do you take on new ones and what about social networking tools? I hear that Viral Marketing is the next big trend for interims?

Helpful the Provider

I’m always happy to take on new candidates, my preference is for personal referrals from people I trust and for candidates who have worked in companies where I can informally reference them. Increasingly LinkedIn is driving more candidates to me and Facebook and Twitter are good for getting your name known. Viral marketing can be quite effective, but you have to be very careful as there are no guarantees as to candidate quality.

Virtually the Interim

That’s interesting, so in your mind there will always be a demand for the traditional provider who has the proven mark of quality? By the way, I have a good friend called Friendly who is currently thinking about launching herself in a career in interim. We have had a couple of good conversations in recent weeks and I pushed her pretty hard. I’d very much like to introduce you both. Just one thing, she has amazing sense of humour, she has this knack of projecting herself into the twenty-second century –it’s amazing, she’s a sort of interim management futurologist!

Helpful the Provider

Let me take your points separately.

Firstly, I think that there will always be a strong demand for quality interim providers who can provide seasoned executives who are prepared to challenge the client and deliver real value. Some of the new arrivals to interim management feel that it’s enough to field sector specialists who can drop sector jargon in client conversations. Unfortunately, Executive Interim Management has lost some of its uniqueness with volume/broad-line providers: offering office temporaries, young professionals and executive interim management. The volume players will tend to compete only on price with little or no knowledge of an interim’s track record. Quality traditional executive interim providers compete on service and quality – obviously, they will need to keep up with the times and use technology to lower transaction costs.

I would very much like to meet your friend called Friendly – I won’t forget her name! Ask her to get in touch with me. I can quiz her on Dr. Batt of GothamPark Interim! Serioughly though, the industry always needs new blood but providers like us have a responsibility to make sure that the “newbies” are really cut out for executive interim.

Virtually the Interim

Friendly, it’s been great to see you again! I know that we speak regularly on the phone but it’s important to meet face-to-face periodically. As a final point, I remind you that I’m looking for a new challenge, so don’t be shy to pick up the phone”

Helpful the Provider

Virtually, you know that I would like to work with you again! It’s very much like the search business it’s client assignment driven. Thanks for coming in. As always I really enjoyed talking to you & look forward to meeting Friendly.

Virtually, I know that you are passionate about interims leveraging their personal branding and networks, using Viral Marketing but each time we meet reinforces my view that there’s no substitute for the traditional catch-up meeting and for that matter, the quality provider!

Virtually the Interim

I agree with you Friendly. Some of the modernn, so-called, Viral Marketing experts try to  summarize good marketing in six bullet points on a blog but in my experience, life is rarely that simple.

In my mind, Viral Marketing is really important but it supplements rather than replaces good marketing. I’m seriously thinking about writing a Viral Marketing book for Professional Interims but my problem is finding interims as case studies who are already practicing Viral Marketing – just another Catch 22 dilemma, I guess. Let me know if you hear of any?

Helpful the Provider

I certainly will! Let’s keep in touch. Enjoy the rest of your day