See also Facilitated Meetings and Business & Marketing Strategy Retreat.

You and your people are the real experts in your business. My philosophy as a consultant is based on this.

In certain circumstances, it is useful to bring in outside experts to advise on best practice or to design and implement complex technical systems.

But when it comes to how you conduct and market your business, and what the problems and opportunities are, I believe that you and your staff (and even your customers) are likely to be the best judges of what the key issues are and how to resolve them.

How to tap into this well of expertise?

By asking questions. Most people aren't trained to ask the right questions in life. Schools and universities usually expect us to learn a body of knowledge and we are tested on how well we remember and understand this knowledge.

Unfortunately, in life and in business, there are few 'right' and 'wrong' answers.

So what I do is to ask provocative questions to force people to look at their problems and opportunities from new perspectives. As experts in your business and your market, you can probably find out the answers better than anyone.

So long as you have a good question.

Here are some of the questions I might get you to think about in a facilitated meeting of retreat:

  • What business are you really really in? (This isn't as easy to answer as you might expect!)
  • What do you want to get personally out of your business?
  • How much are you actually making? Break it down for each product, service, project, customer. What is the revenue? What are the costs in each case? How much overheads and resources are used in satisfying each 'sale'? And what is the profit from each sale, from each customer, etc.?

    This is a powerful and difficult question that often reveals significant weaknesses and strengths in your business.

    As an example, EPG Travel in Myanmar had a range of exciting and innovative package tours that they were marketing and selling to individual travellers. It turned out, however, that 70% of their profits were coming from one product (Introduction to Myanmar Package Tour) that was being sold to a small number of travel agents in Europe.

    By focusing all their marketing efforts and resources on refining this product and selling directly to the trade, they were able to significantly increase their profitability with relatively little effort. The 'exciting package tours' were a drain on resources that could now be redirected to building the core and most profitable area of the business.

    The other result of this exercise is often to identify who are your profitable customers (who can then be profiled for marketing purposes as a way of gaining more of this kind of customer) and who are the customers who are wasting company time and resources. You either get rid of them, or learn how to deal with them more efficiently (and profitably).
  • What do your customers complain about? And how do you encourage and reward complaints? How do you provide customer service?

    This may seem an odd question, but surveys have shown that 70% of customers change suppliers because of dissatisfaction with the way they had been treated by the company. (15% because the competitor offers a product/service with better features, and only 15% because of price).

    And monitoring and encouraging customer complaints provides you with the best and most honest feedback of how well you are doing as a company and what problems need to be addressed.

    Finally, customers whose complaints are properly dealt with usually become very loyal customers, who become ambassadors for your company by spreading the word to their friends and colleagues.

    Nobody gets it perfect. People tend to buy from companies who are able and willing to 'fix it' when it doesn't go right.

In the meetings that I facilitate, I work through a series of questions (as appropriate to the situation and your company) and set up brainstorming discussions to get you and your staff to resolve the issues yourselves.

I don't give you the answers. You and your staff might be expected to do some research beforehand so that we have the necessary facts and figures to hand. And I might make some suggestions to get the discussion going. (Sometimes, I will make crazy, impossible suggestions and ask you to consider them seriously - Yellow Hat thinking - as a way of opening up new ways of thinking about your company and what it can do.)

Ultimately, the real experts - you and your company - will devise appropriate and workable solutions. Something that outside consultants often can't do because they don't understand the market and the business as well as you do.

Additional Consultancy Work

There is often a certain amount of preparatory work to do before a facilitated meeting or brainstorming session - such as helping to prepare the financial data (asking for the right data) and learning more about your company by speaking to staff and suppliers and customers.

One of the goals of each meeting is to devise a simple action plan. I sometimes help to develop a more comprehensive project plan and monitor results by chairing feedback meetings, usually on a weekly basis over a period of a few months.

More about me

Althugh I've only been in Thailand for three years, I've probably made enough mistakes for ten. That means also that I've learned a great deal about the culture and the mindset (of both Thais and expats) and what is and isn't feasible in the market. And unlike many more experienced expats, I can read and speak a little Thai, and have good relations with many Thai people from all walks of life.

My strongest skill is in liaison between management, business users and technical/admin personnel. I am someone who can understand your business at all levels (big picture plus details) and find ways to communicate the business model and important issues effectively.

I have several approaches that can help to achieve this. I work at a senior level to help devise appropriate, profitable and sustainable strategies, ascertain business needs from staff as well as customers and other stakeholders; and then work with the relevant teams to help plan and implement the necessary changes and improvements.