Post updated August 30, 2015
In the technology industry, a typical start-up firm usually consists of engineers with a great idea. Rarely, however, is there a marketer involved in the early stages. The Product Development and Manager’s Association (PDMA) has clear benchmarks for product launch and the American Marketing Association has outlined best practices in marketing for years – yet few Canadian technology start-ups are familiar with either organization, or the benefit of using tried and true practices or what it can mean to their company and ultimately, their market success. Clearly, there is a tenuous link between technology companies and commercialization practices. The Canadian federal government recognized this and created a program to
CMC and IRAP
In the last two years, as a Certified Management Consultant (CMC), Front Porch Perspectives has completed multiple Management Advisory Services (MAS) contracts under the Industrial Research Assistance Program with the Canadian National Research Council (NRC). Just to review – the program is typically called a NRC MAS project from IRAP and administered by CMC-Canada. That is a lot of three letter acronyms! The MAS Program, or MAS as these projects are called are relatively small projects – the NRC client pays a nominal fee directly to CMC-Canada. Only consultants with the CMC designation can apply to provide services and must have completed a MAS training course.
Within the context of the MAS structure, it was immediately clear to me that the best value I could bring to NRC clients was a structured method to bring a new product to market – provide a direct link between technology and commercialization. Once the technology company has an approved “MAS” contract from their NRC contact (called an Industrial Technology Advisor or ITA), CMC-Canada will send a list of three CMCs for the client to interview so they can choose a management consultant who fits their need. Sometimes the client finds a consultant they want to work with off that list, and sometimes they keep asking for names until they are comfortable that the CMC is the right fit for their project.
Building Action-Oriented Capacity
Once I have a confirmed contract, I work with the client to determine the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of what they need and jointly, we work on building their capacity to do the work themselves. What I have found is that all they really need is someone with subject matter expertise to advise on what techniques will work best (best practices) for their situation. The contracts are never exactly the same and the tools and techniques to go to market are never the same. For me – I am a firm believer that a project requires the client to be engaged in the process and willing to stretch their thinking beyond what their business plan says. Business plans need to be flexible when new information comes to light.
While the government pays the consultant fees and the client pays only a small fraction of the cost – in order to have a successful outcome, the client has to buy into the notion that they have to participate fully, “do homework”, and accept different points of view. However, over these many engagements, I have refined my service offering to create a specific, action oriented ‘to do’ list designed to help my clients create a focus to reduce their time to market and increase market visibility. We work together to reach the end goal which is usually increased sales rather than the output of a ‘report’ which my client entrepreneurs do not need or want. Technology entrepreneurs consistently express the need for an action plan to implement not vague suggestions.
Practical Advice in Action
To illustrate the point, a Victoria, BC based technology start-up engaged Front Porch Perspectives under a MAS contract to work with them on refining their product offering and build their sales and marketing capacity. When we started, they admitted that there was no business plan, virtually no marketing collateral, little idea how to approach the market, only a single prospect and a frighteningly short time to get to market. Yikes! Exactly what they needed was fuzzy to them though after working together the strategy and tactics became clear, we developed a set action plan. In four short months, they changed their focus from an expensive, hardware intense product offering to a hosted product in a Software as a Service (SaaS) business model. The two founders, committed themselves to working with what they already had and to re-positioning their company. They worked very hard, stayed on track with multiple tasks: they did intense market research, build the hosted service, created media lists, a product brochure, and make countless sales calls to pre-qualified leads. The result: www.fishingderbyonline.com was launched on March 1, 2008 (mentioned with permission). This hosted service allows fishing derby administrators all over the world to host fishing derbies online and have results uploaded to the web in real-time as fish are weighed in. The pricing is within range of non-profit organizations and customers don’t need to load or manage software and require only typical computer skills with the SaaS model. By August 2008, Fishing Derby Online had multiple paying clients, and four times as many qualified prospects in their sales pipeline for next year. They were cash flow positive from direct sales and advertising sales and optimistic about the future.
“Terry provided her expertise as a management consultant for Tactics Design Corporation. Using her experience and extensive knowledge of product development Terry was able to help us define a new product, identify the market, promote the product through various creative means and finally launch the product. I am happy to say that we have already begun receiving orders and this will now be a vital revenue stream for our startup company. Terry’s work has helped us take another huge leap forward in becoming a successful, self sustaining company. I would highly recommend Terry as a management consultant for any other startup company wishing to grow and see increased revenue generation. – Darcy Lane, May 26, 2008
This example shows how a small, Canadian government program coordinated by CMC-Canada as a professional organization is making a difference helping entrepreneurs commercialize their product.
Terry Rachwalski holds an MBA and is a Certified Management Consultant. Via her Victoria, BC based company, Front Porch Perspectives, Rachwalski provides business development services to technology firms – from product ideation to product launch. This article was originally written for CMC-Canada in August, 2008 and is re-printed here with permission of CMC-Canada and the client.