So you have been a retail professional for a number of years and you feel that you are ready to take the leap and become a retail consultant. It is a big step, but if you have the skills, experience, and passion then you might just be onto something great. This blog will walk you through the steps you should take to become a retail consultant.
How to become a retail consultant?
For starters, let’s recap what it means to be a retail consultant: A retail consultant offers a professional service to retailers, distributors or manufacturers. This professional service usually comes in the form of expert advice in a particular area of the business such as category management, change management or even education. For this to be a reality, you’re going to need to close enough retainer-based consulting work in order to focus on being a full time retail consultant.
Here’s how you can make that happen:
Specialise in something
Whatever you do, don’t be a generalist joe. If a retailer, manufacturer or distributor is going to hire a consultant then they are going to hire a consultant who specialises in the area where they are wanting to solve a problem or achieve a goal. By deciding to specialise in something, you have already made yourself more competitive.
Once you have decided where you are going to specialise then what you need to do is design a unique service around your chosen area. Remember, when it comes down to closing the deal, your potential customer is going to want to know what they can expect from your service and they are going to want to know specifics.
For example, let’s say you have decided to specialise in category management (good move, we love category management). The next thing you need to do is design how, when and with what you will deliver your category management service. You're also going to need to create pricing that can be justified against the value which you're going to deliver.
This leads me to the next point. You could do this on your own or you could get someone to help you.
Partner with a vendor who will invest in your success
I have seen it over and over again - highly talented retail professionals go out and they insist on going at their new venture alone. It almost never works. By forging the right partnership, you are going to gain the backing that you need. Becoming a retail consultant is pretty much the same as starting your own business so you really aren’t doing yourself any favors by making things harder from the get go.
Choose a vendor who is going to have a vested interest in your success. The best vendors to partner with are those that will help you set up your service model, and provide you with service enabling software, exposure and qualified sales-ready leads. The vendor that you choose should also provide you with expert support throughout the sales process, and especially when closing your first deal.
At DotActiv, our partner programme includes all of the above-mentioned elements so if you happen to be thinking of specialising in category management then be sure to take a look at our partner programme here.
Design a retainer service around a software solution
Sure, you can chase once-off consulting jobs, but what happens when those once-off contracts run out? You’re going to be left stressed out because you need to find that next deal as quickly as possible - this is not sustainable. Instead, design a retainer-based service model around an established software solution.
It will be better for you to have 4 to 6 smaller retainer-based customers than 1 or 2 ad-hoc consulting contracts.
You may want to start out as a one person business, but if in the future you decide to take on staff so that you can grow your retail consultancy business, you are going to want to have all of your services documented. This will enable new staff to onboard quickly and to deliver according to your service standards more consistently.
Your vendor partner should also be able to help you train your staff but there are going to be some things that are unique to your business, so document them early on. That way, it’s not chaotic when your first handful of staff join.
Focus on a short sales cycle
One of the biggest challenges for small to medium firms is the challenge of maintaining a healthy sales pipeline. In our case, we have experience in managing our own as well as helping our partners with theirs. And one thing that we can all agree on is this: High ticket deals often take many months before they are concluded. This is completely normal - at the end of the day, there are more and more people that need to sign off on new initiatives and this takes time.
There are few things more frustrating than when you know you have buy-in from a prospect, but the final decision makers seem to take forever to sign off on projects. Well, this is the simply the reality of corporates. In our experience, larger companies can take anywhere between 6 and 18 months to sign off on a purchase like an integrated category management solution.
But what about someone who is just starting out or is in their very early stages? Most simply don't have ability to wait 8 to 18 months on that next “big deal”. What's worse is that many wouldn’t be able to afford the associated payment terms. But it’s not all doom and gloom for those who are looking to become a retail consultant. We have also found that smaller retailers, even those with less than five stores, make decisions (and payments) far quicker. In fact, our experience has shown us that small retailers only need between 0 and 3 months to sign off on purchases.
A common myth is that you need to chase the big corporates because the small retailers don't have the budget. When it comes to DotActiv products, this is simply not the case. That's not to say that all focus should be on small retailers, but rather that a healthy balance between the two is necessary, and especially during your early stages.
Close and deliver on your first deal
At this stage it’s time for you to go live and start receiving leads so that you can close your first deal. Again a good vendor partner should be able to provide you with leads and sales support through this process. Once you sign your first customer, our advice is to use that customer as an opportunity to showcase your service. You must thus deliver on your promises to the best of your ability while simultaneously beginning to looking to close your second client.
Becoming a retail consultant is aspirational for many retail professionals but it’s not unrealistic if you have the experience, skills, passion and most importantly the right partner. If you are looking at becoming a retail consultant, consider specialising in category management and partnering with DotActiv.