Selling CSR in a new way!
We all agree that CSR is good for business, is most important and can do really good for any company. Still sales are low and most of my friends running CSR consultancies are struggling. So what is the problem? We have a good product, a provenly good product, and only a few companies buy it. I want to outline the common problems and offer a solution. A solution that we at CSR Company International want to take and develop, together with our partners all over the world.
The fundamental problems:
a) CSR misunderstood as doing good. Yes, CSR does good, but in a different way than charity or philantrophy. It is not about giving away money or time, it is about earning money and having more time. But that is still misunderstood. The term CSR is loaded in the wrong way. I am definitly not advocating a change of terminoloty, but we need to continously promote the real meaning of CSR as strategic management tool in dealing "how" we do our business.
b) Because it is seen very often as an "add on", something nice to do, you do not achieve the price you deserve to get. Everybody wants to do CSR but best would be it should not cost anything. If McKinsey goes into a company and said it would do management consulting and the owner said: great but please I need it free of charge, I believe the overrated, overworked and underpaid McKinsey students would walk out, because they need to meet their economic yearly goals. We do not, we are happy that anybody wants to do CSR and we say to ourselves, well, I can use it as a reference, so it becomes a marketing expence for the CSR Consultant rather than an investment of the company. I admit, this also has its good sides, the big four and some other big consultancy companies have put a lot of effort into the CSR field, but still are small players in it, as they cannot achieve the money they need to finance their overhead. We as CSR Company International have been able to be more flexible and not have such overhead costs, so we could do it cheaper. But it is not healthy on hte long run and does not allow for investments into growth or higher quality.
c) Lack of quality control. It is no joke, I have met a guy who gave me his business card and told me we are colleagues, he is also a CSR consultant, but actually he is a dentist who also does CSR advising. My second favorite example is a lady who sat in a CSR seminar and told that she did some CSR projects with companies and it turned out she did Feng Shui with them under the name of CSR. So, we have a broad band of guys out there who claim to be CSR consultants and companies fall for one or the other and it leads to disappointment and then you come along and we do not even get an appointment. Just to add on the curiosity list, we work with the largest Natural gas producer in Qatar and the lady there is a very professional CSR expert, wrote her Dissertation about CSR and understands that CSR is about the how you do your business. She told me the story that one day she got a phone call and the guy on the other end of the line told her that he had an interesting CSR project for the company and he would like to introduce it. As she is a curious lady she met him and it turned out he was trying to sell her the sponsoring of a Harry Potter on Ice show. What that should have to do with CSR remains in the stars.
d) The product itself: Some companies want a CSR report, some want a checklist of what they need to do, some want GRI without really understanding what that is, some sign up to UNGC and think that was it regarding CSR, some sign up to some industry standard and follow that, some do corporate volunteering and clean up the beach once a year and some get certified to different ISO standards (the more the merrier) and so on. The expectations towards a CSR consulter can be manyfold. And all of that should not cost anything.
It actually all comes back to the definition and the understanding of what CSR is. So, now what to do? Option one, you become a dentist and earn good money and in your spare time you do CSR consulting. Well, I am not a dentist, and never would want ot be one, so that option falls flat. The other option is you become a missionary and tour the world, have seminars, workshops, trainings, conferences, summits, webinars, you name it, and try to explain to the people listening, what CSR actually is. That is me - so far. No place I have not been, no stone unturned, from 2 people to 700 people in the room, I have done it all. TV and radio appearances, newspaper interviews, busienss breakfasts, luncheons, dinner talks. even late night open fireplace discussions. Did it lead somewhere? Yes, I am still alive, I earn some money to pay my bills, but did we change the game - no! And we have the right answers to many of the questions of the time, but nobody seems to listen or to understand.
Now we are getting closer to the solution I am intending to develop. I spent last week a day at a fascinating company in Stockholm, that does something highly interesting, in a different field than CSR but one can transport it into the area of CSR consulting. They make more than half a billion Euros turnover a year, growing at 25% every year,. They are the biggest consulting company in the Nordics and do not have one single consultant on their payrole. They have only very few own staff. (Around 200), administration, management etc. They are at the forfront of the working environment of the future of the white collar workers. Their tag line is "reshaping consulting" and that is exactly what they are doing. The idea is as simple as it is good. They are a market place, a plattform. A company might not want to hire a CSR person into their staff. They do not have enough work (they think), they do not have the money for it, or whatever the reason might be. They also do not want to hire a consultant because they might think that is too expensive, or they are not sure about the qualifications of the person (Feng Shui ;-) or they need a specialist on one specific area, because that is were they have their specific problem. The company then does not do anything or hires a managment consultant or a dentist, who both have no idea of CSR. This Swedish company matches the company need with a data base of specialist and offers the company the right person with the right skills for the right price and for the time needed to do the job. This consultant is independant, not an employee of the "broker" if you want to call it that way, and accepts or not accepts to work for a defined amount of money, defined time on a defined project. This can of course then lead to an employment by the company if they see how important it is to have a qualified CSR person in house, but it can also lead to that after the project is finished the consultant does again his own stuff until he or she is again contacted by the broker for the next assignment. Totally fascinating, different than the temporary workers companies with all their issues around pay, insurance, on and off times, quality etc.
I believe - until I am proven the opposite - that this could be a way to embed CSR in a professional way into companies that otherwise would not do CSR at all, or not in a professional way or would spend a fortune for meager quality. Price is an argument and if you do not have to hire that person then it might be a good way of lowering the hurdle to get started with professional strategic CSR. Any thoughts?