article | July 26, 2014
Why I Never Trusted Consultants
When I was a VP of sales, I didn’t like consultants. Wait – worse than that. I didn’t respect consultants. Consultants were arrogant know-it-alls who didn’t understand my business.
I didn’t trust them, either. They might find out I was doing something wrong and sell me out. They developed super complicated processes that rarely got implemented. Worst of all – they’d never done my job. In fact, sometimes they looked like they weren’t old enough to shave.
Sometimes, though, I knew I needed help. Occasionally I would speak with consulting firms. Their pitches all sounded great. If I engaged them, everything would be rainbows and unicorns. But I was always left wondering: “What’s it really like to work with these guys?”
Download the Consultant Evaluation Guide. Learn 20 questions that will help you get the help you need. Make sure if you hire a consulting firm, they’re a fit for your company. At the end of the engagement you should emerge stronger for having worked with them.
Hiring the right firm is critical. A well run relationship will include constructive tension. Difficult questions will be asked. Your consultants should be able to bring you insight every time you interact. Not just tell you what you want to hear. Many times, consulting firms fail to do this. They end up telling the client things they already know. Or they use complex terminology no one understands. Worst of all, they agree with the client to prevent hard conversations. This is so common, there’s a joke about it:
Client: “What time is it?”
Consultant: “What time would you like it to be?”
This kind of relationship wastes your time and money. It also negatively impacts your reputation within your company. Let’s look at some questions you can ask to avoid hiring consultants like this. These questions as well as many more are included in the Consultant Evaluation Guide.
“What are the biographies of your team?”
Many consultants never did your job. They have little real-world experience. They’re academics. They follow a traditional consulting path: from b-school summer, to full-time associate. Then junior engagement manager to experienced engagement manager.
Your chances of success increase dramatically if you engage someone who’s had to make a number. They understand how things really work. Some firms will send in a senior resource to “sell” you. But when the work starts, suddenly you’re dealing with a freshly minted MBA.
When you hire a sales & marketing consulting firm, you’re basically hiring brains. Sometimes an extra set of hands. This means WHO you work with can be the difference between success and failure. Check out their LinkedIn profiles. Who’s recommending them? Do they speak to your specific problems? What do their backgrounds look like?
“How do you ensure that we’ll adopt what you create for us?”
The creation of “shelfware” plagues companies. Initiatives are built and kicked off. Sales processes are launched. CRM services are purchased. And nobody uses them. If you’re reading this in your office, look around. Odds are your eyes will fall on at least one three ring binder. Inside are hundreds of pages outlining an initiative that failed. Someone spent time, money, and resources building it. What happened?
“What clients have you done this type of work for recently?”
Don’t just listen for a list of companies from your industry or its adjacencies. Listen for companies with a similar degree of size and complexity as yours. Listen for leading firms. At what level is the consultancy commonly engaged? Board level? Are they working on strategic issues with executives at the best companies?
Many years ago, a company I worked for hired consultants for workplace communication training. The company I worked for was a dark suit and tie culture. The consultant wore a double breasted white linen sport coat. And a spiffy black dress shirt. And it was January. I promise you nobody remembers a word he said that day. But I still remember the outfit.
Don’t hire an empty suit. It’s a reflection on you. Be sure if you need help, you know how to pick the right partner. Download the Consultant Evaluation Guide and have a look.
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