April 20, 2018
How to get the best value from your consultants
Finding a consultant, or a team of strategists, that you feel confident working with can be very difficult. The traditional consulting world is fraught with pitfalls and problems of its own, with many firms being slow to innovate and improve how they deliver real value.
A big issue we see in the traditional consulting industry is how the consultants work with their clients. I personally have heard many horror stories where either the consultants took on themselves all responsibility and initiative and left the client out of the process, or the consultant left all the responsibility in the hands of the client, simply agreeing to whatever the client wanted without bringing their own experience and expertise to the table.
In order for a consultant/strategist and business/client relationship to truly flourish, it needs to be a relationship built on collaboration and open communication.
To ensure this is the case for your next consulting project, there are a number of things you can do to determine which consultancy firm will be best suited to partner with you and your business, and then maximise that relationship ongoing.
1. Ask the right questions before choosing a consultant
Before you choose who to work with, ensure you take the time to meet with the prospective consultants and ask them questions about how they would work with you and your team on the project. Ask them how they have worked with other clients on similar projects. What are their processes like? How do they communicate with their clients and how frequently? How do they engage their clients throughout the project? You also want to know that the consultants will be focused on achieving the best outcomes for your business, not just on getting another sale across the line.
Things to look out for during these initial stages include:
- Are the consultants asking a lot of questions about your business, its background, and your goals and objectives? This will indicate that they are trying to understand your business and what it is you are truly looking to achieve.
- Are the consultants open to collaborating with you from the very beginning? Are they happy to consult and refine the service proposal until you are happy? Are they flexible in adapting their service approach to match what you and your team need? If they are demonstrating that now, that is a good indication of what’s to come.
- Does the proposal show an understanding of your brief and your objectives? The proposed approach should be based on a deep understanding of what you need, drawn from the collaboration and discussion they have had with you.
2. Be available and accessible during the project
If you have chosen the right consultants, they will be engaging you and others within your business to draw an understanding of your business, market, objectives, and more. This may be in the form of consulting workshops and meetings, via phone or email, or even over Slack or other communication channels. To ensure that the consultants have all the information they need and to keep the project’s momentum, it is important that as the client you:
- Make yourself available for any workshops or meetings, and also ensure others within your business are available as needed.
- Keep across any communication channels being used and respond in a timely manner. Responsive communication both ways will build more effective collaboration and keep up momentum.
- Provide timely and detailed feedback. You should be seeing drafts of any deliverables and have the opportunity to be working with your consultants to refine any strategies or processes. Any delays in feedback can hold up progress and lead to project delays.
- Keep your consultant/s informed of any changes or updates to your business. If there are changes that may impact the project, now or in the future, it is in your best interest to keep your consultant/s informed. They should be flexible and willing to adapt the approach or deliverable if needed.
3. Be proactive in your engagement
A collaborative relationship goes two ways so to ensure you’re really getting the most out of your engagement with the consultant, it’s important to take a seat at the table. Although your consultant is expected to drive the project and probe with questions, you know what you need and want from the project and need to be contributing along the way.
- Come to any workshops or meetings prepared. Your consultant should provide you with an agenda prior to the workshop. If you’re not sure how best to prepare, don’t be afraid to ask.
- Feel free to ask any questions which may be a little ‘left of field’. There may be things which haven’t been considered or areas where you may need assistance outside of the scope of the project being worked on. Asking questions and raising these can help identify new opportunities or avenues to explore.
4. Maintain an open line of communication after the project has finished
If you have spent months working closely with a consultant on a big project, they will have developed a thorough understanding of your business. This can be an invaluable resource to call back on as you implement any strategies, or come across any challenges or changes in the business. Keeping an open line of communication means that if ever needed, you can go back to your consultant to seek advice or input, or event assistance with implementation or further strategic work.
A good consultant will value this relationship as well, and be willing to provide ongoing support and assistance.
Choosing a consultant can be overwhelming, but working with the wrong consultant can be detrimental. It is important to take some time and talk with the consultants, to find the relationship that will be better for the long term.