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A Top Ten List – Things You’ll Never Hear from Your Consultant

January 17th, 2017 10:22am - Posted By: Rick Zwetsch

 A Top Ten List of Things You'll Never Hear From Your Consultant

1. You're right; we're billing way too much for this.

2. Bet you I can go a week without saying "synergy" or "value-added.”

3. How about paying us based on the success of the project?

4. This whole strategy is based on a Harvard business case I read.

5. Actually, the only difference is that we charge more than they do.

6. I don't know enough to speak intelligently about that.

7. Implementation? I only care about writing long reports.

8. I can't take the credit. It was Ed in your marketing department.

9. The problem is, you have too much work for too few people.

10. Everything looks okay to me. You really don't need me.

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Okay, not sure who the curator of this list is but while a couple of these are somewhat funny and well, maybe true – the kernels of these things you’ll never hear from your consultant are sown from some long-standing misconceptions about the client -  consultant relationship and how it develops and is managed over time. Breaking down the top ten list a little:

1. You're right; we're billing way too much for this.

I’ll talk about this more in next week’s post about BUDGETS but good, professional, ethical consultants know what it will take to complete a project in accordance with the scope, know what their time is worth and bill accordingly. If you believe your consultant or prospective consultant is charging too much, it’s time for a talk. It may also be time to hire a consultant to help you prepare a Request for Proposal (RFP) that will attract proposals where you’ll be able tell the difference between apples and oranges, pears, and mangoes. (More on RFPs later in the alphabet!)

2. Bet you I can go a week without saying "synergy" or "value-added.”

Unfortunately, buzzwords seem to be a phenomenon that just won’t go away. New ones replace old ones. There’s always a Buzzword du Jour. Some consultants like throwing lots of buzzwords around - makes ‘em sound smart maybe? Buzzwords are a cover-up. Kinda kitchy IMHO. And they often get in the way. If EVERYONE that’s part of a consulting project (consultant team + client team) doesn’t know what a particular buzzword means and how it relates specifically to a consulting project, you’ll never get the results everyone wants. Ditch the buzzwords, just do the work and use words that everyone’s familiar with.
 

3. How about paying us based on the success of the project?

This is unfortunate. Nearly all consulting projects could have a pay for success component built in to the overall fee structure. So, why don’t they? The two big problems I see after 38 years as a consultant are: 1) it’ll take a month of Sundays to figure out what “success” is and 2) it’ll take another month of Sundays to determine what success REALLY is…so a client is willing to pay for it and a consultant is willing to accept payment for services based on a potential unknown.
 

4. This whole strategy is based on a Harvard business case I read.

Case studiesand best practices are great. Consultants and clients everywhere use them, refer to them and cite them. They’re a powerful and valuable resource. Too often, though, they’re viewed as a silver bullet or a shortcut. “Hey, I know we can’t figure out how to do this on our own but look…these folks over there did it this way and had success, and if we copy them so can we!” Don’t get me wrong. Modeling the work you’re doing after work that’s already been done by someone somewhere successfully is very powerful. Just make sure you understand all the moving parts of the success story, what everyone’s motivations and resources were at the time and what their goals were for the project. Very rarely is there a case that’s exactly like yours.
 

5. Actually, the only difference is that we charge more than they do.

See #1 above…
 

6. I don't know enough to speak intelligently about that.

I’m going to keep this short and simple. First, it really is okay if your consultant says this occasionally. Really, it is. And, second, if your consultant doesn’t say this at least once on a project, it may be time to find a new consultant. We ask clients questions all the time they don’t know the answer to. If you’re asking questions where your consultant has all the answers – you may not be asking the right questions. (More on this later in the alphabet!)

7. Implementation? I only care about writing long reports.

Unfortunately, this usually ends up being related to expectations. The more money a client pays for consulting, the longer the report will usually “need” to be. It’s just the way it is. Implementation is ultimately the client’s job. What needs to be determined at the beginning of a consulting project is who will be reading the report and why. This may provide some insight into how long the report needs to be.
 

8. I can't take the credit. It was Ed in your marketing department.

This one’s short and simple, too. When a consulting project goes great, everyone’s happy and major goals and successes are achieved, the consultants rarely get any credit. Or, at least, not the credit they MIGHT deserve. When a consulting project goes south, it’s ALWAYS the consultant’s fault. I’ll talk about this a LOT more as we move through the alphabet!
 

9. The problem is, you have too much work for too few people.

REALITY check: Who do you know that works a-n-y-w-h-e-r-e in ANY organization large or small where this isn’t the current reality? It’s the case with consultants. It’s the case with clients. Sooner rather than later, we all need to figure out how to talk about this. And do something about it!
 

10. Everything looks okay to me. You really don't need me.

This one’s interesting because RARELY is it the case. What’s more important is: considering a client’s needs and how well the client has articulated those needs—plus considering the corresponding expectations surrounding all aspects of a consulting project – which consultant is best qualified to take on the project? If a client believes they need a consultant and have made the resources available to hire a consultant, then hiring a consultant is almost always a wise decision. The bigger and more critical questions are which consultant and why?

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A few parting thoughts for clients working with consultants:

1. How important will buzzwords be in your next project where you need to hire a consultant? Who is it that’s really using too many buzzwords? How can you eliminate buzzwords?

2. Is there a way to include a “pay for success” component into your next project? Will you all have a clear enough picture of success to pay for it? Will your consultant(s) have a clear enough picture to accept a payment for success?

3. Will it be okay if your consultant says: “I don’t know enough to speak intelligently about that” at any time during your project? When will it NOT be okay?

4. Are you producing RFPs that will attract proposals where you can effectively and efficiently compare everything each of the consultants responding can offer – against one another?

5. Is the length of the consultant’s report what’s really important or what’s in the report, how it’s presented and how well it will guide you and your team through the important work that has to be done when the project is completed and beyond?

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Up next week:
Budget
 

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