Consulting firms come in more shapes and sizes than ever. To find the right one that’s right for them, companies must ask the right questions, says Samir Parikh
Consulting is a growing industry. In addition to traditional consulting firms, many companies previously focused on product-based offerings are now aggressively building consultative capabilities and bringing them to market within their own specific areas of expertise.
This growth brings with it a greater-than-ever diversity in both consulting offerings and the working approaches of the companies providing them. Naturally, client experience can be just as varied, with some clients expressing higher levels of satisfaction than others.
This was echoed by a senior automotive industry executive, who said: “Some position themselves as pragmatic problem-solvers, others adopt a more sales-oriented culture; some provide a team with deep and specific expertise, others are more generalist; and some work in close proximity with us during a project, whereas others perform their work from remote centres.”
This highlights clear differences in consulting approaches, as well as perceptions of value. Just as consultants must understand the impact of their approach, so clients must feel confident that it is the right one for their organisation.
With this in mind what should one look for when anchoring a successful consulting collaboration? Experience suggests that the following points are worthy of consideration.
Engaging a consulting provider
A successful collaboration will need a strong starting point. Whether engaging a firm based on reputation, referrals or personal experience, pay attention to the way in which the initial dialogue is conducted.
A consulting team shouldn’t give you the hard sell when presenting their capabilities, but rather ask logical questions about your objectives.
They should highlight the pros and cons of different approaches, respecting the fact that every business situation is unique, and back this up with proof of relevant capabilities and references of what has been achieved elsewhere.
The consulting delivery team
The team assigned to the delivery of any consulting project will have a profound impact on its outcome. People with impressive skills may participate in proposal discussions, but make sure you know the profiles of the staff who will be responsible for delivery.
Look for evidence that the delivery team will be suitably skilled, bring relevant experience to bear and be well assimilated regarding your industry and organisation before the project begins.
The delivery approach
Consulting firms often employ project methodologies enabling them to deliver consistently and with high quality. Some types of work require a close on-site collaboration, others can be performed remotely, and in many cases a mix of both is required.
While detailed knowledge of such methodologies is usually not required by clients, ensure that you understand the overall approach that will be used to structure the assignment. This is in the interest of both parties as it will make project discussions more meaningful and issues easier to foresee.
When a consulting project is conducted as a ‘black box’ this often invites misunderstandings and poorly managed expectations which tend to surface later on.