4 Tips to get the Most out of Your Consulting Engagement
Management consulting is a billion dollar business. Depending on which study you look at, companies in the US spend between $150bn and $200bn annually. Much of this money goes to impractical or unwieldy solutions that clients are culturally, financially, and strategically unable or unprepared to implement and paid too much to receive. Or, clients find themselves with only a partial solution and a proposal to complete the effort – which of course means spending additional money.
As people who have been on both the consulting and client sides of the table, we understand the pressures on our clients to get value for their consulting dollars. These pressures sometimes lead companies to choose the least expensive consulting option with the goal of minimizing investment over time. Many times we have been called in to re-do or rescue a project where the cheapest consulting option turned out to be an inadequate solution. On the other hand, nobody wants to end up over-paying for “shelf-ware” or receiving an over-built solution. So how can you ensure that you get what you need?
From our experiences as clients and consultants, we’ve assembled four best practices to keep in mind when reading through RFPs, conducting negotiations, or executing an engagement. If you have additional lessons learned, we invite you to share them with us in the comment section of this post.
- Know what you need.
Good consultants will ask probing questions designed to encourage you to articulate what you’d like to achieve through the engagement. Great consultants focus on both the immediate outcomes (aka deliverables) and the project’s long-range impact to your business. The more you can share with the consultants about your desired improvements to service, increased speed to market, or reduced cost, the better positioned your consultant partner is to propose and execute a project that will accomplish those goals. If you can’t articulate your objectives and how the project will align with your overall business direction, you aren’t ready to engage a consultant. Save your money and spend the time getting yourself organized.
- Right size the firm you choose.
There are thousands of consulting firms, from elite strategy to global system integrators, and one size doesn’t fit all. Consider whether you want a partner or a provider. Do you need a cadre of offshore resources versus a few highly skilled experts, and does that firm have the expertise overall to address your challenge? The smaller firm with the industry experience might be the better choice in some cases.
It seems counter-intuitive, but commitment is essential for success. You are more likely to get the best a consulting firm has to offer if you can commit to a longer engagement. When a firm has to re-propose every three months, or if there are significant breaks between phases, the firm’s attention very naturally will shift to more consistent, longer-term clients. In addition, the best consultants are usually assigned to longer-duration engagements, and you can generally negotiate a preferred price model over a longer period of time.
- Stay engaged.
Inspect what you expect. Don’t wait for the end of the engagement to review the outcomes and provide feedback. Insist on weekly or bi-weekly status meetings where you can review any in-flight deliverables, hear the highlights of discovery sessions, and direct the approach the project is taking. A good consulting firm will welcome this sort of hands-on relationship, as long as it doesn’t devolve into micro-management.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on how you’ve worked with consulting partners to get what you need. As we said, a good consulting firm welcomes feedback, so share your lessons learned with us below. Happy project execution!