The wording in the heading is representative of what many think of consultants. However, the motivation for this piece came from the following statement: “I had a fear of consultants, but it was spontaneously cured.” A few days later, a consultant I know said that he didn’t dare send a customer an invoice, as they didn’t identify enough improvement areas during the consulting engagement. Sounds good, don’t you think? Let’s take a few words to discuss what separates one consultant from another and how is it possible for a customer to be satisfied with the services of a consultant.

There are probably sound reasons why Scott Adams has created such a good comic strip on consulting: http://dilbert.com/strip/1998-08-24. Not very flattering for the consulting profession.

The following will outline some traits on how to earn the stigma associated with a ‘traditional’ consultant:

  1. The consulting subject is seen as a separate, detached component. The larger picture is not understood as a whole or how it should be considered in the engagement.
  2. The analysis is conducted without fully understanding the history and the reasons that led to the current situation. Often, these need to be considered in order to see what can be achieved and how quickly.
  3. Listening is half-hearted and the customer’s latent knowledge is not explored. The first identified solution is offered, or even worse, the solution that best fits the interest of the consultant’s company. A solution is offered that is not the best solution for the customer’s environment.
  4. Only the procedures disclosed by the customer are recognized. This is of course a positive sign – the consultant has listened to the customer. However, the consultant has only acted as a record-keeper and does not generate additional value from outside of the industry or provide practical steps on how the customer can move toward achieving their goals.

In the worst case, a consultant just receives payment and leaves the scene as soon as possible. This of course does not result in establishing an on-going customer relationship.

Let’s get back to considering how an on-going customer relationship and trust are established. How is a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship between the consultant and customer created?

  1. The consultant sees the larger picture outside of the area subject to analysis and considers the effect of the environment. Ideally, the consultant demonstrates how the area subject to analysis is incorrect and better results could be achieved by focusing on the environment.
  2. Background research, especially the results of the work completed by other consultants, have been thoroughly examined. The work is started from a more detailed starting point and it is likely that due to this ‘head-start’, better results can be achieved.
  3. The customer is carefully listened to and appropriate discovery questions are used to thoroughly explore problem areas. Questions are used to direct the customer to describe the issues with the greatest pain points and the best likely benefits.
  4. Bring in comprehensive industry experience and compare best implemented solutions to the challenge the customer is experiencing. Using this knowledge, a roadmap is drafted, which allows the customer to plan the next procedures.
  5. The last, and most significant, characteristic is as follows: A good consultant is there to stay. Sounds intimidating, don’t you think? Let’s remember that the consultant generates additional value, which exceeds the amount paid by the customer. The customer wins.

A good consultant is an independent expert and a customer advocate.