Mario's Corner - September 2019.

How To Work With Consultants (And Clients)

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Welcome back from vacations, summer breaks, and relaxing days by the beach!


While I was on break, I received a call from a consulting colleague asking me for help and advice regarding working relationships with clients.  He seems to have a difficult time getting paid for his work with a particularly difficult client.  He also asked me how I manage client relationships.  This started me thinking about my client relationship style and how clarifying expectations from the beginning has helped my company.  Thus, I would like to offer some advice and guidelines to any consulting colleague who might be experiencing relationships in this area and to companies/executives who might be contemplating in hiring a Management consultant.  I always like to hear from clients first before I explain my services, so I am putting them first here also.


If you are a prospective client, the following are some guidelines that will help you in hiring and working with a consultant:


1.  THINK AND EXPRESS CLEARLY WHY YOU WANT TO HIRE THE CONSULTANT - It is still amazing to me after being in consulting for twenty years that many prospective clients are not clear as to why they want to hire someone to assist them.  Thus, you should ask yourself some questions before even picking up the phone or sending the e-mail.  Some of the questions you should be able to answer are the following:  Is the issue I am trying to solve one that I have no experience/knowledge about and need expertise or one where I just need an external, objective opinion?  Is it an issue that I do not have time to solve and just need someone to implement?  Is it a strategic issue with long term implications or a tactical one that will help me to achieve a short term objective?  Having an answer to these questions will help you to clarify whether you need a consultant or just a temporary hire.


2.  WHAT ARE THE EXPECTATIONS IN TERMS OF TIME?  - Many clients rush to hire consultants because they want an answer by tomorrow.  If this is the case, do not hire one.  Good consultants need time to learn the issue, the organization, the competition, the offering, etc.  This does not mean that they will take months to help you, but it does mean that a one or two week time window is reasonable.  Although most clients would not hire a consultant if there was not an issue, think about the fact that this particular issue probably took months or years to develop.  It is not something that can be fixed in a few days.  If the consultant tells you that they can solve it in not time, FIND ANOTHER ONE.


3.  WHAT IS THE BUDGET?  - This is probably the most important aspect from a client's point of view, although not from the consultant's one.  After all, there needs to be a defined expectation of what it will cost to solve an issue.  Depending on the issue, I will quote a fee with a plus or minus 20% variation.  The reason for this is that sometimes clients truly do not know the extent of the problem and most people tend to underestimate how long it will take to solve.  After all, if it was easy, anyone could do it and you would not need a consultant.


4.  UNDERSTANDING THE FACT THAT CONSULTANTS HAVE EXPERTISE AND THIS IS THE LARGEST FACTOR IN WHY YOU ARE PAYING THEM - I have walked away from some engagements because the clients expected to solve the issue or create the strategy with little or no investment.  I have almost twenty years of experience in executive and management positions in Fortune 500, small companies, and start-ups and about the same amount in consulting in both the U.S. and internationally.  If you are a client, please understand that I do expect to get paid for this expertise.  Many clients understand this, and they are a pleasure to work with, while others do not, and no amount of money can compensate for their lack of respect.  It is simply not worth the time and effort required to change their mind (and it is usually futile).


If you are a consultant or contemplating in entering the profession, here are some of my recommendations for you:


1.  TIME IS MONEY - This is the most important advice I give to colleagues.  Clients (at least the good ones) are willing to pay for your expertise, BUT they do expect to get the work done in the shortest period of time that is possible - unless they hire you on a retainer.  This issue was brought home to me recently when I went on vacation for a week.  An engagement came up just before I left with my wife for the west coast.  I ended up working in the mornings before she woke up and having meetings/conferences from my hotel room while she patiently waited!  If you just became a consultant, this is what you have just signed up for and it is your responsibility to work as long and hard as needed to complete the assignment as soon as possible - or don't take it.  You will have time to rest after you are finished with it (and your life partner understands this).


2.  DO NOT PROMISE WHAT YOU CANNOT DELIVER - Clients have told me in the past that they do not trust consultants because someone they hired previously was not able to deliver either on time or in the results.  A large part of being a consultant is understanding one's own capabilities and how long it takes to complete an assignment.  If you cannot deliver on a client's request, bring in another consultant who can help you or refer them to someone else.  It is best to under-promise and then over-deliver than vice-versa.


3.  RESPECT THE CLIENT AND THEIR TIME - I have seen consultants call the client and expect an immediate answer or callback.  Remember that you are working for the client - not them for you.  On the other hand, there should be a clear expectation on response time.  I actually include this in the engagement/proposal document.  I believe it is reasonable to expect a response within twenty-four hours (especially if it is an international assignment).  By the same token, the client should also respect your time (within reason).  They are the ones paying for your time, so they SHOULD expect attention and care from your side, but not be unreasonable.


Whether you are a client or consultant, the bottom line is that you should treat people with whom you work professionally and respectfully.  Otherwise, do not work with them, since no amount of money can make up for a lack of trust and professionalism.


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Please do not hesitate to call me at 1 (617) 391-0347 or e-mail me at mariocastaneda@bluesailconsulting.com to talk about this or any other subject.  I always like to hear from clients and readers.  

 

Also, please don't forget to read my interview with BostonVoyager magazine.  To read it, click here.

 

Additionally, please do not hesitate to contact us if you need help with any business issue you might have or if you want to improve profitability or reduce costs in your business through business planning.  We can help you to do this.

 

I look forward to seeing you here again in October.

 

​Mario