How to choose the right consultant?
I met entrepreneurs who have lost all their most important customers for some trivial behaviours and awkward manners; the reputation they had acquired thanks to some talented external consultants, partners or employees went busted.
I know entrepreneurs who have invested tens of thousands of euros to invent products which have seen the light of day after years and have been total flops while competitors have created much better competitive products in a very short time and today their market shares are well over 40%.
I saw business owners who have let the best salespeople and most experienced sales managers slip away and after being left alone in the desert they have chosen to work with sales managers who manage a small army of novice salespeople unfit to handle customers with a budget worth barely some tens of thousands of euros a year.
- The disaster is that entrepreneurs like these continue to win customers by promising to train them on sales techniques and the newest marketing strategies which evidently they have no clue about.
The world is swarming with singers who can’t sing, musicians who can’t play, actors who can’t act, dancers who can’t dance, painters who can’t paint, sculptors who can’t sculpt, writers who can’t write, cooks who don’t know cooking, and entrepreneurs who do not know how to create and manage a company but who have only one luck: I said luck, not the skill, the luck of finding their fellowmen, as incapable as they are but ready to believe they have found an expert they can blindly trust and give their money to.
Having said that how do you choose an external consultant, a marketing expert, a communication consultant or any other specialist without wasting a lot of money, time, and gaining nothing in return?
W A R N I N G
Every time someone teaches you something or offers to teach you something, the notions and mindset you come into contact with are nothing more than a point of view that will be all the more correct the higher the number of people willing to credit that perspective.
But beware, this also happens when you choose self-teaching by reading books, attending webinars, gathering information from online sources such as tutorials, paid courses, blog posts, guides, and all free or paid informative content.
You should also be more knowledgeable because, although a large number of people are willing to credit that outlook, it is still likely that it contains a lot of notions that are yet to be proven.
It means that even if hundreds of thousands of people bought a best-seller with the latest marketing strategies you still need to understand whether to take them for granted or adapt them to your business; based on your personal experience and practices those theories could also reveal highly surpassed or rejected from other experts whose ideas could resonate more with your mindset and your business.
3 ways to keep away from a donkey dressed as a horse.
Based on the point I’ve just highlighted, I am not aware of a proven method or advice which protects you from choosing the wrong consultant.
Widely known web sites or blog are filled with “the essentials for choosing the perfect consultant, the ultimate 27 rules to hire the best specialist and so forth”. That’s what I’ve highlighted above “the widely credited perspective”, does it ring any bell to you?
According to my experience the right consultant should:
1. Have charisma
He or she must inspire through his/her personality, authenticity and authority irradiate from him/her like an aura.
The right consultant is ready to tell clients things they don’t want to hear although they could greatly benefit while he or she could even lose the job. Being client-centric means the consultant deeply cares for his or her clients.
2. Have expertise.
Expertise is a special ability or knowledge which is acquired by training, study, or practice. Pay attention to the last word: practice.
The chance to show the most prestigious international academic awards does not grant you the expert possess the effective skills your business requires. Obviously, this is very much likely to occur when it comes to individuals who got their award from widely known universities or study programs.
In many situations, anyhow, a ten-years or twenty-years practice gave lots of individuals the chance to learn on the ground things that can’t be found in books and the outcomes of very good practice can be absolutely compared to a degree in marketing or business management and so forth.
Learn theory and put it to the test is my motto. All the same, as the famous quote goes “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”
So perfect practice itself can let some people achieve astonishing outcomes.
Let’s get down to it. A consultant may not know your specific sector at all, but you certainly know your business and the market you serve. What the consultant should bring to the table is the ability to face the issues you hired her or him for, possibly yielding new insights, solutions you and your team aren’t aware of, different strategies to use the same tools your team already knows.
Anyhow the choice isn’t always granted as it depends on the 4th point at the foot of this post.
3. Have self-respect.
In the face of adversities or hindrances, a person with character is prepared to deal effectively with difficult, unpleasant, or unforeseen situations.
Anyhow having self-respect also puts a consultant or everybody else in a sort of odd predicament.
Self-respect, in fact, does not only require to have character but also the ability to deal with the person one is speaking to in a style which keeps him or her on the boundary line.
That’s what real authoritativeness let you achieve, not the authority which could be fake: it puts unrespectful, aggressive, unskillful and silly people in their place! Remember that the subject here is business-related, we’re not speaking of friendly relations or family environments.
I judge this point quite important and I won’t stress it enough. That’s why I’ll use the Steve Jobs worn-out quote:
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
That’s when self-respect becomes relevant: when the manager or the business owner who hired the consultant tends to tell him/her what to do in his/her specific field of expertise forgetting s/he has been hired for the ability to solve problems in a cost-effective way or thanks to innovative ideas or new approaches.
It would take a long way to explain whys and wherefores this happens so frequently but one reason is sufficient: entrepreneurs rarely want to change or make decisions out of their comfort zone.
By and large, I could name other skills such as exceptional communication skills, excellent interpersonal skills, creative problem-solving skills, but these are the linchpin of each outstanding consultant, so let’s take them for granted.
Last but not least.
4. Know your problem and the reason why you need a consultant.
Sometimes problems arise and nobody exactly knows their nature.
Until you don’t know exactly what type of problem has arisen you will hardly understand what type of consultant you need, whether you must hire a generalist or a specialist and if it must be a technician you also need to identify the area of expertise.
Ask for advice among your employees and be sufficiently open-minded to let everybody express their ideas.
You may not even know that within your company you already have the necessary expertise to solve a problem. Before bringing somebody in and paying for his or her ability, think about giving a bonus to one of your team members who proved the ideal knowledge for the job.