They can provide real value but can also be your worst nightmare.

As a CEO before I became a consultant 10 years ago I had very little time for consultants and did not have a high opinion of them. One of the things that has always stuck in my craw is seeing a consultant who has never actually carried a bag conduct sales training. Some have very little if any experience in the field as an outside salesperson.  Even more concerning is to watch a consultant give leadership or business acumen advice when that consultant never has had to meet a payroll or run a company personally.

Consultants can provide real value on many occasions but they can also be your worst nightmare. Consultants have inspired some clichés, such as:“A consultant will ask you for the time and then steal your watch,”and“Two things you don’t want to watch: Sausage being made and a group of consultants trying to solve a problem.”    

Worst Nightmare

Consultants can become your worst nightmare in many ways.

  • The Hanging-on Strategy. Some consultants have perfected the hanging-on strategy and use it as a tool for proactive growth. When a project starts nearing its end, new problems seem to mysteriously get identified. It may start as a training issue; the training issue grows into a management issue, a technology issue, a channel issue. Each issue can turn into another consultant project or an extension of the original project. Before you know it, your costs for the consultant’s advice and assistance become a major factor on the expense side of your profit and loss statement.

  • Unclear expectations. Some consultants are so skilled at presentations and proposal writing that deliverables become very intangible and cannot be measured. If they are not measurable, accountability goes out the window. This alone can turn your consulting experience into a nightmare. The scope of the project may have a continuous creep that costs you more and more money. Deliverables should be clearly defined and documented. However, even if you have done your homework and feel you have clear expectations, things can go wrong.

  • Employee involvement. Your risk of failure is exponentially higher if you have not involved your key employees in the decision-making process of hiring a consultant. It is essential that you have employee buy-in when you decide you need a consultant.

  • Accountability. Consultants like to say they can lead a horse to water but they can’t make them drink. In other words, consultants can’t execute the plan for the company. As a result, it is very difficult to hold consultants accountable for the results. Oftentimes the consultants make a fantastic presentation and sell their firm based on expertise they don’t really possess. They are skilled at quick research and can be convincing in demonstrating their breadth of knowledge about your business based on this quick research. On many occasions the partners of the firm may seal the deal and then send in a bunch of MBA kids to do the work. It’s a fantastic learning process for the MBAs that you end up paying for.

  • Who is in control. Hiring the wrong consultant can be dangerous. It can cost you sales, profits and even employees if you are not careful. Don’t turn your business over to a consultant. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they know your business better than you. There isn’t any consultant out there who knows your business better than you and your employees do. If you hire a consultant, stay involved and manage the process.

  • A variety of flavors. Consultants come in a variety of flavors. They consist of former salespeople, former vice presidents, MBA graduates, former CEOs, former accountants, and even former waiters. There are many professional career-based consultants that have developed impeccable reputations. There are also a lot of consultants who take on consulting projects because they are between jobs or retired and bored. Most consultants can be very convincing regarding their expertise and many can back it up with performance. But there also are those who sound impressive simply because they are exceptional speakers and presenters. Some quote problems similar to what you may be experiencing from work with prior clients. That in itself does not guarantee that they can help solve your problems. Some can, some can’t. Some may do an excellent job for you, but some may not.

  • Walk the walk. The problem with some consultants is the fact that they haven’t really walked the walk. They haven’t walked in your shoes. Most have some business experience, but many have never owned their own business. Many lack the entrepreneurial experience of starting a business from scratch and growing a substantial revenue stream. Some have never owned or sold their own business prior to becoming consultants. Many lack the experience of running a family-owned business, meeting payroll or managing cash flow. Some are well-educated, some are not.

  • The Value of an Experienced Consultant

    The right consultant can provide tremendous value to your firm. Just having an unbiased, outside pair of eyes look at your firm can reveal things that you as president and your executive staff can’t see. This is not uncommon, because you’re caught up in the day-to-day operation of your business. Also, a consultant does not have the emotional, compassionate attachment to people and processes that you and your management team have developed. As a result, the right consultant can help you identify and resolve issues that have gone unnoticed or ignored.

    Consultants provide value not because they can do things you don’t know how to do, but because they are able to devote the necessary time - that you and your team may not have - to address many issues your company may face.

    Training and employee development support are two areas where consultants provide exceptional value. The consulting industry is a huge, growing industry that is fast approaching the $100 billion mark. A market of this size attracts many players. While there are many professional, competent and trustworthy consultants out there, there are also some who may not be able to live up to your expectations. A survey bySales & Marketing Managementmagazine found that more than 75% of the business executives who responded felt that consultants are necessary for business success. These same survey results concluded that more than 50% of the firms utilizing consultants were dissatisfied or only somewhat satisfied.

    There are some highly qualified, highly effective consultants specializing in your industry. The more you are able to define your expectations, the better your chances of being pleased with the results.  Do your homework. Go beyond reading their bios. Ask specific questions about their personal business experience. Ask how many employees they were responsible for, what was the largest revenue stream they personally managed in their business career and even ask if they ever had to meet payroll or started a company from scratch.