By: John Huckle, Founder and CEO
A consultant is a member of a funny bunch. Deeply inquisitive by nature, we tend to view everything as a process to be perfected or a puzzle to be solved. Put it this way. When our marketing director asked me jokingly, “How many consultants does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” I half-jokingly replied, “Most consulting companies would say, it depends on the current and future state of the electricity. I’ll get back to you with a detailed report with methodologies.” Then provided the answer I would give: “Why does the lightbulb need to be changed?”
This is where philosophies differ on what exactly defines a terrific consulting experience. When customers get to the point of seeking the services of a consultant, they are often entering the relationship with a fundamental lack of self-awareness. As such, a great professional can add value right away.
While you will have about 3,521 questions for your consultants during your relationship, here are four answers you need long before your electronic signature graces the Scope of Work.
Top 4 Questions for Your Consultant
1. What will be left when you leave?
Before the information age, consulting arrangements often ended with complex binders and lengthy Power Point decks providing mountains of data. Now, many of these answers can be found by a customer through a few internet searches. Today the most valuable result of a project is the actual result for your business. So, if a consultant answers with a report and you’re looking for real change, not an academic exercise or study, they are not the consultant for you.
2. When will you leave?
In any other context asking when someone will go away is rude. But when it comes to this relationship, it’s the most appropriate thing you can ask. When a project begins with clear outcomes tied to objectives achieved, the engagement will end when they are met. Much like the pedagogy of higher education is shifting from quantitative (credits earned) to competencies demonstrated, consulting should hinge on demonstrative outcomes. Even if your project is multi-phased, a consultant should leave you wanting more but never leave you needing more.
3. Why is what you are working on important, to me, my customers and my company?
If a consultant cannot articulate any of these in an impactful and succinct way, ten times out of ten what they are working on and producing for you will not accurately manifest itself in what is important to your customers and your company. If they can’t explain it, then that means they don’t understand it.
4. How much of wash, rinse, repeat are you?
There are a few different ways to look at a project and your consultant should know which lens they will apply throughout the engagement. It’s OK if they are coming in with a predisposed notion of what the solution is; they’ve done the same thing for five other customers. But to do so without fully understanding your environment or the root cause of problems is a dead in the water scenario. They may articulate that they will apply some basics to the situation, but provide a new angle. Or it’s a completely green field, because you need the consultant to help you identify the problem in the first place. No matter the approach, they must be able to clearly convey their approach.
That the relationship between a customer and a consultant is called an engagement is apt. You will spend a lot of time together. There is a courtship that involves sharing your deepest, darkest business desires.
When it comes to these 4 questions however, personally I never expect our customers to have to ask. Why? Because our team proactively takes these queries to them in the very first meeting. Our job as consultants is to support your success by being articulate about how we will work with you. You’ve got enough to worry about. It’s why we’re there.