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How to Define a Qualified Consultant - Part 2

1 Aug, 2012 By: Tom Callinan imageSource


Lasprofessional with magnifyng glasst month we learned to have a firm commitment to change before engaging a consultant and to have the resources in place to work with the consultant once engaged; we also learned to have clear metrics in place that don’t compartmentalize the improvements—they flow through to the Income Statement or Balance Sheet, and you’ve started to vet the consultant’s qualifications. We’ll pick up “Part 2” of the article with addressing the vetting process.

I find that companies often spend less time vetting a consultant than they do vetting a sales management hire. Therefore, my next tip is to spend as much time or more, hiring your consultant as you would to hire a partner; you’re going to take advice from the person so don’t you want them to have more experience than you? Look at their profile on LinkedIn. I have literally seen consultants with degrees from schools that don’t exist. I have seen consultants whose resumes are dynamic, changing year-to-year and site-to-site; so do an Internet search on the person. Would you hire a partner who lied on their resume?

If the most responsible job a consultant had was as sales manager for 15 months, are you going to hire that person to fix your sales issues? You might not even hire them as a sales manager so why would you even consider hiring them as a consultant; as someone you want your team to look up to so that they can effectively complete their project? Job experience matters — a lot.

Staff vs. Operating

Staff vs. operating (also known as line) roles should also be considered when reviewing a consultant’s experience. An operating role is one with direct P/L responsibility. A president or VP/GM has direct responsibility to deliver a business plan. As the former CFO of a $335M business unit, I certainly was able to make suggestions to the six marketplace presidents that reported to the GM at my level; I was on his staff, and I was compensated on the roll-up of their results. But I did not have direct P/L responsibility to deliver that revenue or the associated operating income. There is a tremendous difference.

If you want staff advice—marketing and finance are two areas that immediately come to mind—then hire a staff person. If you want to improve your business results then hire a consultant who held operating roles, and preferably operating roles with more responsibility then the project you are hiring them for.

One big caution here: If you aren’t going to listen to the consultant—if you start overriding or ignoring their suggestions—then there is absolute certainty that the project will fail. It is here in the vetting period that you need to determine whether or not you are prepared to change and whether or not you have enough trust in the person you are hiring to believe they are the expert in the field.

You want to ensure that your consultant will be around to complete your project so deal with a firm with tenure. If the consultant doesn’t have the experience to help then they probably don’t have the capital to survive in the consulting field. Becoming a “consultant” is easy, right? Just develop a website and have business cards printed; next thing you know the money starts rolling in! Wrong—it’s hard work to develop a credible consulting practice and I’ve seen dozens of players come and go over the last six years. So before you hire a consultant have some level of confidence that they’ll be around for awhile.

Progress & Results

Get updated on project progress on a monthly basis. Have the update tie into the goals of the project. You may not see results in one or two months but you should see the project progressing down the path that was described to you at the project outset.

Most of this two-part article has been focused on how to successfully engage a consultant but you may simply want a trainer. Depending on what skills you want developed in those being trained, you can settle for a less quailed individual in a training role. For instance, a long-tenured sales manager might make a good trainer. The curriculum the trainer is going to deliver is paramount. Those being trained will enjoy a great personality and rave about “how great a trainer” the person was because they were amiable - but did they learn vital new skills that will earn them business?

Consultants, at least consultants with the correct skillset, which you’ve vetted by now, are usually highlyprofessional operations man competent trainers because they understand the sales process and the buying process. But trainers do not necessarily make good consultants. Keep in mind, however, that a trainer can have a lot less experience than a true consultant yet still be competent in their art of training.

“If you want to improve your business results then hire a consultant who held operating roles.”

Senior management needs to stay engaged in the consulting project. There is absolutely no way you will achieve the results you desire without this involvement. This is not to say that the CEO of a $50 million dealership needs to stay engaged in each update call but they should certainly get a monthly report.

What are the signs that you could benefit from a consultant?

  1. Your revenue is stagnant or decreasing
  2. Annual sales turnover is > 30%
  3. Sales productivity is < $500,000 per sales professional
  4. Your equipment revenue is < 40% of your overall revenue
  5. Your aftermarket from MPS is not greater than your copier aftermarket
  6. Your service gross margins are < 52% in copiers and < 56% in MPS
  7. Your operating income is < 15%

Finally, don’t create conflict in your organization. Don’t hire a qualified consulting firm to help you improve your sales results and then send your sales management to a training program from a different company; this is a “doomed to fail” strategy. Your team will come back from training with an entirely different program then what the consultants are implementing. Make sure your decisions are linked or you surely will be wasting money. Start with a strategy and work backwards on the resources.

To sum-up a successful consulting engagement:

  1. Have a firm commitment to change
  2. Make certain you don’t over commit; take on projects you have the resources to complete
  3. Have metrics that clearly effect your Income Statement or Balance Sheet
  4. Vet the consultant you are hiring as if you were hiring a partner
  5. Either follow the consultant’s advice or don’t hire him / them
  6. Don’t hire a trainer to consult: hire a trainer to train
  7. When you hire a consulting firm don’t create competing projects /approaches within your organization

If you follow these guidelines, a qualified consultant will readily provide a rapid payback and a strong ROI. You will be able to measure that ROI in lower turnover, higher productivity, or increased GP.

Last month we learned to have a firm commitment to change before engaging a consultant and to have the resources in place to work with the consultant once engaged; we also learned to have clear metrics in place that don’t compartmentalize the improvements—they flow through to the Income Statement or Balance Sheet, and you’ve started to vet the consultant’s qualifications. We’ll pick up “Part 2” of the article with addressing the vetting process.

Tom Callinan is founding principal of Strategy Development, a management consulting firm for the technology & outsourcing space & MPS. For complete information visit www.strategydevelopment.com.




About the Author: Tom Callinan

Tom Callinan

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