I have a rare double-sided perspective on the value of consulting services, as I’ve spent much of my career moving back and forth between consultant and client.
It started when I was a materials R&D engineer and manager in a large corporate lab, where I had my first exposure to consultants. When I left, it was to form my own consulting group providing technical services in that same field. I transitioned back to the client side, this time as the executive director of a professional society, where I got a strong exposure to roadmapping and organizational development consulting. A second “flip-flop,” and I’m now on the consultant side again.
Full disclosure: Back on this side, I clearly have a vested interest in convincing you that engaging a consultant like Nexight Group is a good decision. That said, I hope my insights as a former client will help you create great and even unexpected value from any consulting service.
I offer this perspective because I see many of our prospective clients not able to look beyond the price tag to see the real value. Those who can see the value are effectively using consulting services to achieve unforeseen benefits.
My experience has perhaps given me a broader view of what consultants can offer, so let me broaden yours as well. Here are six ways a client can use consulting services to realize the biggest benefits:
- Take a test drive. The price tag for a consulting engagement is almost always higher than you thought (and maybe even bigger than your budget). Especially if it’s your first time around the block with a consultant, make sure they are worth it. Find a smaller piece of the project that can be done quickly and at lower cost. Make the consultant show you what they can do, and use it to test your working relationship.
- Share the risk, share the rewards. If you frame consulting relationships as win-win propositions, you can get targeted engagement on the areas that will provide you the most direct value. If you’re going after outside work, try asking the consultant to cost-share preparation of a proposal that will provide a suitable role for them in the project if awarded.
- Look beyond the statement of work. While this may seem like bad advice, I recommend always being open to extensions of work with the consultant based on what you learn. You may be able to structure the contract as a retainer agreement that will allow you and the consultant to refocus while in process and actively pursue high-value opportunities, which often aren’t apparent at the outset. You may also develop a working relationship with the consultant that says “bring me great ideas and I’ll see how we can get them supported.” In any case, it’s usually a bad sign if you have to flog the consultant with the SOW or if you think that it is the last word on potential value creation.
- Be ready for the answers. It’s a losing proposition to sign the consulting agreement, send the consultant on their way, and expect the final report will be the signal for action when it arrives. Do the hard work up front of considering how the consultant’s work will be used in your organization, and let that guide the design of the project. This requires that you maintain ongoing awareness of interim findings and emerging opportunities so that they can be effectively captured and integrated into your organization along the way. There is nothing worse than an effective consultant bringing you great business opportunities that you are unprepared to follow through on.
- Lead but listen. No question that as the client, you make the final call on what the consultant will or won’t do. That said, having a collaborative, open, and servant-leader relationship with your consultant will bring the greatest benefit. Listening also allows you to ensure that the consultant is “getting it”—that they are talking about your needs in your language.
- Count the value, not just the cost. Free consulting is worth what you pay for it—nothing—and there certainly is a real cost for quality work. Yet an effective consultant, properly targeted and focused on creating value in your terms, is a sound investment. Make your consultant demonstrate the value that they will create (at the proposal stage), are creating (during the course of the project), and have created (at the project conclusion). If they can’t articulate the value to you, that’s a red flag. When they can, it will be clear that the outcomes are worth the price.
So in conclusion—and with apologies to Joni Mitchell—
I’ve looked at this from both sides now
From client and consultant and still somehow
It’s great value creation I recall
I hope this will be of help to you all