Selecting a management consultant can be a daunting task consisting of so many variables it often feels like a roll of the dice.
Yet, selecting the right partner is crucial if you are to maximize the return on your investment. The right partner will lead you to reduce costs, increase profits and help you hone your competitive advantage.
From obtaining a trusted, objective second opinion to totally reengineering your wealth management offering, finding the right fit is well worth your time and energy. Making a poor choice can be extremely costly, disappointing and often outright catastrophic in the loss of time, momentum and the impact on the morale of the team.
The following questions and suggestions were designed to help you in your quest to find the right help – right away!
- Question the consultants about their practical experience. Ask when the last time they sat eyeball to eyeball with a client or directed a team through change. Ensure they have actually done the job, not just consulted with others who are left to do it.
- Check their results when actually practicing in the field. Ask if they ran successful organizations and ask them to quantify that success. Determine if that practical experience translates into what you are trying to accomplish.
- Check references and talk with peers about their experiences with a particular consultant.
- View the consultant as a partner, an extension of your team versus an outsider, intruder or itinerant salesperson.
- Understand each firm has unique expertise, methodologies, deliverables, approaches and skill sets. Determine whether theses match your objectives.
- Determine who will be leading the project, as you want to know who will be doing most of the work and how much will be delegated to subordinates.
- Review proposals for indications of thoroughness, attention to detail, accuracy, document flow, etc. to obtain a glimpse at the firm’s work product. Ensure it clearly addresses the situational analysis, objectives, deliverables, timing, cost, key personnel, approach and representative engagements. Use this as a litmus test as to what you can expect.
- Ensure this is not the first time the firm will handle your challenge.
- Trust your gut – instincts count. Talk with the candidates several times to see not only how the conversation flows, but also if they truly understand you and what you are trying to accomplish. Be sure they “get it”.
- Be wary of the undersell; those firms trying to compete on price alone, as you may end up with far less than you expected or, more importantly, far less than you need.
- Ensure the consultancy is void of outside influences and will act as an objective partner.
- Make certain the firm has enough technical, specialized expertise and bench strength to handle unanticipated issues arising during the engagement.
- Determine if the answer is always the same. Many consultants have standard recommendations with canned presentations and deliverables, failing to customize their work to your unique situation.
- Understand there are things you don’t know, which a good consultant does; this is a big part of why you are seeking help. Take their counsel and advice and understand solutions are typically more complex than anticipated or you would have solved the problem already.
- Recognize an important first step is allowing the consultant to get to know you, your team, your culture, your competitors, your market, etc. Allow them time to learn what you know and what you don’t know so they can customize solutions and optimize results.
- Commoditize consultants; there are substantial differences in their approaches, methodologies, deliverables, skill sets, expertise, etc.
- Buy into quixotic quick fixes and aspirational talk, versus those steeped in practical experience particularly when considering the magnitude of the undertaking vis-à-vis simultaneously running your current business.
- Select a consultant without practical experience or one who hasn’t done the job for two or three decades. Many consultancies are great at research and statistics, but not at practical application of the ideas they espouse.
- Select a consultant on price alone. Firms are not the same and often you get what you pay for.
- Underestimate the long-term benefits of hiring a consultant. Amortize their contributions over many years and you will see how they pay for themselves many times over.
- Believe everything you hear.
- Underestimate the importance of chemistry between you and the consultant and the consultant and your team.
- Try to put everything into a narrowly defined box, as seldom does life or business work that way. Do, leave enough room for the consultant to guide you through what will be a fluid and dynamic process and trust them to do so.
- Be lured by designations and degrees. Certifications look good, but wane in comparison to practical experience.
- Confuse a research firm with a consulting concern. Many firms specialize in research and writing and selling reports while providing consulting services as a subordinated capability.
- View a proposal as the final word. A proposal is an attempt to capture broad thoughts typically based on a few conversations. Use it to further the dialogue to hone the proposal into a working plan, versus accepting or rejecting it outright (unless the proposal is so poor it is an omen of bad things to come).
- Over complicate or over simplify the process. A competent consultant probes deeply to learn all they can about a client before making and implementing recommendations. This is an important part of the process, not to be bypassed. Be leery of those short-cutting this step.
- Think the consultant already has the answer, as one size really does not fit all.
- Select a firm too narrowly focused. Many firms specialize in brokerage or trust or insurance. Understanding the broad components of wealth management and how to integrate them for a consistently positive client experience is critical to success.
- Select a firm operating in a single distribution channel. Many firms exalt their specialization within a single channel (such as financial institutions), however, this often limits the organization from understanding and considering best and worst practices from competitors in different channels. These outside ideas bring fresh perspective and greatly expand your universe of options.