An increasing number of companies are choosing to cooperate with a consulting company. The most common goal is to get support in making decisions of strategic importance. It may be identifying new markets with high sales potential, creating a product expansion strategy, optimising the production processes, improving marketing communications, or even increasing sales.
The involvement of a consulting company can be a very good idea and lead to a business success. But you need to keep in mind a few basic principles of cooperation.
Define your expectations
Clearly defined and directly articulated expectations are the basis of good cooperation with a consulting company. A consultant can help you only if they know exactly what you need from the very beginning of the project. So you’ll need to talk openly about the project’s scope and the purpose of potential cooperation as early as at the stage of seeking partners and preliminary discussions. This means answering some questions, like:
- What is the project about?
- What data do I need?
- What is the scope of support to be granted by the consulting firm?
It should be also verified whether or not the client’s expectations are realistic. Sometimes, what the client wants is simply impossible. For example, a client wants to get information from their competitors – information which they themselves would never share with anyone. Or they want to acquire data that is confidential or sensitive. In the latter case, the consultant can rely on ethical principles applicable in the field of consulting and research, and refuse to provide certain information (even if they are in possession of such information). This is testament to the consultant’s professionalism.
The schedule of the project must take into account both the time to search for a consultant, as well as time to carry out the project. All dates must of course be adapted to the date on which you want to receive the results of the cooperation (e.g. launching a product). But it is also important to promptly begin discussions and work with a consultant, so as to provide them with ample time to carry out the project.
Some projects (e.g. entering a new market) can take up to 6 months or longer. An attempt to put time pressure on the consulting company can lead to two undesirable side effects. First, you run the risk of receiving data of inferior quality due to insufficient time. Second, the resulting quote is likely to be higher because of the additional element of risk in the implementation of such an accelerated project.
Designate a team responsible for the project
A common mistake is to create a working team consisting exclusively of people working for the consulting firm. The team on the client’s side is equally as important. This doesn’t have to be a lot of people – very often all that is needed is just one project manager. Of course, this person’s task will not include carrying out consulting and research, but rather coordinating the cooperation. During the project the client might want to transfer information, share internal data or verify the findings. This approach to building a team improves and speeds up the work, and allows better adapting the project to the client’s requirements.
A crucial element of streamlining work (and sometimes even expediting the project’s results) is the client’s willingness to share knowledge. This is important especially in the first stages of work, when consultants are only just becoming familiar with the client’s company and industry during meetings and workshops.
Let’s suppose that the client is willing to share their knowledge, fully answers questions and provides all the necessary data. In this scenario, the consultant has the chance to quickly access knowledge which is essential to the project. They can immediately proceed to carry out further analyses, acquire new data, and prepare conclusions and recommendations.
But when the client is unwilling to share their knowledge with consultants, they have to acquire it themselves. It is certainly feasible, but often not very effective from the perspective of both the client and the consulting firm. Instead of focusing on the implementation of the project, consultants, analysts and researchers spend time on getting information that the client already has.
The efficient execution of a consulting project requires good communication between the client and the consultant. It’s worth to develop a communication model, and then present it to all persons involved in the project. A good practice is to organise at least two meetings – one opening the project (a kickoff meeting) and one summarising the results of the work. Interim meetings and periodic reporting on the status of the project, ongoing work and emerging risks are also helpful.
If the consulting company does not propose a model of communication, it is worth it to ask and determine all relevant aspects of communication.
Learn about the roles and competences of team members
Knowledge of the roles and responsibilities of individual team members will allow you to avoid many misunderstandings. It will simplify communication, enable you to properly delegate tasks, and facilitate collaboration between the team on the client’s side and on the consulting company’s side.
One of the most common problems is treating the consultant as an industry expert and confronting them with knowledge accumulated by the client. But the consulting company must have expertise primarily in the area of advisory services. It’s good when the consultant has advisory experience in many different industries and knows various business models. This allows transferring observations and practices between industries.
In turn, the client’s core competence is the knowledge of the industry. Their staff (engineers, technologists, etc.) makes an important contribution to the project in the form of industry expertise. You can say that the client is an expert on the product and the process.
Accepting these roles of client and consultant will increase the effectiveness of cooperation between companies. It will create a space for quality consulting. And as a result, the client may even see their business problem from a whole new perspective.