In my twenty years of consulting, I’ve seen many consultants come and go. Some decide that it’s not for them. For others, the decision is made for them. A client may kick the consultant off the project, or the firm may remove them as a form of damage control.
Every consultant struggles to some degree in his or her first year. With any new position, it takes time to learn the ropes. But some just don’t learn. I’ve written before in this blog about consultants that just “don’t get it.” These are the things those consultants do – or don’t do – to cause them to fail early on.
They don’t understand the double standard
When consultants are placed at a client site, the client has an expectation of the consultant’s work. The client has an expectation of his or her own employees too. Those standards are likely not the same.
The bar is usually set much higher for the consultant. Often when working with a new consultant, I will review a document they have submitted and return it because of typos and grammatical errors. The consultant will respond with something like, “Robb the employee is notorious for the number of typos in his documents.”
I sometimes revert back to my childhood and want to quote my mother: “If Robb jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” It’s sometimes hard to convince them that it’s not the same. We try to hold ourselves to a higher standard. The client will definitely hold us to a higher standard.
If you want to be a good consultant, you will establish a high standard for yourself and will not compare yourself to anyone else.
They want to behave like an employee
Similar to the performance standards we hold for consultants, there is a different set of behavioral standards. The consultant sees the client employees read the paper at their desk, do fundraising for their son’s soccer team, and shop online.
The consultant assumes that all of these activities are acceptable for the consultants. Consultants are outsiders. They are often treated as outsiders. Management at the client may turn a blind eye to their own employees that use company time and resources inappropriately. They are less likely to tolerate it with a consultant that they are paying more than $100 per hour.
They are poor communicators
A consultant is expected to be a good communicator. Whether sending an email, speaking one-on-one, or giving a presentation to a group of people, she must be clear.
If the consultant is unable to summarize and provides a detail dump to an executive, they will frustrate the client. Conversely, if the consultant never communicates, leaving the client executive in the dark, that won’t work either. A consultant must also be comfortable speaking in front of a group of people. If he is visibly nervous, speaks too quietly, too loud, or has trouble getting to the point, the client is likely to lose confidence in him.
Email may be the most common form of communication in the business world. Some people send hundreds a day. The consultant should always make sure to have a clear subject line that explains what the email is about. Sending emails with typos, grammatical errors, and run-on sentences will also not set a consultant up for success.
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They aren’t client focused
Consultants are put on client projects to solve the client’s problems. The consulting firm may have their own definition of how the project will be successful. But the client’s definition is the most important one.
Meeting all of the firm’s success criteria, but not pleasing the client may result in the end of the relationship with that client. That will eventually result in a failed firm and unemployed consultants.
They don’t develop a thick skin
I’ve already discussed that the client usually has a higher standard for consultants than for his own employees. When the consultant fails to meet the client’s standards, the client can be brash and downright rude about it. Clients should never get away with abusing a consultant, but they may complain about missed dates, poor performance, or anything they doesn’t meet their expectations.
In many cases, the consultant must accept the complaint, work towards correcting it and keep a stiff upper lip. Wilting in the face of client criticism shows that you can’t handle the pressure of being a consultant.
They don’t develop a brand
Just like a retail product, a consultant should strive to stand out from the crowd. A consultant should have “brand recognition.” When the client hears the consultant’s name, it should evoke positive thoughts of wanting that consultant to stay working for the client.
The consultant should also brand himself within his firm. When management is considering staffing a new project, a successful consultant is fought over by everyone that wants him on their project.
They don’t network effectively
Although young consultants are not held responsible for sales numbers right away, it helps to start early. The key to consulting sales is developing relationships. It is critical for a new consultant to begin networking early in her career. Not just developing lots of contacts, but developing relationships. Meet people, interact with them, help them out when you can.
Then, even before the consultant is at a point in her career where she is held responsible for sales, she doesn’t just have contacts. She has relationships. As she interacts with them, she can help them solve business problems. She may begin selling before she’s held responsible for sales quotas.
Many people are drawn to consulting for a career. Some like the idea of being an expert. Some are drawn by the money. Anyone seeking a career in consulting needs to understand that it involves a different mindset than many other business occupations.
Where have you seen young consultants fail?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com