We all grew up having homework to do. Despite the advice from our parents and teachers to do it, some of us did it more than others. And it showed in the long run.
When I was a senior in college preparing to interview with hiring firms, I heard the advice to do my homework once again. This time it wasn’t as easy as the assigned homework I had received in school.
I remember being confused when college advisors told me to “do my homework” on companies I was interviewing with.
I eventually learned that it meant spending time investigating the company. Learning about the products and services they offered, the markets they served and knowing all of their locations, among other facts.
Consulting homework – Old school
This, of course was in the ancient days before the internet. We couldn’t just Google them or go to their website and click the ‘About us’ link to learn everything about them.
Back then, we needed to go to the library and review indexes about companies or, if they were a large firm, there may have been books written about them. The information was always uncertain because as soon as something is published in print, it becomes dated.
Modern consulting homework approaches
Today, college grads – or anyone in job search mode – can find out a lot about a company in a short length of time. Anyone who hasn’t done research on the company they’re interviewing with will probably not do well in the interview. If they begin asking questions that they could have easily found out with a Google search, the firm will probably make assumptions about their thoroughness. For instance, if you ask an interviewing firm “What do you do?”, they’ll probably answer you, but won’t consider you too seriously after that.
Consultants face the same situation when working with new clients. When a consultant begins meeting with a client with the hope of selling consulting services, they had better have done their homework on them.
Knowing what the company does, their strengths and weaknesses as well as their financial performance over the past few years, is the minimum knowledge a consultant should have when meeting with a potential client. This can be easily found for public companies by reviewing their annual reports over the past several years.
It can also be helpful to be familiar with the client’s executive team; who they are, where they’ve worked before and how closely you may be connected to them through LinkedIn (2nd or 3rd degree or Out of your network). If you’re a 2nd degree connection, you may be able to discuss your shared connection with them or talk to that shared connection to get additional information.
Seek information from several sources. Bing can often give different search results than Google. Be sure to read all of the information the company has published about themselves including blogs and articles. Look also for information from outside sources. Sites like Glassdoor.com will give you a perspective on what employees – past and present – are saying about them. There are many other independent sites that may have information about the company.
Finally, take much of what you read with a grain of salt. Information on the internet can often be subject to peoples’ opinions. Use the information you find to ask the next level of intelligent questions of the client. The information you learn from your research will not be comprehensive. The questions you ask the client should be the next level deeper than what you can find out by doing your homework.
It’s never been easier to do your homework on a potential client. But don’t think that researching the client tells you everything you need to know. Your competitors have most likely also done their homework. In that respect, doing your homework is the cost of doing business. How you use the information is the key to getting a competitive advantage. Taking the knowledge learned to formulate intelligent questions when you meet with the client will show them that you are interested in their company and in helping them improve their business.
What other consulting homework approaches do you use?
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
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.