Why Consultants Have a Bad Name

Consultants have a bad name. There I said it. You think I’m joking? Okay, not all consultants have a bad name, but to many people the word ‘consultant’ brings mixed emotions.

If I said “car salesman” what would most people think of? Overly-aggressive, fast talking and sleazy. True? Sometimes sure, but many companies have worked hard to shed this desperate image.

You’ve probably seen the books that attempt to knock the consulting industry down to the ground. A report or news article follows up to announce this ‘knockout’ book to the world … and then another book comes out ‘revealing new information’ all with the goal of keeping the industry down.

Here are just a few titles that prove the point…

  • House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time by Martin Kihn
  • Consulting Demons: Inside the Unscrupulous World of Global Corporate Consulting by Lewis Pinault
  • Dangerous Company: Management Consultants and the Businesses They Save and Ruin by James O’Shea

I’ve been in the trenches for years as a consultant so I should snuff out these accusations and lobby against them. The problem is, many of them are true.

There are too many consultants out there claiming their expertise and clear understanding of how to assist a client … but when it comes down to crunch time they produce golden eggs as often as you find them in the superstore – which isn’t very often.

There are two big reasons for this problem. Let me tell you what I think they are and then how to make sure you don’t find yourself guilty of them.

Consulting Magic
The first blunder is the result of consultants making ridiculous claims. They talk about doubling or tripling your business practically overnight. Or they tout that they have a solution that no one else can provide or implement as well as they can.

It gets worse when the client is virgin to working with outside ‘specialists’ and innocently puts their full trust in their all mighty consultant. They go to work doing what they sell as a ‘great job’ and the client happy, at first. Not long after though the client comes to realize that what the consultant helped them do, has actually put them in a bigger mess than they started out in.

Not all projects can show instant results, so by this time the consultant is long gone cash in pocket.

Results Take Time, Don’t Worry
Clearly you can’t always show your client instant ROI, but too many consultants don’t show any results. They keep telling their clients not to worry and when they’re done, the client has no idea what has happened ‘behind the scenes’.

If the client is with it they’ll demand some form of due diligence to ensure the work has been properly completed, but more often than not, this is minimal and the consultant slips away without completing much of anything.

Remember this is from the clients perspective. Once you understand what your clients’ concerns are you’ll not only have better relations with them, you’ll also encounter less resistance as you continue working together – and that means a more successful consulting business.

What Should You Do About It
To keep your name off the ‘worthless consultants hit list’ here’s what you need to do.

Make sure you can stand behind any claims that you can make. Be totally up front and honest with your client at all times. If you don’t have an answer or aren’t sure, don’t bullsh–t them. Tell them you’ll look into it to be sure and will let them know.

Create reporting sheets that continually show updates and the progress of the project. It’s very hard for your client to feel like they’re not getting value when you’re constantly showing them what you’re doing.

Deliver results. Period. Whatever it takes work with your client until you get them the results you’ve agreed to.

It may mean working a bit longer or a bit harder. It may even mean not watching that football or hockey game on the weekend so you can spend a few extra hours working on your client’s project. Heck, it may even require you to work extra without payment – but get the job done.

This is so huge. Because if you go the extra mile, your clients will love you for it. They’ll keep showering you with projects and will tell everyone they know about you. That’s being smart.

What’s key here is that you’ll be doing what many other consultants don’t. Whether consultants have a bad name or not, doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that you’re showing your client results and keeping them happy – doing this will set you miles apart from the rest of the pack and position you as a valuable member of your client’s team and a trusted advisor. And that my friends is the making of long-term success.

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  • Philippe Ingels

    I agree with the idea of trying to stay of the ‘worthless consultant hit list’ but the problem is that people have pre-conceived idea of consultants and those with bad experiences are simply not interested in listening. I did a SlideShare presentation recently called ‘All Consultants are Evil’ in which I addressed this issue (http://www.slideshare.net/WAKSTER_Ltd/all-consultants-are-evil)

    I think the solution, at least part of it, is to differentiate yourself completely from the stereotypical image of a consultant and to communicate this effectively.