CXO

Brook no nonsense from brokers

If you've got a headhunter hot on your trail, do your best to steer clear. As veteran consultant Alan Weiss warns, they're not worth your attention.


There is a plethora of “brokers” springing up representing themselves as effective intermediaries between consultants and clients. Run for the exits.

Since consulting is a relationship business, the last thing we need is the proverbial “middle man” (no politically correct way to say that) inserted smack in the middle of it. Moreover, most brokers are simply people who couldn’t make a living as legitimate consultants, so they are trying to earn some money on the backs of those who can.

A recent example: A friend asked me to respond to a broker’s request for a consultant to deal with a major family-owned business. I demurred, explaining that I don’t work that way. But she told me that the broker was eager to hear from me and would put me in touch with the buyer.

When I called the broker, he didn’t immediately recognize my friend or me. After a few minutes and his mumbling that “I’ve got 65 projects going on, it’s hard to keep track of everything,” he found the file. He told me he thought I was perfect, and gave me the buyer’s number, explaining that he’d set everything up. Now, keep in mind that the broker spoke to me for a total of six minutes, and really didn’t know anything about me.

The client was flabbergasted when I called. He said that he had “quite a few sets of materials from various consultants” sent by the broker, he wasn’t even sure he wanted to pursue the project, and he certainly wasn’t prepared to discuss what he thought was a confidential matter within the tightly-held business.

“Look,” I said, “I don’t work this way. Give me a call if you’d ever like to discuss this, and I guarantee I won’t mention this to anyone. But you ought to know that it was awfully easy to get your number and the background, and I would bet that quite a few of the people whose brochures are on your desk are telling their colleagues about this ‘opportunity.’”

He was appalled, and called the broker immediately. The broker sent me an e-mail saying it was all a “misunderstanding.”

Brokers do three horrible things:
  • They simply line up bodies with prospects, like a dating service. There is little concern or sensitivity for the client or the consultant.
  • They often have a “favorite” that they make look better by recommending “also-rans.” The broker is using you merely as one of his lower-end options. You’ll find that certain consultants with a high profile will get all the business by being constantly placed in the best light by the broker (the best option).
  • The broker will take some of your money if, by some miracle, a match is made. The broker deserves none of it.

The Internet is especially rife with this stuff. Stay away from it. If you can’t make it on your own without middlemen, you are in the wrong business.

Alan Weiss is the founder and president of Summit Consulting Group, Inc., a firm specializing in management and organization development. Summit's clients include organizations such as Hewlett-Packard, General Electric, The New York Times, Mercedes-Benz, Coldwell Banker and more than 80 other organizations in four countries. He advises executives and consultants on business objectives and personal goals. He has also written 13 books, including the best-selling Million Dollar Consulting: The Professional’s Guide to Growing a Practice. (Copyright 2000, Alan Weiss)

Have you had an unpleasant experience working through a broker? We’d like to hear about it. Post a comment below or send us an e-mail.

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