Outsourcing

Seven reasons prospects don't want to hire IT consultants

Chip Camden discusses why a prospect may resist the idea of engaging an IT consultant. He says the challenge is to convince prospects that all consultants aren't the same.

In addition to all of the other difficulties you might encounter in securing a consulting engagement, your prospect might possess a prejudice against using consultants. Vince Crew of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC wrote a brief post about this phenomenon as it relates to legal consultants. I'd like to adapt that theme to the IT industry. I'll start by elaborating on Vince's reasons why this may be the case, and then add one that is the perennial favorite of the IT industry. Here are seven reasons why a prospect may resist the idea of engaging an IT consultant.

1: Consultants cost too much.

Vince correctly points out that you have to compare the cost of using a consultant with the cost of not using a consultant. The lost opportunities from not improving your operations could more than outweigh what you invest in a little outside help. In the IT field, prospects might raise the objection that they could just use their employees instead. You can raise the following questions in response to that:

  • Are the employees capable of performing the proposed work? A consultant may provide specialized knowledge and experience, as well as a fresh perspective on the project.
  • Do the employees have time to focus on it? If they're going to try to wedge the project in between their usual duties, you can count on delays -- not to mention the resentment of having more work piled on their plates.
  • Are employees really any less expensive? Don't forget to count the costs of benefits, vacation and sick time, and the overhead of HR and payroll.

2: Consultants' advice is common sense.

How refreshing. I've occasionally had employees say "I could have told you that" about something I advised my client. My response is: "Why didn't you?" If they come back with "I did, but nobody listened," then I reply "Well then I'm here to help make your point."

3: Consultants disrupt things.

You bet. If things didn't need disrupting, then the client must be 99%+ happy with how everything's going. But of course there's more to the meaning of "disrupt" than that. Consultants do have to be careful to fit their efforts into their client's operation in a way that doesn't defeat the parts that are working well. We need to build trust and friendship with employees so that we can work together to avoid breaking things that don't need breaking.

4: Consultants don't understand our business.

That's a fair concern. Because consultants typically specialize in one area, they need to be aware of their lack of knowledge in their client's domain, and find ways to bridge the gap. Some consultants focus on serving specific vertical markets. That works, if the market provides enough business. Those of us who specialize by technology can't afford to further narrow our market by vertical. Instead, we need to humbly acknowledge the limits of our expertise and be willing to receive a "well, actually" instead of always dishing them out.

5: Hiring a consultant is too much work.

As Vince correctly observes, the effort of analyzing and describing the business need to a consultant can turn out to be a large share of what the prospect needed to accomplish. Hiring someone from the outside forces them into doing it. When only working with insiders, it's easy to fall under the delusion that you fully understand all of your own requirements.

6: Been successful without 'em.

Translation: we're happy with the status quo. If that's really the case, then the prospect doesn't need a consultant. Perhaps they only lack imagination, though, for what they might be able to accomplish. Part of your sales responsibility as a consultant (you did know that you signed up for a sales job when you became a consultant, right?) is to paint a picture of what could be that looks a lot better than what is -- but no better than what you can deliver.

7: We've had bad experiences with consultants.

We can't deny that the consulting family tree bears a lot of rotten fruit. Our challenge is to convince our prospect that all consultants aren't the same. In contrast to "those other guys," we're committed to honesty, trust, establishing reasonable expectations and exceeding them, with the prospect of a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.

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About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

18 comments
jay
jay

I've worked both sides of the equation-as a coonsultant and as someone who evaluates (and occasionally hires) consultants. First of all, I look at consultants from two perspectives - as outsurce providers of IT services, or as specialists that enhance my requirements. Yes, in one sense, all consulting work is outsourcing, however, I am refering to the situation we have here in San Diego County. The county "outsourced" all their IT to a consulting group, and the county supervisors just love to crow about how much money it saved the county. To THAT type of attitude, I say "Bull". If you really evaluate outsourcing, you find that not all dollars saved are truly dollars retained. A "typical" outsourcing contract involves assuming ownership and control of an existing IT infrastructure, and if the consulting firm is on top of their game, there's a cushion included to cover future growth and expansion. However, reality sets in when new projects, new applications, or anything else "new" (and of a significant scale), enters the picture. These new projects normally fall outside the scope of the outsourcing contract, andincur added costs and fees. There's also the potential creation of the infamous "islands of information technology" that spring up-the finance department that doesn't want to deal with the outsourced IT vendor for some reason and creates a mini-IT system. Contrary to waht many consultants claim, the islands do rise up and quite often. On the other hand, with the increased sophistication and complexity of IT nowadays, you really cannot afford to keep a CCIE or dedicated C# programmer on staff at all times (unless your enterprise or business is of a size that would permit such), and going outside to a consultant can be valuable. I'm more of a generalist in IT-I can do a lot, but when it comes time to dig deep, I prefer to call in someone with more expertise than myself. You might compare that with the person who can change their oil and perform simple auto repairs at home, but when it comes time to perfrom a major engine and transmission overhaul-call the repair shop. With ANY consultant, the real key is defining the scope of the problem and then MANAGING the scope in conjunction with the consultant. Many consultants try and approach projects with a cookie cutter style of solution, however, the better ones will take the time to understand what the problem is and evaluate options in "consultation" with the client.

LogicalConsultants
LogicalConsultants

It's good practice to show your clients some of what your do, bring them in on some of the math of things: Your WMFP and COCOMO cost model report, Market statistics report, even show them your tools like SEER-SEM, ProjectCodeMeter and SPSS, it really builds trust when the client sees some substantial work you do, so he'll see it as a science, not a 'voodoo'.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

An employee costs much more than their salary, couple that with a consultant (should!!!) have nowt else to do but this one job they've been fetched in for, and as long as it's a well defined 'short' term engagement, a consultant will always be cheaper. Finding a good consultant is no easier or harder than finding a good employee. Generally bad employees are much more expensive, given you aren't the sort of dumbass who hires in consultants with no meaningful oversight, in whch case you almost certainly hire useless fwits as well. I've worked with consultants and I've been a consultant, the real question is and always has been do you need what this person provides permanently and exclusively, after that, the question is the answer...

paul.watson
paul.watson

Even though the sponsoring manager may understand the need and bring in consulting services, that does not inherently mean that the employee staff and their managers will be on board. Employees will sometimes lie, cheat, and connive in any way possible to undermine the efforts of consultants. The sponsoring manager should be concerned about knowledge transfer. It is fine if the client wants to have a one-off project that is done by outsiders. The client needs to know what they are getting and the consultant needs to know what they are expected to deliver. While the client may have expected deliverables that are not a contractual obligation, they cannot be ignored.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

7: We???ve had bad experiences with consultants. Translation - we made a big mess, so we needed a scapegoat. We brought the consultant in, then refused to take the suggestions or fund the work. Then we blamed everything on the consultant, so we can maintain the status quo.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

I like how this one is right at the top. :D Unfortunately, in my experience too few managers know how to calculate the cost of their employees. And that's either the complex way or the simple way. Many of them don't even realize that there are costs beyond the salary or that they need to use less than every hour in the year. In part, that's the fault of Accountants burying the costs in HR. And partially it's the fault of the manager who just does not want to know. However, IMOSVHO, convincing a manager that the price he's got in his head for his employee cost per billable hour is out to lunch, is unlikely to work. (It's about as useful as trying to train internal managers in basic service company accounting). Better technique is to sell the manager on the increased value from using a consultant for a short term.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... then they might not be good business anyway. But sometimes a prospect just has one or two inhibitions that, once overcome, make the relationship a fruitful one. What's your experience?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

1) Am I paying for this snowjob 2) Where's my f'ing deliverable. Don't try this one if your customer is an IT professional, alarm bells would ring, and loud.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

All else being equal. which it never is -- or at least, the client tries not to make it appear to be.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

or the you never asked for that, that will be more manouevre? Both are short sighted stupidities. Do it to a consultant,and any relationship you built with them , lost at a stroke and vice versa of course. If it's a genuine misunderstanding, then negotiations can proceed honestly, if some git is trying to do you up back, don't forgive and don't forget.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Not fun. I earn most of my corn clearing up after incompetents though, far from all were salaried.... When you hire a consultant, they are (in fact should be) specialists, have to remember that's someone who doesn't know a lot about anything else.... One was a seriously clever electrical engineer, they had him do the interface programming as well. Not a good idea, as it turned out....

eric
eric

you stopped too soon. Keep going... "...so we can maintain the status quo...because we're really not interested in making things better. We're really interested in bolstering our positions politically so when the project fails (and fail, it will!), the fingers of blame get pointed in the directions we want them to go."

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Yeah, if we're going to talk about "transparency" then let's brush aside anything that obscures the plain and simple results.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

obfuscation. If I've hired a consultant, I either know how hard it is, but didn't have time to do it, or I'm clueless, and wouldn't understand the explanation anyway. Either way I aren't playing some clown to BS me.