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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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 blog, he also contributes to [Geeks Are Sexy] Technology News and his two personal blogs, Chip's Quips and Chip's Tips for Developers.