Turning a Consultant Skeptic into an Advocate

consultants -business board room

I don’t trust consultants; they never provide results and I’m going to get blamed when they fail.

Too many times, we hear this from clients who have only had experience with corporate consultants. Their only impression of this industry is expensive prices, and fancy presentations, but no results.

When thinking about a Typical Consultant, many think of “that guy/gal” who is super relaxed and self-assured. They make a grand entrance to your office, meter running, where they pretend to know exactly how you operate without any background information, or experience in a management position. This consultant operates without concern for wasted time, effort, and money, and has little concern for whether the results last longer than it takes for the door to close on their way out.

It then proves to be difficult to convince someone that this is not always the case.

Employees and leaders alike are often held back from taking risks out of fear of being wrong or trying something different. We are afraid of change. Some companies have instilled a fear into their employees, more specifically their leadership team, that their job will be on the line if they make the wrong decision. This fear is amplified when the decision on the table could fundamentally shift the company as they know it.

Case Study:

While pitching one client, a member of their leadership team made it clear that they did not believe in consultants or their solutions. Their leadership had only worked with large-name corporate consultants – who cost a lot of money and didn’t produce results—and was skeptical to try a smaller, less known firm to address some critical business decisions. This individual was in a predicament a lot of business leaders find themselves in: they knew that work needed to be done, and didn’t have the time or resources to do it themselves, but they also did not want to be the one to make the risky call to hire an unfamiliar company out of fear of being blamed for poor results.

This struggle is often based on a lack of trust for new people, and the fear that if things go sideways, their job would be on the line. To their credit, this response is natural. We are afraid of change, afraid of taking risks, and afraid of the unfamiliar. As Simon Sinek explains, this fear, coupled with a lack of trust, hinders our judgement:

 No one ever got fired for hiring IBM,’ goes the old adage, describing a behavior completely born out of fear. An employee in a procurement department, tasked with finding the best suppliers for a company, turns down a better product at a better price simply because it is from a smaller company or lesser-known brand. Fear, real or perceived, that his job would be on the line if something went wrong was enough to make him ignore the express purpose of his job, even do something that was not in the company’s best interest.

– Simon Sinek, “Start with Why”

Now, how do you help organizations combat this fear and bring them to a position of support?

1. Mitigate Perceived Risk

Help mitigate the client’s perceived risk of failure by sharing reference letters, case studies and guaranteeing certain results. Hearing from other companies who may have been skeptical but have seen the results that can be delivered is a tried and true method of developing trust. Previous experience with similar companies also provides an evidence-based way to make an educated guess about similar results that can be expected, which creates hope for the potential that can be reached.

2. Develop a relationship based on trust

When your business is seen as a machine with processes that need to be fixed instead of the collection of people and processes that make up a business, trust erodes. In this circumstance, the status quo of your business is disputed but without the necessary buy-in from your team that can only come having trust in the final result and the people implementing it.

On the other hand, when businesses are treated as the collection of individuals committed to a common goal, trust builds. It is essential to acknowledge the fact that real people have to carry out the changes being implemented, which means that adaptations may need to be made as you go along.

3. Keep the right people informed

People require regular updates to stay informed and to keep their team informed. Many people require a helping hand to navigate new processes. People cannot change overnight like a machine.

In the above example, the leadership team reluctantly decided to give us a 3-week project. We went into the organization, got to know their people and processes and began to show real results and the potential for significant savings over the short and long term. After just 2 weeks of high-quality work, keeping the key stakeholders informed of the recommendations, and providing evidence-based projected and real savings, a contract was signed for a larger project. This larger project as well as extensions that came as a result of to first building block, ended up saving the company significant costs. These results would not have been achieved without the initial trust that was built through open, honest and direct communication.

4. Provide the steps to success

Steps need to be put in place to bring a group through to the final vision of “done”. This includes providing the necessary training, getting the team aligned and committed to the vision, and giving them the new and/or improved tools and processes that will set them up for success. Breaking down a large, daunting project into steps or phases will help create real change in the company and make them want to work with you through the process.

The “Typical Consultant” stereotype will continue to pose a roadblock wherever we go, but the best way to combat it is to show companies results that speak for themselves, coupled with a strong work ethic and commitment to upholding trust. We have found that this approach has proven to turn a skeptic into one of our biggest advocates:

While I have never been a supporter of consultants, The Poirier Group and their supportive approach have positively changed my view to the immense value that the right consulting organization can bring.

– Client, 2018