How to Choose Your Consultant

When you buy feed, raw materials or a piece of equipment, quality control is a part of the purchasing process. What about buying consulting services? How do you find out if your consultant really accelerates your company’s progress or if he or she just creates more work? Does the consultant meet your spec?

What can a consultant do for you? There are three basic types of consulting services:

  • one time service (like presentations or single studies)
  • contract work (like project management or technical service)
  • coaching (a team or individuals)

Off course there is no straight line between these categories and individual consultants have their strength and weaknesses in each area. Consultants with strong technical expertise might fail when it comes to team issues and consultants with strong mentoring attitudes might never understand the animal feed industry. And off course there are multi-talents also. It is therefore crucial to really decide, why you are using a consultant and what you wish to achieve. The use of consultants can serve completely different purposes. These determine their action and style.

For in-house support like sales training, technical support or operations control the consultant should be task orientated and willing to understand the company culture and structure. The ‘in-house’ consultant must think within the company’s limits and respect the dos and don’ts. It sounds simple but represents a challenge. How willing is the consultant to take you through the whole process? Often consultants come up with to-do-lists that cannot be accomplished within the set business environment. How willing are you to follow? Maybe internal barriers don’t allow the implementation of changes.

For external services like customer support in the field the consultant should clearly communicate technical competency and be willing to step back in favour of corporate policies. Numberless publications and a good name in the industry are often helpful for marketing purposes but do not necessarily guarantee for results. Briefing the consultant properly and explaining the goals and contents of a campaign before it starts is crucial. In this way you create the tools to measure and share success.

A unique role for a consultancy is to fulfil outsourcing tasks. Especially for new projects like new product lines, new sales regions or new markets it can make sense to have someone do the job who is not tied into the company structure. A task orientated consultant who represents a natural authority is who you would be looking for here.

There are many ways of choosing consultancy services and often you find long check lists that cover questions like technical skills, industry reputations or ethics. Many people seem to like filling out forms. It is easy, but seldom is a decision made this way. A decision is an emotional process. Therefore, be confident in your gut feel. When you consider using a consultant, define for yourself what you want and find out if the consultant really understands. In its Latin origin the word ‘consultare’ was used in the sense of ‘advising’, ‘debating’, ‘discussing’ and,  – very important – ‘helping’.