Not surprisingly, customers and consultants approach business from very different angles. I've had experience working on both sides of the fence, and here are my recommendations for how to choose and work with a consultant while keeping your long-term business goals in sight.
Every consultant takes a different approach to how he or she conducts business. Some adopt more of a reseller role than an actual consulting role. These consultants offer minimal guidance and focus more on aligning your needs with a product that they sell. They try to make the buying experience easy. If you want a speedy transaction and volume-discount pricing, this method may work for you. This style, however, does not lend itself to conversations that result in tactical solutions preparing you to meet future needs.
Presales vs. implementation roles
One nuance to the consulting role that is not often understood by customers is the difference between presales and implementation roles. Both roles add unique value to the consulting engagement. A presales engineer looks forward and focuses on business. He or she must know what is available today and what will be on the market tomorrow, as well as what you need today and what you might need for your long-term business goals.
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Implementation roles provide depth with their field experience and hands-on experience, which cuts through the marketing hype to identify what really works and how to make it work. Many consulting organizations will focus on only one role, which limits their value. Too much emphasis on presales leads to products sold solely on marketing promises, rather than how well the product delivers on those promises. Those engagements are often plagued with difficult installs and projects that fall short of meeting all of the desired goals. On the other hand, if you place too much emphasis on the implementation role, you put yourself at risk of being painted into a corner: You may meet all your current needs, but you'll leave yourself unable to adjust to tomorrow's needs.
The fiscal quarter and pricing
As a consultant, I was surprised at the ebb and flow of the fiscal quarter. I would often receive a great pricing quote at the end of a quarter, only to be told the deal was only good until the end of that quarter, a practice which once caused a member of my management team to drop a vendor. As I worked more closely with vendors, I learned how corporations make sales and earnings forecasts and how investors pay attention to the aggressiveness of the forecast and to how well a company then delivers on the forecast.
As corporations approach the end of a quarter, and the quarterly earnings reports that follow, they face increasing pressure to meet those numbers. A good report leads to additional investment funds and business growth while a bad report leads to investors pulling back and a decline in business. With this in mind, price fluctuations are less the result of greedy salespeople and more the result of corporate reactions to the ebb and flow of transactions in light of forecasts.
Last year I learned the term seagull consultant, which refers to a consultant who flies into your data center, poops on your infrastructure, and then flies away. I have worked with consultants like this, and I am determined never to act like one. When you look for a consultant, I encourage you to look for an organization that will partner with you. Find a consultant who will take a seat at the table, roll up his sleeves and be invested in your success. You want someone who is not simply looking to make a sale, but to build a relationship that will help you meet long-term business goals.
If you constantly shop around for pricing on a single deal and establish no relationship, you'll only find consultants looking to make a sale. Beware: This is where the seagulls live.
This was first published in September 2013