Since this is my inaugural blog at AAJ, I’d like to take a quick second to explain the concept behind this blog and discuss what will be covered in forthcoming editions, and why.
I have 20+ years in the consulting industry, going back even to my days as a bartender. Yes, even then I was consulting, I just did not know it at the time. During the 25 years since, I have been graciously asked to contribute in speaking engagements, teaching classes, and otherwise advising startups on a variety of topics. When asked to do so, I have always taken stories, issues, and challenges that I was personally facing and used those experience to convey whatever business principle that was the topic of choice. Personal experience being the best source for learning what to do and more often than not, what not to do.
So the concept for this blog will be the same. I will write a blog about the situations I find myself as an entrepreneur, acting CFO, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, as an investor in small startups, and as a business person in general. I will leverage my experience in buying companies, selling companies, creating my own from scratch, being a National Partner Account Manager, Regional Sales Manager, Operations Analyst. Most often, the topics covered will focus on the consulting industry, building sales teams, creating marketing strategies, building practices, understanding prospects and their buying cycles, or the quest to always become better at serving our clients.
I believe that there are many entrepreneurs and business people that struggle with some of the same issues that I do. Sometimes just having someone give voice to the issue or decision that you face can help your verbalize, organize, or evaluate the solution. By no means do I claim to have all the answers. In fact, often times I will be searching for a right answer and will share this journey with you. And I certainly do not claim to be an award winning writer, I hope you will forgive my writing style. But even with these shortcomings, I do hope that my shared experience will help generate a conversation around practical, pragmatic solutions to every day challenges we need to overcome and opportunities we can seize.
So thank you for taking the time to read these blogs. So with that, let’s get started with the first one.
1) 7 attributes to look for when hiring a consultant
I was talking with an AAJ client and at some point the discussion turned to me hiring a Sales and Marketing consultant to assist with sales training and marketing strategies. As the conversation progressed she asked me about my top priorities. Given that I work for a Business and IT consulting firm and I have 20+ years in the consulting arena, she wanted my opinion on what to look for. I gave her some of my thoughts and we continued the conversation. But later that night I couldn’t sleep because I kept repeating the question over and over in my head. I have undoubtedly answered the question hundreds of times to customers looking to hire our services in one form or another, but never as it pertained to me hiring someone. So through the long night of unrest, I came up with a list of the top 7 attributes I look for when hiring a consultant.
The first attribute I look for in a consultant is someone who is credentialed in the area that I need his/her services. Do they have the appropriate certificates and requisite expertise in what I need them to have? This is an obvious area, but it does get overlooked too often. We had a demo and they sounded like they knew what we needed, they sounded knowledgeable, so we forget to ask for certifications and creds. I have a rule that I do not even interview companies without the minimum credentials required. It prevents situations where we liked the consultant vendor all to find out they were not certified in what we needed.
The second thing I look for is experience. Have they previously done what I need them to do? How often have they done it? Do they have references from satisfied customers? Again, this is an obvious attribute that we frequently overlook, don’t we? We all are rushed, too much to do with little time to get it done. So we often will skip a step here or there. We do not call the reference because who would ever give us a bad reference. But calling references can give you very good insight into the strengths and weaknesses of a consultant.
4) Communication skills
It does not matter how good the consultant is if they cannot communicate effectively. This does not mean that they can speak without an accent, or that they have perfect written skills. I am looking for someone who can communicate complex issues into simple, practical terms. Communicating complex terms in a straight forward, easy to understand manner is how I learn. It is how my organization learns. So I am looking for that as a primary skill as I interview the consultant.
This is another of the core attributes I look for in a consultant. Now there are all kinds of intelligence. My wife would tell you that I am very intelligent when it comes to numbers, but give me a hammer and a nail, and that intelligence is nowhere to be found. Whatever the consultant’s type of intelligence, it has needs to match my need. It may need to be emotional intelligence, and it may need be mathematical intelligence depending on what I am trying to get done. But the point is, in what area do I need them to be intelligent? Obviously, I want someone with more intelligence than I have in the subject matter. Otherwise, why do I need them (other than capacity issues, but I would still expect them to be at least at the same level as I am). There is no bigger predictor of success than intelligence. So if I am paying for someone to advise and consult me, I want them to be much smarter than me.
If I am bringing in a training consultant, I want them to have a process they have used, complete with training guides, books, and best practices. I do not want to have to pay the consultant to build these from scratch for me.
7) The combination of passion and a thirst for learning
I count these as one attribute because they go hand in hand. Most people will not continue to hone their craft after time, unless they love what they do. To stay on top, and to continually learn, you have to have passion for what you are doing. Likewise, if you do not like to learn, and are not willing to stay on top of your chosen profession, I do not care how much passion you have, how much you love what you do, you probably stopped being useful to me a couple of years back when you stopped learning.
8) The combination of integrity and honesty
Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. Honesty is telling the truth, even when it hurts you (or the client). I hate when people try to spin a story because they are afraid of losing business if they tell the truth. It hurts them in the long run because I will stop using them if I feel I am not getting the unbiased, unfiltered truth. Likewise, I do not want to have to manage a consultant. I have my own team I need to nurture and manage. So, if I do not trust that the consultant is capable or willing to manage themselves and get the job done, then I will not hire the consultant. Integrity is as much about being capable to do the right thing, as it is choosing to do the right thing.
If a consultant has these seven attributes, then they are of immense value to me. If they are missing one, or a subset, then their value is drastically reduced. I am sure each of you have a similar list that you use to guide your decisions. I would love to have you email me (tommy.simon [at] aajtech [dot] com) and let me know what your list is. Let me know if I left out something on my list that would be important to you.
Thanks for reading and until next time, I wish you happiness, health and prosperity.