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ACHIEVING SCALE

5 Ways Consultants Can Kill Your Business

Bringing on a consultant can be essential to solving tricky business problems. But if you're not careful about how you make the decision, you can end up worse off than ever.
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There comes a point at which every business leader needs help.

While building a fantastic in-house team is essential, there’s nothing like getting a bit of outside expertise to find the best solution to a particularly tricky problem. It’s the desire for this sort of perspective that has turned consulting into a multi-trillion dollar industry.

There’s no doubt that finding the right consultant can make the difference between whether or not a company achieves its goals. Unfortunately, far too many consulting firms harm the companies they’re being paid a whole lot of money to serve. 



If you’re thinking of hiring a consultant or currently working with one, keep an eye out for these five most common damaging behaviors. 


1. They Substitute Perception for Reality

If your consultant traffics heavily in high-level theories and complex concepts, it might be worth your while to raise an eyebrow. There are times when the answer to a business problem is complicated, but that’s the exception to the rule. In most cases, the best advice is simple, direct, and presented in clear English. Consulting firms that make a habit of regularly delivering presentation decks filled with convoluted messages and obscure analyses are often masking the reality of what they’re able to deliver. If you’re dealing with a consultancy that specializes in ornate packaging, make sure to peel off a corner to see whether the actual gift is worth buying.



2. They Sidestep Tactics

Often a consultant will present a seemingly impressive solution backed up with mountains of charts, figures, and statistics. But when their clients attempt to implement what they’ve received, they find there really isn’t much there in the way of actionable steps to take. And more often than not, employees won’t speak up about the lack of useful material because they don’t want anyone to perceive them as not being able to understand what’s going on. The truth is that many consultants are experts at burying an absence of real tactical advice under many layers of fancy-sounding fluff. Be sure to ask the necessary questions to determine whether a consultant is effective at solving the problems you need help with--or if they’re just good at talking about them.

3. They Put Their Brand Before Yours



Many times, a consulting firm will spend a lot of marketing dollars on making its own brand famous, which is often represented by a trademarked report, paper, or analysis that only it does. While these special advice packages can have real value, many consulting companies have so much of a vested interest in their own proprietary products that they fail to adjust to the unique set of issues specific clients are currently experiencing. One way to determine whether a consulting firm will give you advice that can actually drive solutions is to ask yourself if it seems to be pushing a information product tailored to impress investors or one designed to help your business get to where it needs to go. If it’s the former, run as fast as you can.


4. They Rely on the Tried-and-True



I see it all the time: A company brings on a consulting juggernaut to help it figure out how to adapt to the new reality of marketing in the digital era. The solution the firm comes up involves a high tech presentation and even higher tech case studies. But when it comes to the true substance of the steps they recommend, it may as well be 1982. Before accepting at face value what a consultant says you should do, conduct at least a little bit of your own research to make sure they aren’t just rehashing old ideas with a new cover page.


5. They Present Themselves as Experts … on Everything



The bigger a consulting firm gets, the more companies, industries, and types of advice they begin to give out (and charge for). Management. Accounting. Software. Hardware. IT. Digital marketing. But just because a consulting firm made its name giving one kind of advice doesn’t mean they’re equally adept at dealing with every business problem. Before hiring a consultant based on size and reputation, make sure the group you’re considering has had successes in eliminating the specific pain points you’re struggling with. It could make all the difference between whether you get your problem solved or make a massive investment only to end up with a bigger mess than before.

Last updated: Jan 16, 2014

MICHAEL SCHEIN | Columnist | Founder and principal of Michael Schein Communications

Michael Schein is the founder and principal of Michael Schein Communications, a digital marketing company. He has created or facilitated the production of content for companies such as eBay, LinkedIn, Avectra, Tesla, SEER Interactive, Interneer, Arise Virtual Solutions, and Citrix. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with honors and got his start at Spin the Bottle, the production company behind VH1 hit show Pop Up Video.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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