Hiring the right consultant is tough, especially since there often is no physical product to evaluate. Aside from checking credentials and references, your decision often rests largely on what a consultant says.

Here are eight things great consultants say:

"I don't know."

Consultants love to know. You can’t blame them: A consultant's job is to provide answers, especially the answers you don't have. If you had the answers you wouldn't need help.

A consultant willing to say, "I don't know… let's figure it out," is more likely to take a collaborative approach than one who pretends to be omniscient.

"Implementation will be a bigger pain than you hope."

All projects are disruptive. The best projects are often hugely disruptive because the best projects require huge changes. A consultant who downplays the disruption factor is inexperienced or fibbing.

A consultant who doesn't sugarcoat up front is much more likely to shoot straight during the rest of the engagement.

"We can't provide a turn-key solution."

Buzzwords aside, there are no turn-key solutions unless the consultant will provide simple equipment, hardware, or applications, and even then some amount of training and process modification is usually necessary.

There will always be more work involved on your end than you estimate, so the more you know ahead of time the better you can plan and the more likely you can end up on-budget and on time.

"I still don’t understand the requirements."

Some consultants love fuzzy requirements because "misunderstandings" or "gaps" create wiggle room later. (Scope change, anyone?) Good consultants want to know as much as possible; the better they understand your expectations the easier it is to deliver those expectations.

The consultant who makes it easy up front is likely to make it really hard on the back end. Great consultants will drive you crazy seeking details early on—and that's a good thing.

"You can do that on your own."

Great consultants are willing to point out ways their customers can save money. Losing a little revenue is better than losing customers who realize they purchased services they didn't need.

Great consultants operate just like you do. They try to build long-term business relationships.

"Your team is telling me something different... let's sort things out."

What you want and what your employees want (especially the end-users) are often two very different things. Employee wish lists can get really long... and really profitable for a consultant.

Look for a consultant who tries to reconcile various perspectives and needs so the project scope is clearly defined. A clearly defined project protects you.

"We'll want to come back later to see how things turned out."

All consultants focus on successful project completion. The problem is that some feel "successful completion" means "final payment." Good consultants care about how the project turned out for you.

The best consultant I hired called every three months to check in. Great for us, something in it for him too: Identifying problems helped him improve his processes.


Rarely can a consultant provide everything you request for the price and schedule you need. "No" is disappointing but is often the answer you most need to hear up front. Would you rather create a plan based on reality or on empty promises?

Many consultants work on the "agree now, modify later" principle. Make sure you find one who doesn't.