Let’s say it’s the new year…or maybe the middle of one.
You get the frantic call. “Can you help us? There have been some recent…er…issues…at our firm.”
Hesitation is thick and palatable in the client’s voice. She doesn’t want to say what’s really going on…a consulting firm has been and gone, and things are a mess. Time to call in a new firm to help clean up, or transition through staff downsizing, or whatever the situation may be. And that cleanup firm happens to be yours (or you, if you’re the sole service provider.)
Your firm is the new “magic bullet”. And hey – that’s a great place to be – at first. The client is ready and waiting, maybe even desperate. They tell you they’re ready to do whatever is needed to resolve the situation.
Sounds good, right?
Well, there’s a lot of good and bad in this situation, and that’s what we’ll explore in this article. The way I’m going to approach this article is to outline a couple of scenarios, and suggest approaches for each.
Goal of this article – to provide some practical suggestions for replacing personnel or other consulting firms when starting a new project. Before we do, I’ll be up front with you and say that “transition” isn’t always the right word. We want to have transition &endash; that’s the ideal. But in reality, sometimes it’s more of a brute-force forklift between consulting firm “A” and firm “B”. Either way, this article may offer a few helpful hints.
8 Tips to Smooth Transition Between Consultants and Consulting Firms
- Ensure your business is flexible enough to survive uncertain outcomes. Tomorrow, your firm may be the one on the way out. For insider tips on keeping your company strong in all situations, join the BIG Results Consulting VIP List.
- If the former company left documentation – which is typical – see if you can get a copy. If not, contact someone who can provide an overall summary. Should you find that the company is burning through a lot of consulting firms, you want all the internal knowledge you can get. Review the documentation and see if by reading that, and talking with the client, you can discover the real issues. Was it their approach? Was it their toolset didn’t match? Did the two companies just not mesh well together? Or, perhaps the previous firm did have it right, but the client wasn’t interested for whatever reason.
- Never ever disparage the former company. Believe me, I know how difficult this can be when you’re being empathetic with the client. Instead, try a tactic like
“Yes, I can see why that strategy/method might have been chosen for where you were at the time. Now that we’re here, let’s maybe modify things this way since your business has changed and grown since then…”
- Always, ALWAYS, focus on where the business is now and where it is going. I cannot emphasize this enough. Over the years, focusing on the now has helped me through countless troubled projects. I like to say “the NOW is the THING”; always about that, and not how much was spent in the past, or what may or may not have worked (though, do salvage what you can, but only if it makes sense).
- Realize that the former firm is likely to still have some advocates. Depending on the situation, they may not have many, but if the client is big enough, they’re likely to have some. Maybe it’s only the client representative that recommended them in the first place. Maybe it’s a former CEO who brought them in on some type of insider preference or nepotism deal. Or, some technical staffers who really resonated with the particular approach, product, or service. Whatever the case, expect at least some advocates and approach the situation gently. I try to take an approach something like:
“I can see they (the former consulting company) implemented some things that resonated with you. In your opinion, what worked best about their approach? How do you feel it works with, or conflicts with the one we’ve presented? (Be careful with this one.)”.
- Focus on frequent milestone-based delivery. Delivering frequent milestones is good practice anyway, but especially when coming in on the heels of a failed project.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate and touch base even more than you normally would. In the aftermath of a failed project and/or previous consulting firm, you need to quickly build trust and maintain it regardless of project complexity.
- Document consistently, and in detail. Like communication, this is also good practice. Even more so when coming in on the heels of an ousted former consultant, or a failed project. This has two important advantages. First, it ensures that you are covered, should the client take exception to you as well. Second, it helps identify potential trouble spots early. Third, it helps build trust and show that you are doing what you said you would and that you clearly understand what the client wants. Coupled with detailed and frequent communication, your success chances are multiplied manifold.
- Bonus tip: steadfastly resist any and all comparisons. No matter how much value you deliver, some clients will always play the comparison game. It’s your job as a BIG Results Consultant to help your client view you as a totally unique value deliverer, and someone who can truly help them. And if client team members try to compare you to other consultants, remember point #3 above, and deliver massive results. In the end, results and delivery are what matter.