Independent consultants (IC) symbiotically aid both the customer and the vendor. We help the customer better understand the vendors, and we help the vendors better understand the customer. So why then do some vendors have such a negative reaction to ICs? That’s a question I am periodically left asking myself, wondering why some vendors resist the use of an IC on a project. I wonder why they don’t seem to understand how the customer>consultant>vendor relationship can benefit all constituencies. I believe vendor resistance to ICs falls into two primary categories. One category I’ll loosely characterize as “friction”, and the second category I’ll call “competition”. This month I’ll focus on the “friction”. The “friction” speaks to the perception some vendors have that ICs sit “between” them and the customer. While not the only objection cited, one of the most common is that an IC may slow the sales cycle. I unapologetically agree with that, as we seek to bring some structure to the project and move it away from the raw “pitch” stage. Yet, there are a number of friction related complaints with which I disagree. A few of the most egregious follow: Looking at the sales cycle example, one should look at the associated opportunity growth. An IC may cause a 60-day opportunity to become a 120-day opportunity. But, that opportunity will likely grow 3, 4, or 5 fold as we help the customer better understand the magnitude of their requirements, and help them better understand why they should invest in the extra capabilities, functions, redundancy, and the like. If you are an investor, wouldn’t you wait an extra two months to increase your return four times over? Sometimes the vendor believes the IC keeps the customer from understanding the “real value” of the vendor solution. In fact, a significant portion of many IC projects involves customer education. We might not always agree with the vendor that something is “special”, but we do educate the customers to help them see the “value” of all their options.
‐ Vendors often forget the ways in which an IC can reduce the vendor’s pre‐sales time expenditure. We help the customer understand and articulate their needs; we help develop designs; we help articulate the customer’s position, their pricing requirements, their service levels requirements, and more. We also often play a crucial role, without which any vendor would be stymied – we help with the internal business case packaging for senior management so that the project actually gets funded.
‐ Customer satisfaction grows if a skilled IC is involved. We work to make the customer understand what they are buying and what they can expect from it, and we develop a clear set of criteria. Furthermore, if the customer is dissatisfied despite the vendor performing as agreed, we seek to recalibrate the customer’s expectations. We actually do push back on the customer as warranted.
‐ ICs are, in military parlance, a “force multiplier”. A vendor can spend one perishable hour with a customer. Or, a vendor could spend an hour with consultant, and see that hour pay dividends at multiple customers. Of course, if you are vendor and you choose to establish an adversarial relationship with the Consultants, then the multiplication may prove problematic for you.
In the end, vendors will be well served recognizing that independent consultants are their allies. Our allegiance is to our clients, but we really do help both parties.
Due next month… the “competitive” resistance