I had a really refreshing conversation with my new boss the other day on the role of a consultant. It was refreshing because we both seemed to agree on what a consultant does and the types of skills they possess. A good consultant has a much broader set of tools than most people think. Here is what I believe it takes to be a good consultant.
First, a consultant must have a deep technical skill set – there is no way around it. They have to put in the time and work to become an expert in their field. It is morally wrong and outright dishonest to charge a customer a fee for a consultant to come out and they do not know what they are talking about. I have seen scenarios where the customer actually knew what they were talking about and the consultant didn’t. However, since the consultant is the “expert”, the customer entrusts in what their saying and thus corrupts their own knowledge. The consultant has to take the time to stay abreast with new technologies related to their field while solidifying their foundations. Not only that, the consultant needs to research every job and customer needs BEFORE getting to the site. The customer is normally paying a decent fee for their time on-site and the consultant needs to do what they can to not waste the customer’s time. There is no replacement for technical knowledge and no easy way around getting it either.
In addition to being technical, the consultant must have good social skills as well. The customer needs someone that can empathize with their situation and really listen to their needs. A lot of consultants will come in with their own agenda thinking they know what’s best before even talking to the customer – that is not a good way to build a relationship. They need to be able to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and figure out what they are really after. The only way to do that is to truly listen to what they are saying in the initial meeting and walk through. It also means listening to their feedback when you give advice. The customer/consultant relationship should be a partnership. Not making it so makes both of the roles harder than they need to be. Doing so builds trust between the two . When there is trust, the customer is much more susceptible to input from the consultant and much more likely to give repeat business/good reviews to them as well.
In my opinion, a consultant isn’t just a “smart guy”. A consultant is someone who is personable, empathetic, and (most importantly) knows what they are talking about.
Questions or comments? Leave them below and/or find me on twitter @mattbfrederick