4 Behaviors to Embrace When Working With Consultants

Author: 
Sona Jepsen

Consultants can be great for business, but they can also be toxic to sales teams. Though the outcome depends on many different variables, how sales reps treat their consultants can go a long way toward ensuring a positive and successful experience.

Clients see many perks when they hire professional consultants. With them come expertise, independence, and the clarity of an outside perspective — traits that are especially helpful for teams with clashing opinions. In these situations, consultants offer an unbiased opinion, and they bring a bottom-line commitment that gives great value to their services compared to in-house alternatives.

However, consultants also have the potential to cause unrest among sales teams. Sales representatives can be protective of their client relationships, so it’s understandable that unfamiliar players on their turf may be unsettling. With a consultant in the picture, representatives may fear the loss of a client or worry that a client will cut back on business.

Like any business tool, consultants should be carefully implemented and utilized. Sticking to these four behaviors will promise successful consultant relationships in the future:

Treat the consultant like a client.
While this sentiment may seem obvious, don’t let that diminish its importance. Treat a consultant with the utmost respect. Your client hired her for a reason, so by respecting the consultant, you’re ultimately respecting your client. If sales representatives try to cut a consultant from the process, the reps can paint your company — and you — in a poor light.

One of the best sales reps I’ve worked with takes the time to meet with consultants face-to-face. That way, he learns as much as possible about each consultant. The rep is sure to research a consultant’s deal history, talk to clients who previously hired her, and keep her in the loop with regular update emails. Remember: Consultants work on multiple deals in a year, so building a foundation of goodwill can pay off handsomely down the road.

Demand a close connection with your consultant.
Yes, you read that right: The strong connection is not with your client, but your consultant. More than likely, you already do a great job of keeping the client in the loop, but keeping the consultant up to speed is just as important. In many cases, a consultant will be a better communicator than your client — perhaps that’s why the client hired her in the first place.

As a vendor, you recognize the importance of being proactive with products. It’s your responsibility to tell consultants what you need. Further, it’s your job to maintain a healthy relationship with them.

I once worked with a sales representative who was collaborating with a rather challenging consultant. To quell their differences, the rep gave the consultant the white-glove treatment. Despite the consultant’s insistence on a boilerplate agenda, the rep took great strides to ensure that, in the client’s eyes, the consultant was a hero. In turn, the consultant became one of the rep’s biggest advocates. While they don’t always see eye to eye, this mutual respect has preserved and enhanced their relationship.

Keep tabs on timelines and deliverables.
When working with consultants, everything takes longer; consultants have to be involved every step of the way. Thus, making deadlines is imperative. Delayed deadlines are a huge pet peeve for many consultants, whether they involve contract turnarounds, revised pricing, or demos for a client. If you’re going to miss a deadline, be proactive —communicate your reasons with the consultant. She might be annoyed, but at least you’re opening the door for some flexibility.
To prevent the possibility of missed deadlines, a sales rep I worked with set deadline cushions. He managed his clients’ consultants just as he managed his clients. He set deadlines within reason and built enough of a cushion to meet them.

Admittedly, it’s frustrating when sales reps commit to a date they’ve personally selected, only to miss it. That said, sales reps are human, too. If the rep I formerly worked with knew a deadline might not be met, he’d inform consultants about any delays as soon as they arose. Further, he’d communicate his plans to resolve the delay.

Build your relationship with the consultant for the long term.
If you get too focused on a particular deal, you could miss your opportunity to seed future deals. It’s possible you’ll see that same consultant again, so any education you can give her today about your company’s product package will pay off in the future.

For about four years, my company has worked with a consulting firm that, for the first two years, yielded no wins or even inclusions. But, after two years of strong, consistent relationship-building efforts, the first official deal landed in our lap. While we didn’t win it, we had a long-term view in mind and used that deal as an opportunity to learn about the consultant’s practices. Conversely, we showed the firm how we work and what we could offer.

We only lost the deal because the client chose to stay with his incumbent vendor. However, the consultant was deeply impressed by what we had to offer.

Relationships with consultants don’t have to be rocky. Keep these tips in mind and watch your sales team transform consultants from adversaries into allies — all while transforming your bottom line.

Sona Jepsenis the Vice President of Consultant Relations at Fidelity National Information Services (FIS). Her department drives solutions for sales teams in consultant-led opportunities.