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Part III - How to choose the right strategy consultant

Derek Heiss

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March 21, 2018

For this installment of our 5-part series, we will address the process of selecting the right Strategy Consultant to support your initiative and your team.  Thus far, we have discussed the reasons why you would consider bringing on a consultant and how to distinguish between a high-quality and low-quality strategy engagement, and so now comes the question of how to figure out which firm is best positioned to address your needs.

The solicitation process is generally straight-forward. Regardless of whether an organization puts out a request for proposals, or contacts individual firms, the end result is typically a pile of proposals that more or less say the same thing.  The proposal will walk the you through the firm’s understanding of your situation and scope of work, their proposed approach to solving the problem, the team members that have relevant expertise, past performance, fees, etc. and it is up to you to read between the lines to figure out who will be the best fit.

There is certainly a lot of value in reviewing what and how a consulting firm is proposing to complete the task, but reading between the lines is arguably just as critical to determine if a firm possesses a set of innate qualities that will make the difference between simply being a partner and being the right partner for you.  

For this series, we have compiled a list of guidelines for our readers that should help anyone in the market for a good Strategy Consultant make the right choice. 

These guidelines have been developed and observed by our team over the years under various professional engagements and they are qualities that we ourselves at Cipher try to strive for in the work at we do.

  1. Professional character: The consultant you hire should hold themselves to a high professional standard and set ambitious goals for themselves in how they would deliver results to you. They should also serve as a role model of sorts that would bring the best out of the rest of our organizational team.
  2. Poster child for the end-result: You should be comfortable with the firm you chose becoming synonymous with the work they are doing amongst stakeholders within your organization. For example, we typically know when the work we are doing is well-received when our clients start referring to our work internally as “the Cipher Strategy” or “the Cipher Market Study”, etc. regardless of the complexity of the work we are doing. Choose a consultant that you can envision becoming integral and well-known within your company.
  3. Agent of creativity: The consultant team should seize the role of ‘ideas people’ and ‘creative thinkers’ right away. Consultants are brought in for fresh ideas and should look to take on that role in any process from the start.
  4. Persistent proactivity: A Can-Do attitude still really counts for something. The right consulting partner should constantly be volunteering to take ownership of tasks and, at least in part, do some of the thinking for you.
  5. Boundless curiosity: If it seems that the questions coming from the consulting team are scripted and routine, this is likely a red flag. Not all consultant engagements are created equal and, to that end, some engagements may peak consultants’ interest more than others.  The partner you choose should show a genuine interest in and willingness to invest effort in solving your problem.
  6. Coaching mentality: A good consultant will want to mentor people to the point where they feel that they can pull back from a project with full confidence that the client has retained value from their interactions with the consulting team. Consultants who look for opportunities to share learnings and transfer knowledge, rather than push to win follow-on work are invested in your success.
  7. Cultural fit: Sometimes gut feel can carry a lot of weight. Will you want to regularly interact with and even rely on the consulting firm you are evaluating over a period of time? Will this consulting firm mesh well with the rest of your team?  The team you believe you will be able to build rapport and trust with fastest, is often going to be the right choice.

A well thought out and diligently prepared proposal are typically good indications of how the relationship with a Strategy Consultant team will develop, however, in many ways it is also just the tip of the iceberg.  As you evaluate different consulting firms, we recommend you invest time during the proposal phase to get to know your potential partners a bit. Ask the right questions, inquire for more information, ask for an initial discussion and a subsequent in-depth review of the provided proposal, and so on.  These steps will ensure that there is enough interaction up front to build rapport and to read between the lines to find the right fit. 

Read Part Four:  Where Software Meets Strategy, the Blended Approach

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Derek Heiss
Derek Heiss

Derek Heiss is the Director of Cipher’s Consulting Practice and is specialized in competitive intelligence and market strategy consulting. Cipher is a consulting and technology firm, based in Annapolis, with a 20+ year track record of delivering solutions to the Fortune 500 and Global 1,000.

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