by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

We can usually tell within the first 5 minutes whether a prospective client has had good or bad experiences with consultants. The conversation is very guarded and the prospect makes clear a litany of things they won’t pay for — before it’s even determined we’re the right people to help them. 

If you think using a consultant is in your future, here are a few tips for getting off on the right foot and ending up where you want to be:

1. Figure out your problem or need first. That seems straightforward, but many people who seek help don’t have a clear objective in mind. A blanket statement like "lowering healthcare costs" or "improving health behaviors" isn’t specific enough. By leaving it open-ended, you’re inviting consultants to play to their strengths, which, if you’re lucky, match your needs — but it’s a gamble.

2. Get references. Again, straightforward, but most don’t probe deep enough. Start with references that have used the consultant’s services only once — they either did a great job and solved all the problems, or they didn’t do well and didn’t get hired back. Ask for a list of every client from the last 12 months. This gives you lots of folks to talk to, and if it doesn’t, you have another evaluation point.

3. Map out a plan. Set a specific beginning and end, with clear checkpoints along the way. Some consultants are notorious for sticking around indefinitely. If that’s not what you want, get it down on paper at the start.

4. Get buy-in. Up and down the organization. Colleagues may feel threatened by outside help, and management may be concerned about the expense. Sell the concept up front and reinforce the business benefit throughout the consultant’s work.

5. Establish an ROI model. High-priced consultants should be able to justify their costs by showing you in dollars how it makes more sense for them to do the work than you. If they can’t, they won’t be a consultant for long.

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Keep every stakeholder informed of the project status and the consultant’s contribution. It’s easy for those not working directly with the consultant to forget. 

7. Evaluate follow-up suggestions. A consultant’s proposal should include detailed follow-up plans to ensure their work is having the desired effect. If it doesn’t, they may take the money and run.

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