In helping companies develop, tune-up, or reboot their professional services organizations, here are some example of complaints I’ve heard that reflect the need for change:
- Customer: “Instead of providing consulting services, your organization is marketing its products to me and asking me to pay the bill.”
- General manager of services organization: “I am not sure we know what services we sell versus what services are provided as part of the product pre-sales cycle.”
- Manager of services organization: “We have project in XYZ area, we’re doing another thing with company ABC, and we also have a lot of internal work on DOG. It’s really hard to report on where our time is spent.”
- Customer: “The consultants you’ve assigned seem to have good technical and analytical skills. I am not sure what they are doing to help me though.”
- Field manager: “Customer A is pretty much dead and will need a restart. We got to step 10 in the process before we realized our services team forgot to perform step 2 for quality control.”
- Manager of services: “How do we price jobs? How do we cost jobs? No particular method.”
- General manager of services: “Our folks have traditionally provided services for free, and now we are trying to charge money for them because the services have value. But our quality is not there, and we don’t have the discipline built into our DNA.”
One way to think about fixing these organizations is from the ground-up (roughly from delivery to project management to sales to strategy):
- Inventory the delivery team – What skills do these folks have on the technical side? What soft skills do they have in terms of dealing with clients? How can we develop the team’s leadership skills?
- Inspect either the project management or engagement management areas – To what extent is a cadence and communication structure established between the organization and the customer? Have there been frameworks or tools developed to support the customer-facing processes? Are there knowledge management processes in place to help with delivering greater value to the customer? What role does mentorship play in the organization?
- Analyze the sales process and key contacts with customer organization – What is the strategy for services? Do we have a crisp story on getting from needs to solutions and services? Do we proactively manage the sales pipeline? Who owns and follows-through on key customer contact points? Is there a customer satisfaction process that involves both direct parties delivering and independent parties objectively evaluating the quality of services delivered?
- Assess what’s next for customers and how your company’s boundaries fit into a larger, whole solution for the customer – What role should thought leadership play? How can the services organization figure out how greater value can be added to the customer experience? Should we expand the offerings? Should we partner with other companies? Or maybe we should change the total mix of products and services so that the customer can derive additional value on their own?
Professional services organizations are complex, and the above framework enables one to start to think about how one can make improvements that affect services delivered today, while keeping other areas in perspective for handling somewhat further down the road.
Please feel free to let me know about your thoughts and experiences. Thanks!
Related post: Special Discussion On Starting Consulting Services Organizations Within Product Companies
Eventually projects with consultants come to an end. Similar to completion of a good run as an employee of a firm, feelings at the end of a consulting project can be bittersweet. For me, the sweetness of successfully completing a project feels great, while the end of the day-to-day, close working relationship with the client can make one reflect for a moment longer.
Over the years through consulting mentors, peers, and personal experience, I’ve learned of some tricks to making transitions smoother for both clients and consultants. Here are some:
- Clients and consultants should develop a mutual understanding of how the relationship will eventually end in terms of time of transition. While we don’t need pre-nuptials, recognize that relationship communication is a two-way street. Some consulting partners explicitly discuss with client executives the notion of gradually winding down longer-term relationships over periods of months (versus days or weeks) so that business and operational needs are met.
- The mutual understanding of project duration with clients and consultants may be specified in terms of project phases. Using product development lifecycle terms, the two parties may define a relationship scope to be around early phases such as ideation, planning, design, development, & incubation versus ongoing management. A twist on this may be identifying the strategic roadmap, blue sky, whiteboard areas, etc. that the client will work on regardless of consultant involvement (and then picking where the consultant will work). Once the areas are complete, the client-consultant relationship will end.
- Support the transition process with documentation, project closeout meetings, and the like. These are basic project management fundamentals, and in the cases where project boundaries may be less clear (e.g., due to a long-term relationship with a client), having tangible outputs and meeting points can help parties to transition.
- In cases of certain strategic initiative, interim management, and special-situation consulting arrangements, transition success can be measured by how effective permanent hires are onboarded. The tactical transitions can include the consultant helping with securing new financial budgets for an organization, providing knowledge transfer of strategy and planning efforts, shadowing new hire efforts, and helping to build out the initial ongoing processes.
Finally, celebrate both the relationships built and advances made together. This is where marriage and the client-consultant relationship analogy works better – hard work makes the bond stronger. And your “ex” may actually refer you in this case.
When people think about consultants, they often think about those that work for companies like McKinsey, Accenture, Deloitte, etc. These are companies that are essentially independent from product vendors. However, there are a number of companies that provide consulting or professional services as part of product companies (e.g., companies like Cisco, Avaya, Nortel, Ericsson, IBM) that may sell things like hardware or software. I’ve had the opportunity to incubate and/or reboot the management, sales, marketing, and delivery for a number of these types of consulting practices, and they definitely face a number of issues that are unique from independent consulting firms.
As an example of a jumpstart “Consulting Services for Product Company” engagement, I have often found four common failure points to look out for when examining the organization from an end-to-end view from strategy through sales and delivery (see figure below which hints at the sales learning curve an organization must work through). The failure points are:
- Unclear, strategy for providing consulting services – An example of unclear strategy includes not being able to articulate to what extent consulting services should be designed to protect product lines versus providing a new revenue stream. Also, what are the types of consulting services to be provided (the services portfolio)?
- Unclear method for getting leads into the pipeline – Depending on strategy, consulting services organizations within product companies are often implemented as overlay organizations, and as such, the process of getting in front of customers and managing prospects can lack proper definition, discipline, and support tools. Often the buyer in the organization is different too.
- Improper tone for sales meetings – Product companies are often used to marketing-push type sales strategies (e.g., “here’s the benefit and features of our product – its the best”). On the other hand, consulting services sales are often more diagnosis, empathy, and solution-driven. Getting the right mix between product and services messaging takes some work.
- Irregular quality of consulting services project delivery – In some cases, consulting services may be may be provided as an afterthought or on a “free” basis to customers (e.g., subsidized by product sales). Unfortunately, a customer’s time is money, so even if the service cost is covered elsewhere, the consulting organization still needs to provide quality work to the customer.
Implementing consulting organizations within product companies can be a great opportunity. That said, I’ve provided a peek at some of the hazards involved. What has your experience been with consulting and professional services organizations within product companies?