Practical Tips for Working with Other Consultants

There is a funny dance when two outside consultants work together on a client project. I liken it to the a finish line where there is incredible competition to be the first one to finish … or even like a dog park, where dogs size each other up to see who is bigger, stronger and has larger chops! In my experience, there are three personas consultants adopt when working together: Tenacious Terrier, Prohibitive Pyrenees and Congenial Cocker Spaniels.

Tenacious Terriers – If you know anything about terriers, you know they can be aggressive, territorial and stubborn. This consultant always tries to assert their knowledge and get in the last word. They have an underlying layer of fear that they are going to be ousted or that they will be shown up by others.

Prohibitive Pyrenees – Territorial, cliquish and somewhat solitary, these consultants will never accept another consultant’s role in the customer’s business. They always find a way to exclude the other consulting firm from vital conversations or to pass the blame if the project goes south. These consultants have a big bark, frequently followed by a bite.

Congenial Cocker Spaniels – My favorite consultants to work with, these are the people who look out for the best interests of the client and know their own limitations. They are honest, motivated, confident and flexible. These personable consultants are the easiest to work with because they know their role in the project, do the job they are tasked to do and let others team members perform their tasks.

There’s no doubt you’ll encounter one, two or all three of these breeds at some point, and you can’t rely on your instincts alone to find common ground for the good of the client. Here are several tips on how to get results:

  1. Turn the consultant into a friend rather than a foe. So much of the posturing consultants do is about maintaining a good relationship with the client. When the consultant realizes you are not there to discredit them or steal the client/customer, they generally calm down. Make certain to stress their value in the success of the project so they have confidence in the working relationship.
  2. See the opportunity. Consultants need clients. Consultants also need a network of referrals or partners to work with on client engagements. Smooth the way by realizing that these relationships are important for future contracts and referrals.
  3. Use the most powerful phrase in the consulting world—“Let me show you.” This allows you to establish your credibility and prove your role at the same time. When my client’s CPA swore up and down that the software we recommended did not have the capabilities the client needed, I did a software demo that put all doubts to rest.
  4. Protect yourself and your reputation, but try not to get defensive. One of our long-term clients hired a new controller who appears to feel threatened because he doesn’t have all the answers. Rather than just asking us for the information, he sends harsh, accusatory emails. This makes us not want to help him. It also makes him look bad because we end up copying his management on our response so they know what we are up against.
  5. There’s always the possibility that you will get along. Acknowledge there is a 50/50 chance you are going to get along with a Tenacious Terrier or a Prohibitive Pyrenees consultant. Knowing this going in will save you a lot of heartache in the end.
  6. Aim to be the Congenial Cocker Spaniel. Your behavior changes depending on your environment, the people you are working with and the stakes. Be aware of your feelings. When you are less confident or threatened in a situation, you can’t be at your best. Instead, aim to be a confident, motivated problem solver.