The 4 Consultant Types: Know Which You Are, Know Which to Ask For

Q: What do you do?

A: I’m a consultant.

9 times out of ten the asker of the question enquires no deeper, because they were either just making polite conversation, or they just don’t care. Or both.

The title of ‘consultant’ can hide all manner of sins, as it can be used to enhance the reputation of the unworthy, leading others to believe that their level of expertise goes as deep as the up-front appearances. It is, however, far preferable to ‘expert’, which is bandied around far too often and usually by the very people least equipped to do so.

The old cliche; “An expert is someone who knows 1% more than those around him.” is as true now as it’s always been. And if I’m honest with myself, so is “An expert is just somebody from out of town with slides.”, but that’s a little too close to the mark.

Luckily, you don’t need to be an expert in anything to be a great consultant, you just need to know people who are experts, and when to apply them. For example, there are thousands of people who do every individual thing that I do, and do it many time better, but few can apply their overall knowledge, experience, and skill-set to a client’s maximum long-term benefit.

What are the 4 consultant types?

  1. The ‘Auditor’: Auditors are extremely detail oriented, and can (and do) write massively detailed reports on exactly what you’re doing wrong. While this can be very useful in some scenarios, if you were looking for someone to tell you anything other than what is broken you have the wrong person. There will be little to no out-of-the-box thinking with an auditor, if you aren’t doing exactly what is written, you will fail the test. You will also receive very little in the way of of help actually fixing the problems, so will probably end up paying someone else to finish the piece of work;
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  2. The ‘Assessor: Assessors are still very tied to the written instructions, but are better able to read the intent of the situation, and are subsequently better able to tell you why a things is not right, as well provide some limited guidance on how to fix it. As with the Auditor, you will likely require additional help to reach your goals, but if you are looking for a sanity check or [cringe] tick-in-the-box compliance with a standard like PCI, then Assessors are a reasonable choice. Mostly because they are cheaper;
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  3. The ‘Consultant’: I reserve this title for people who are able to not only explain simply what you are doing wrong, but 1) why it’s wrong, 2) what you should be doing, and 3) provide several options on how to fix what’s wrong. The Consultant’s experience will be such that they have seen close to your specific scenario many times, and can provide all the guidance you need to choose the right solution(s) as well as implement them appropriately. You might be thinking this is the ultimate, but it isn’t, there is a critical aspect missing from the Consultants’ portfolio, which is filled by;
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  4. The ‘Teacher’: Teachers approach every gig with a single goal in mind; to never have to repeat anything they do. These rare folks are able to enormously simplify the challenge at hand, and TEACH the client to fix it themselves. And not just once, whatever the solution was, the Teacher will show the client how to maintain the fix, and how to implement a cycle of continual improvement in line with business goals. Above all, the Teacher will help you to always ask the right questions, which is half the battle.

In the PCI space for example, I can count the number of Teachers I have seen on one hand, and even Consultants are thin on the ground. I don’t blame the consulting companies for this, it’s the clients who are continually bitching about price and settling for the lowest bidders.

In consulting, more than in almost any other profession, you get what you pay for, and Consultants/Teachers are always cheaper in the long run.

Also, you will eventually get the type of consultant equivalent to the level of effort you put in finding one. If you end up with an idiot, it’s because you’re lazy.

Don’t know where to start? Ask.

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2 thoughts on “The 4 Consultant Types: Know Which You Are, Know Which to Ask For

  1. David, my compliments on a well written article.

    In my opinion, I trend towards “Consultant” or “Teacher”, depending on the client. Some clients desire and need education and guidance; others need specialized (and relatively rare) expertise.

    I often use medical practice as an analogy. Some times, teaching and instruction are appropriate. For other procedures, one wants someone who has been down this road before, and knows well where the hazards and opportunities lie.

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