Three Red Flags that indicate your Technology Consultant is marketing to you, rather than consulting for you

With recent changes in the IT Industry the past decade, I started to evaluate past experiences I’ve had over the years.  Initially the goal was to abstract lessons learned for the book in progress.  However, other insights have come to light that don’t fit the goal for the book which is to be a practical design guide not a memoir.  One of the more interesting ideas that pop into my head was the change in role many technology professionals are being put through;  from discipline practitioner to what I would call franchised professional.

What I mean by the former is that initially technology professionals focused upon the technical issue at hand.  The concept that these people should be used to “sell” products and services was purely incidental. In the 80s when I had joined IBM, S.E. meant Systems Engineer.  Their primary role was to support the customer with issues related to the technology and a secondary role was to support Marketing Representatives.  During that time a not so subtle switch in priorities occurred.  Slogans such as “everyone sells” became the standard mantra of all management.  Soon more SEs were doing customer intelligence and demand generation for marketing representatives than issue resolution for the customer. The effect of such priority changes many new SEs had almost no experience with the technology they were supporting and very little guidance on how to get such knowledge and experience.  Training and skills transfer for products became sales training and those that could get their hands on technology to learn quickly were whisked off to build demos.  A result of several years of such activities, the term “hollow suite” became popular at customer sites.  They became “Sales Engineers”.

This eventually led customers to reach out directly to developers or quickly identify those with hands on experience and request them directly.  Those of us with such experience soon became what I’ve called “engagement bait”.  That is sales and marketing staff would ask us to travel to a customer site to present on a topic, get them fired up and confirm the company did indeed have the technical chops to solve their challenges, so the representative could get an order signed.  If however, you wanted to have the more than just hardware and software laid at you’re door, you wanted the expertise, you’d sign for another purchase, a professional services contract.  Which often didn’t place the resource your thought you’d be getting on the project.

Today those tactics are still in full force with some subtle differences.  The sales and marketing efforts are imbedded in the consulting activities your paying for.  Technology companies have take a page out of the management consulting handbook to develop consulting practices that “grow” their services or “drag” product as a result of their interventions.  Below are three warning signs that your technology consultant is missioned to sell more than perform for you:

  1. Your consultant brings a methodology to help you decide where to spend your IT funds, but the methodology is limited to evaluate or prioritize around initiatives that are supplied by vendor’s company.  You should ensure that you have an independent review of all initiatives and then engage this consultant to prioritize the initiatives you’ve already selected.  This way your consultant’s is in alignment to your agenda.
  2. You technology consultant’s firm’s primary business is not consulting but providing hardware, software or IT services (e.g., cloud provider, ASP, hosting, etc.).  This in itself is not bad, however, when a priority discussion arises back at the consultant’s firm your can guess the response from the consultant’s management: “Every Sells”.  Several tactics one can take; 1) Have initiatives verses technology decisions separate so that prioritization is based upon business outcomes 2) Insist on a transparent technology evaluation of the top three providers or competitors and have an independent review of both criteria and ratings of each provider.
  3. The consultant you’ve hired to assist in evaluating and selecting technology either directly or indirectly states they will not provide evaluations of competitor’s products.  The consultant quietly lets alternatives fall to the floor through inaction.  This can be either be good or bad behavior.  As companies transform into large corporations, the rules change as to how their actions are perceived.  Providing a poor evaluation of a competitor’s product through an engagement could be seen as disparagement and open the company up to litigation.  This is why often a consultant will developed the evaluation criteria and let the client make the ratings.  A cleaver end around which shields the consultant.  The gotcha behind such is that if the criteria is slanted (i.e., the top ten attributes the consultant knows the firm does better than the competitor are used and the attributes it doesn’t do well are not used or deprioritized the evaluation is rigged).  The safeguard for such is as above, have criteria and rankings independently validated by others that do not have a stake in the outcome.

About briankseitz
I live in PacNW in a small town and work for Microsoft as a Enterprise strategy and architecture SME. I enjoy solving big complex problems, cooking and eating, woodworking and reading. I typically read between 4-8 business and technology books a month.

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