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There Are Always Unexpected Costs in Free Consulting

Recently, a potential client told me that they had decided not to use my services for a needs assessment project. Instead, they were going to use a vendor who offered the needs assessment “for free.”

As a vendor agnostic consultant, I do charge a fee for performing a needs assessment. Many vendors do not. So why would anyone pay for consultants’ need assessment services if a vendor does it for them at no charge?

The short answer: Because when you pay a consultant, you’re not getting a sales pitch in disguise.

Most customers are aware that a salesperson will receive payment when they make a sale. But you may not know that some will shop a deal. This means that they will go to various vendor organizations, saying, “I can bring you ABC company. What can you do for me?” In essence, they will find the vendor that will pay them the most, then propose that solution to the customer. The recommendation has nothing to do with the needs of the customer, and everything to do with the size of commission received by the salesperson.

Those who do not “shop the deal” can still take advantage of promotions that are offered to the partner channel. These promotions are intended to drive the behavior of salespeople by incenting them to sell some products over others.

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It all comes down to whose interest is really represented. An independent, vendor agnostic consultant receives no payments or commissions from vendors. We are paid by our clients, and our recommendations are not influenced by higher commissions or current promotions.


Why Are Consultants Different?

We have no conflict of interest. As vendor agnostic consultants we receive NO financial compensation from vendors and service providers. This means we represent our client’s interests, not the interests of a vendor’s organization or a pursuit of the highest commissions. We are 100% on your side.

We are better at needs assessments.Why?

  1. We are transparent about what we’re being compensated for. Needs assessments are not free. As consultants, we are being paid to provide a service and have no incentive to shortchange the process or tilt it in favor of a vendor who’s paying us. Every hour a vendor spends on a “free” service is a cost that they must recover. This increases the incentive to recommend the solution that pays the highest commissions.
  2. Our needs assessments are not limited to capabilities of products or services with a vendor’s specific portfolio. This means that we will uncover the true needs of our client’s staff, rather than only those that might be met by a specific vendor solution. We are not constrained by a specific set of available options.
  3. We interview all the stakeholders and discover a broader range of needs within an organization. Most “free” needs assessments consist of an interview with the customer’s technical team. While necessary, this isn’t enough to uncover the needs of the organization as a whole. True consultants go beyond interviewing the technical team, to include interviews with representatives from key constituent groups to discuss how the technology will impact (and hopefully enhance) their business processes.
  4. Breadth of Knowledge. Top consultants spend a significant amount of time keeping up with changes in the industry. Our expertise goes far beyond one or two products. We receive regular briefings regarding product updates and roadmaps from multiple vendors in the industry. We spend time attending conferences, briefings, and webinars to keep current on trends.

All of this makes us aware of solutions and approaches from many sources.

In contrast, vendor companies may (or may not) invest time in keeping their staff current on the products they represent, but they do not normally invest in keeping up with the industry as a whole.

The next time you get an offer of free consulting, look carefully at who is really pulling the strings behind the offer. 

Melissa Swartz is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. Our consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.