In this situation, the first question the consultancy should ask is, what is motivating the software company to seek such a partnership? Does it really have the consultancy’s business interests at heart or does it have ulterior motives, such as gaining access to the client base? For clients, the first question to ask is: Can I fully trust a consultancy that has forged a partnership with a supplier?
Little to Gain, Much to Lose
The first and most important asset that consultancies will lose in such a partnership is their hard-won independence. Their firm could well become an appendage of the partnership company.
Independent consultants by definition have to be objective. The client values and respects that objectivity. Can you trust a consultant’s advice if her/his firm has partnered with a supplier company?
How can a consultant, with hand on heart, say that her advice is unbiased and objective while selling the partner’s products to the client?
It’s like a doctor prescribing medicine A instead of medicine B because they get a better commission on medicine A—it’s the surest way to lose a client’s trust. In a high trust relationship, matters are resolved quickly and at a low cost. Lack of trust, on the other hand, slows everything down and eventually costs more—and clients start walking away. Who can blame them?
Maintaining the Right Balance
The dilemma for consultants is to get the right balance between looking after the interests of their clients and looking after their own best interests. Who do they put first? Is it 50-50? The answer could be in the oft-repeated dictum: “It is always in your best interest to work in your client’s best interest.”
The Benefits of Retaining Objectivity
The consultant, as well as the client, stand to benefit in some of the following ways if the consultancy is not partnered with a supplier:
- It is easier for the two parties to build trust
- There is no ‘elephant in the room’ to worry about during negotiations
- The client can be sure that the consultant is not being swayed by external financial considerations
- The client can be sure that the consultant is being as objective as possible when issuing its advice.
One thing I have learned in my 20+ years of being in the consultancy business is that clients soon know if a company is putting their (the client’s) interests first. They also soon know if the company is putting its own—or another party’s—interests first. Lack of objectivity stands out like a sore thumb.
It all Comes Down to a Company’s Business Purpose
A company’s business purpose says a lot about its modus operandi. And it gives a good insight into its level of trustworthiness. When I am asked what my business purpose is, I immediately answer: To help people.
When asked to expand, I explain that I really enjoy helping clients improve their business performance through realignment of their supply chains.
We like to work closely with clients’ staff, to effect a knowledge transfer, give them a boost, and stimulate more confidence and capability as well. I am also a strong believer in the principle of giving, which is why I have partnered with the Buy 1 Give 1 (B1G1) organisation. Under this scheme, we support those in need as part of our everyday business. A portion of the revenue from every job we do goes to a worthy cause.
The Client comes First—With Some Rare Exceptions
In dealing with clients, I invariably try to put their interests first. For instance, I have, in the past, referred some clients to other companies when I knew that those companies had greater expertise in dealing with the particular issue at hand. It is not always possible, however, to put clients’ interests first, especially those who are unreasonable in their expectations. If you give into every whim you can quickly run your business into the ground.
But I believe that over the years I have won the trust of my clients. They wouldn’t keep coming back
if I hadn’t. For me, business trust is my most valuable commodity. It is hard to earn and easy to lose—which is why I jealously guard my independence.