By Pieter Chys - Data scientist
In consultancy, customers come to you with their problems and are looking for experts to bring them proper solutions. Consultancy applies virtually to any branch of business: software, people management, engineering, manufacturing, etc. Moreover, some professions are not labelled stricto sensu as consultancy but strongly relate to it: you consult a physician when you are sick, clinical psychologists get attended by depressed people, a banker must propose good investments and so forth. Thus, consultancy is a world business. But hold a minute! If laymen come to you with their problems, what then exactly is being a good consultant?
Consultancy, the Data Science way
Let’s take a look! We, InfoFarm, are a data science company and this means we offer data science solutions to customers based on our technical knowhow. But, this is the straightforward part, what follows is the unseen hassle of consultancy business…
First, customers come to you with a problem. Often though, they are not exactly experts in the matters at hand so instead of assuming they state the problem accurately you have to dig deep to unravel the true root of the problem. This is your job. It demands patience, listening and trying to correctly understand the actual problem from people who come to seek your help. People skills and technical know-how!
Second, after you cleared a good understanding of the issue, a consultant must analyze and propose effective solutions for the problem at hand. You will be judged on that, your customer is too smart. But, because you dug deep, the answers are not always what the customer was expecting. This demands diplomacy and people skills to convince them of another type of solution. Clear presumptions!
Third, and perhaps the most difficult part, even if you bring forth a good analysis and proper solution your customer still will rely on his presumptions to a certain degree. This demands persuasion from your side. Convince him you have it right. If the client is open to alternative solutions. But here is the tricky thing, perhaps your customer has already decided on what to do and now you are stuck with your ideal solution. But, you are in the same boat… You need to compromise!
Fourth, to spice things up, you will usually be working on a project budget. And here your customer will ultimately make the calls. And, instead of fixing the budget after initial analysis on your side, in most cases he will come to you with a fixed budget. And yes -again- he is no expert so either you are lucky or -in most cases- you will have to deal with an extra hurdle: A budget constraint!
These are now your challenges to solve. The right call will be finding the proper equilibrium between leading and following your customer for his use case. Each customer will be different though. For every other customer, you will have to solve this maze separately.
Thus, good consultancy is a tough act. It is a people skills act. It is an expertise act. It is a budget act. But above all, it is a balancing act! And that is about more than technical mastery: It is the sweet spot of a tightrope walker which succeeds in crossing thin air high in the sky.