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Guest Correspondent Mark Crowell Shares How to Hire the Right Consultant

This week we feature guest blogger Mark Crowell, founder and principal culinologist at CuliNex, sharing his thoughts on the kinds of questions you need to ask yourself in order to hire a consultant who’s a good fit for your needs. CuliNex is one of the food industry’s premier consulting firms providing product development and strategic business services focused on clean label food products.

Choosing the right product development consultant to help make your product development dreams come true is a daunting task and can feel like a risky gamble. Because they are usually providing a service, there’s no physical product to evaluate, so you’re largely making your decision based on your research and what the consultant tells you. Selecting one that is a good fit for your needs can literally make the difference between the success and failure of your project.

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So how do you remove some of the risk and tilt the odds in your favor? Not surprisingly, doing your homework is a big part of it. The better you understand the consultant’s capabilities and your own needs, the easier it will be to suss out if the fit is a good one. Here are some of the most important questions to ask and the kind of answers you should be ready to provide:

On the consultant side of things

  • Does your consultant specialize in the work you need accomplished or is it just a sideline for them? What is their track record with projects of your type? Do they have case studies, testimonials, and references they can provide you?
  • What size companies do they prefer to work with? If you are entrepreneurial and scrappy, and they work with Fortune 500 companies, that could be an issue.
  • What is their operating philosophy? Do they only do projects from start to finish or do they offer their service a la carte?
  • Do they want a long-term relationship or are they just interested in a one-time project?
  • Can they relate to and understand your company and your customers?
  • Do they have the level of business sophistication that you require?
  • Do they get what you are trying to accomplish? That’s going to make a big difference in how quickly they can get up to speed with your project.
  • How do they charge for their services? What happens if the project scope changes or the project is delayed?

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On your side

  • You will want to make sure your consultant understands your company and your project (and you, if you are going to be the point of contact).
  • Do you have a good project definition? Have you done your homework on the project’s business justification? How well have you defined the product opportunity? How does it fit with your brand and overall strategy? What kind of value is it going to add if successful? (This should lead you to some conclusions regarding what a reasonable R&D budget will be).
  • Have you done any consumer research on the intended target market?
  • Which services are you going to need from the consultant? Will the consultant be working as part of a cross-functional team or working on his or her own, independent of others? What roles and responsibilities will other people in your company have (e.g. approver, champion, contract administrator, accounting, market research, etc.)?
  • What is your gut sense about them? Do they inspire confidence? Are they trustworthy?
  • Are they easy to understand and communicate with? Are they organized? Do they seem to have a system? Are they efficient?

By doing your homework and ensuring a good fit between your consultant, your project, and your company, you can go a long way toward turning a crap shoot into a long lasting, mutually beneficial, strategic relationship.

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