Manage vs. consult Featured

12:12pm EDT April 25, 2003
Do you have the right staff solving your customers' problems?

As an independent entrepreneur guiding your business through this economy, you may ask, "Do I have the right people?" "Are they doing the right thing?"

And, do you wonder whether to send staff or to solve your clients' tough problems yourself?

If you run a service business, one question is, "Do I need more customer managers or more customer consultants?" Both serve different roles, and as an independent entrepreneur, you need to know which to send when your customers call with problems.

While most consultants were once managers, and many managers act as consultants, the skill sets are different. Customer managers must be great administrators, excellent people managers, strong collaborators and organizational players, methodical executors and cost conscious people.

Customer consultants must be great salespeople, driven individual contributors, self sufficient, entrepreneurial players, creative problem-solvers and driven to success regardless of cost.

So when do you need a consultant and when do you need a manager?

Customer managers solve problems that are routine, recurring and definable. They are best at tackling problems that can be documented and probably avoided in serving future clients. And they're capable of handling those that occur in business with more standard services and products and don't involve business judgment and in-depth knowledge of a customer's operations.

Customer consultants solve problems that are one-of-a-kind and unpredictable; that have to do with how individual customers must modify your company's service to make it work in their business; and occur in companies selling customized services or job shop products. They are also best in environments that involve business judgment and in-depth knowledge of a customer's operations.

If your business requires both, you probably need consultants and managers. Consider dividing your customers, their needs and the staff you have into the predictable and the surprising.

Chances are good that in doing this you can train your managers and your consultants differently and better; drive your costs down while increasing the service you provide to your customers; better match your staff talents to the jobs they do and in turn create more satisfied employees; and free up more of your time to manage your overall business instead of constantly fighting fires.

Most customer problems business owners face are predictable, even those that are unpredictable, because they are expected. Creating two kinds of service within your team helps you to divide and conquer. Andrew J. Birol is president of Birol Growth Consulting. He helps owners grow their businesses by growing their best and highest use. Reach him at (440) 349-1970, abirol@andybirol.com.