There are many consultants, so clients can choose which one they want to work with. But how do they make this decision?

Jaap Boonstra

Let's be honest, some clients do not consciously choose a consultant. They are presented with consultants from a big consultancy firm, or they formulate an assignment and award it to a consultancy firm that wins the tender. As a client, you then must wait and see who your consultants will be. Other clients consciously choose a consultant who can help them solve an organizational issue. Which considerations then play a role and what is essential for clients to enter in a good consulting process? 


Trust is at the top of the list for clients when choosing consultants. It is about confidence in knowledge and skills, trust in the person and trust in the relationship. 

Confidence in knowledge and skills 

Confidence in knowledge and skills means that the consultant has demonstrable experience with the issue the client is struggling with. Knowledge of the sector helps to recognize patterns and to have the right conversation. Skill is expected in making problem analyzes and presenting possible solutions. Advisors who have no expertise and cannot think in terms of multiple solutions are rarely trusted. 

Trust in the person 

Trust in the person is about sincerity, honesty, independence and fairness. Trust is created when the adviser is prepared to make the connection and does not come across as pedantic or judgmental. Availability and involvement help build trust. Trust grows through genuine interest in the company and the people who work there and genuine curiosity about what is going on. Consultants who cannot listen and connect will never develop a relationship of trust. 

Trust in the relationship 

Social sensitivity is called upon on both sides to build a relationship of trust. It's about equality and having time for each other. In the relationship, empathy is expected from advisers and understanding is demanded from an appreciative attitude. There is a willingness on both sides to make the non-negotiable negotiable and to discuss the relationship if tension arises. In a good relationship, confrontation is possible so that the relationship can deepen. Consultants who are unable to discuss the relationship with the client can never fully offer the help that is needed. 


A second important criterion for clients is the assessment of whether the consultant is willing and able to cooperate. This interplay takes place on several levels. 

Collaboration and knowledge transfer 

The internal interaction with people in the organization is highly valued by many clients. First of all, this concerns the interplay between client and consultant in which the client remains in charge and the consultant is visible if necessary without taking over the change process. In addition, it is about teamwork with others in the organization and the willingness of the consultant to work with others and to transfer knowledge and experience. Consultants who are not prepared to share knowledge and experience do not help an organization to stand on its own two feet. 

Spreading and anchoring 

In the advisory process, there is cooperation with problem holders, experts by experience, informants, sponsors, critics and anchor points. Involving people who can be anchor points for an improvement or a change starts early in the advisory process. In order to shape the internal cooperation, it is necessary for advisers to become familiar with the internal force field. Consultants who are not capable of broad cooperation, nor willing to make themselves redundant, do not contribute to a robust result. 

Willingness to get your hands dirty 

Rebellions always emerge in a change. Exposing problems and patterns is relevant in arriving at a solution. Developing a solution is necessary to achieve improvement. Realizing a solution is essential to bring about actual improvements and changes. This requires continuous teamwork until the desired result is achieved. This means that consultants are willing to get their hands dirty to support implementation. Consultants who limit themselves to making an analysis and developing a solution and stand by the sidelines during the realization lose their credibility. 

Expertise and competences 

Clients who consciously choose a consultant reflect on the core of the issue they are faced with. Then it is possible to weigh up what knowledge and skills are required, what is needed in the collaboration with the consultant and what kind of mutual trust between client and consultant must be developed. The table below can be helpful in making a well-considered choice as to which advisor can contribute to the future of the organization. 

The next table contains approaches that clients can use when choosing a consultant that suits them and the situation: 

Overview of competences and expertise of consultants

Basic competences

  • Confidence: Integrity, reliability, loyalty, interdependence and transparency. 
  • Analyzing skills:  Unbiased observation, analytical and conceptual thinking and creativity. 
  • Considering:  Balanced judgment, external awareness, independency and generating vision. 
  • Facilitating:  Social awareness, listening, sensitivity and creating trustful atmosphere. 
  • Influencing: Communication, presentation, inspiration and persuasion. 
  • Showing resilience:  Flexibility, agility, humanity. 

Specific expertise 

  • Strategy, market orientation, new developments. 
  • Organizational context and organizational dynamics. 
  • Structure, business processes, technology and HRM. 
  • Organizational ability, planning and result orientation. 
  • Governance and control, processes between people. 
  • Boldness and problem solving, attentions to details. 
  • Development, culture, team building and collaboration. 
  • Organizational learning, team development conflict resolution. 
  • Executive team coaching, individual coaching. 

Specific competences

Expert consulting  

  • Market knowledge 
  • Result orientation 
  • Quality orientation 
  • Functional management 
  • Leadership qualities 
  • Risk awareness 
  • Entrepreneurship 
  • Independence 
  • Expert consultation 

Specific competences 

Process consulting 

  • Organizational context 
  • Organizing ability 
  • Collaboration 
  • Building coalitions 
  • Decisiveness 
  • Positive energy 
  • Coaching capabilities 
  • Personal appeal 
  • Restraint and commitment 

Sector knowledge 

Profit organizations 

  • Private business 
  • Finance and assurances 
  • Production industry 
  • Process industry 
  • Service industry 
  • Information technology 
  • New business 
  • Family business 
  • Retail sector 

Sector knowledge 

Public and societal organizations 

  • Healthcare 
  • Youth and elderly care 
  • Social and environmental safety 
  • Schooling and education 
  • Social housing and welfare 
  • Arts and culture 
  • NGO’s and social institutions 
  • Local governments 
  • National governments 


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