Proper Etiquette When Replacing Another Consulting Firm always feels great to sign new business. Especially when a client brings you in to “right the ship”.

You should tread carefully, though. Things are rarely what they seem, and the best thing you can do in this situation is to focus on the client.

Three times over the past few years, I’ve run into a particular competing consultancy. Each time, with different clients and separate time zones.

I’ll spare you the details, but in the end we came out at a draw.

Here’s some advice when replacing another consulting firm:

  • Ask the client what went wrong AND, what went well

Get this out of the way quickly. Be sure to listen more and talk less.

You should be looking for insight on actions you can take to work successfully with your client going forward. I’m talking about expectations around communications, timelines, resources and ideological gaps.

Interviews with the extended client team can shed light on personalities, office politics and potential conflicts. These insights are high value, as you’ll have the benefit of somebody having already gone down the road.

  • Try to stay away from “They” syndrome

This is where the new consultant constantly refers to their predecessor in a negative way, “they shouldn’t have done this”, “what did they tell you?”, “they didn’t know what they were doing”. It may all be true, but focus on the client and have some confidence. “You” are in there now, and pettiness isn’t becoming.

  • Be wary of previous assessments, roadmaps, strategies or approaches

These table setters can really muddy the waters,

The deliverables for these “Phase 0” projects often skew towards the preceding firms delivery strengths, or wont to upsell new business.

Aligning somebody else’s approach to your delivery is likely to be inefficient. You may not see the same problems (or resolutions), and most likely will turn to your own best practices.

You may be boxed into leveraging these artifacts by clients worried about running up billable hours or missing deadlines. This is the equivalent to working “on spec”. Talk it over with the client and articulate what will and won’t work. After all, if everything was rosy, you wouldn’t be there now.

If the client still insists that you follow previous plans and, you believe the risk is high, insist on a time and materials (T&M) contract or, walk away.

  • That said, be judicial about re-work

Don’t re-work just to put your stamp on it. If the preceding firm left the delivery part of the project in good shape, leverage any quality that has been delivered. Use your best judgement.

  • Don’t take sides

No matter what you hear, you probably will never know what led to the previous firm’s divorce. Was it money? Conflict of interest? Inability to work together? Maybe the client is just extremely difficult to work with.
It doesn’t matter now, just focus on the work

  • Don’t throw the other firm under the bus

Be professional and show some respect. They are in business, just like you, and you know that success can be fleeting. You never know when you’ll cross paths, and it rarely pays to burn bridges out of spite.

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