Every company at one time or another utilizes outside consultants to help reduce costs and/or help with managing specific projects. Telecommunications is an area where consultants can not only help your company reduce expenses, but also provide ongoing support as your company grows and your telecom needs change.
Deciding on which consulting firm to bring on board can be tricky. The choices are vast. Most firms are reputable, but the industry is chocked full of “fly by night" firms looking to make a quick buck by conducting inadequate telecom audits and/or hawking telecom services under the guise of being a “telecom consulting" firm. Before you decide on which company to go with, arm yourself with the following questions that will help sort the good from the bad.
#1 How Long Have You Been in Business?
This seems like an obvious and logical first question. Many companies fail to ask it, and if they do, fail to put a high degree of importance to it.
Deregulation of the industry in 1984 saw the beginning of massive changes industry-wide. It is safe to say that the changes within the telecommunications industry over the last 20 years have been greater than those of the previous 100 years. Hundreds of new telecom carriers were spawned during this time - each with their own systems and processes. Selecting a consulting firm that is established enough to have experienced these industry changes first hand will bring you a tremendous amount of knowledge and expertise in dealing with carriers.
Choose a consulting firm that has been in business for at least 10 years, preferably 20 years or more. An organization that has been in the telecom consulting game for that long will have an excellent track record of success for their clients.
#2 What Area of Telecom Consulting Is Your Expertise?
When interviewing prospective telecom consulting firms, be sure to ask them what areas they feel are their strong points. A prospective telecom consultant will assume that you have narrowed down your own specific telecom needs and/or problems that you want and need addressed.
Even though you may not be able to identify one specific problem, write down your general telecom concerns. For example: Are you looking to reduce costs through telecom audit? Does your department need to be more efficient with bill paying, moves, adds, or changes? Are you looking to upgrade or replace equipment? Are you looking for telecom training for your staff? Are you considering migrating to a VoIP environment?
These questions deal with different aspects of telecom. Once you have focused on your own specific telecom needs, it becomes much easier to match those concerns with the prospective consultant's strong areas of expertise. The closer the match, the better.
#3 What Is the Size of Your Consulting Company?
The telecom “meltdown" and widespread layoffs of the mid-to late 1990s spawned many telecom executives to enter the telecom consulting field. Even customer service or carrier sales reps tried their hand at telecom consulting. These “one-man shops" may offer flexibility and individual attention, but be careful when choosing to trust your entire telecom department with them.
These consultants will often farm out work to larger firms, in essence acting as a middleman without your knowledge. On the other hand, big is not necessarily always better. Large firms often will only work with companies doing in excess of $100,000 or more per month in telecom spending. Before contracting with any telecom consultant, be sure that you understand exactly who will be doing the work and identify the contact person responsible for progress reports, updates and to get your questions answered during the course of the project.
#4 Can You Provide Specific Case Studies and Results of Your Current of Past Clients?
A successful and reputable consulting firm will have experience in a wide variety of industries. When asking for references, don't just get a few names and numbers to call. Ask to see specific projects that have been completed for clients in your industry or one that is similar. If it is telecom auditing services you are seeking, request to see specific results of recent audits that have been completed.
Ideally, this information should include the specific recommendations that were made and the percentage of cost-reduction attained after the audit was complete. Look for a firm that has consistent success in a variety of industries.
#5 What Are Your Fees and How Are They Structured?
Today's telecom consulting industry contains a variety of fee structures and fee arrangements. Ultimately the valuation of services and the procedures by which fees are structured are matters of personal preference and should be based on total agreement between the consultant and client. Generally, fees will fall into one of three categories - hourly or per diem, project or fee based, and contingency.
Time-based projects can be billed hourly or per diem and may include the consultants expenses. Fee based projects are for those that are clearly defined but may require the most work by both client and consultant. Contingency arrangements may be the most popular, especially for telecom auditing.
Contingency arrangements are based on results attained for the client-usually a percentage of cost-savings rendered for a 12-24 month period. Be wary of firms that require large upfront retainers or advance payments. A reputable consulting firm will suggest the fee arrangement that suits not only the project but also your needs and budget as well. Very low quotes may suggest “boiler plate" solutions that could cost your company more in the long run. No company can survive without being paid reasonable compensation for services renderered. As in most business situations, you “get what you pay for".
#6 Are You Compensated by Vendors or Carriers?
If you are quoted a very inexpensive fee arrangement for telecom consulting services, you may be dealing with a company whose eventual recommendations will be for products and services for which they receive commissions.
Telecom consulting services should be unbiased and be based on recommendations that are in the best interest of the client. Very small firms (1-3 person operations) are notorious for leading you in the front door with very low cost auditing services, then going for the “backend" by recommending their own carriers and/or vendors. Always be sure they firm you deal with has no affiliations (financial ones) with telecommunications providers and vendors.
There is no doubt that engaging a telecom consulting firm will help your company cut expenses and increase efficiency. Asking the right questions will help you save time and money in your search for the telecom consulting firm that will best suit your needs.
Karen Thatcher is President and CEO of TelCon Associates, a 34 year old telecom consulting and bill management firm. For free tools and articles on telecom auditing and bill management, visit http://www.telconassociates.com