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How to Select the Right Consultant


Pharmaceutical Executive

A variety of consultant options are available to the pharma industry; this article is a 3-step guide to selecting the right consultant.

The pharmaceutical industry is one that relies heavily on consulting support across the product journey. From new drug application (NDA) to loss of exclusivity (LOE), commercialization consulting options are abundant, but sometimes finding the right consultant can be a challenge.

One of the benefits of decades of experience is knowing what good-and bad-looks like and learning how to align your needs and expectations with the expertise, experience, and capabilities of the right consultant for your project. 

Having been on both sides of the consulting relationship-as the client and as the consultant-we’ve learned a few things about how to select a consulting partner that is the right fit, right now.

1. Look in the mirror. Deeply.

Finding the best consultant for your unique needs starts with you. It’s important to clearly define your goals and identify the strengths and weaknesses in your team, capabilities, and capacity to know where consulting help is most needed and exactly what type of consulting support you need. 

Ask these questions internally before you begin to engage with prospective consulting groups:

  • What are we trying to achieve with this project? It is important to define what success will look like on the front end; your goals should drive your initiatives.

  • How engaged does my team need to be? Your team will be called upon to contribute time and effort to the project. It’s up to you to determine what level of engagement will be required from your team to successfully deliver on your objectives.

  • How important is speed vs. quality? If speed is of the essence, then you will need a consultant that has addressed your issue many times before and who can jump right in and get to work. If it’s a large multifaceted project, then scope becomes a critical question. Consider if perhaps a narrower scope can fulfill your immediate needs and select your consultant based on who can deliver on those specific needs within your timeline. When quality is paramount, you need to do your research and ensure that your consultant truly has the skills necessary to deliver at the quality level that you require. Experience and expertise of your consultant will affect both project speed and quality. You many need a different consultant based on how you prioritize these needs.

  • How important are industry connections for this project? Some projects live and die by your consultant’s ability to pick up the phone and call the right person. If this is a requirement for your project, then it is best to know how deep your consultant’s relationships in the industry are before you engage them. Interviews conducted by large research groups simply do not offer the same value that true industry relationships do.

  • Does the project require enterprise-wide or global change management to be successful? If your project will stir up significant changes in your organization, you will need to socialize ideas extensively and potentially adjust how you work with other groups. This aspect of your project cannot be taken lightly. Many projects fail because change management is overlooked or not prioritized. If change management is required, be sure to select a consultant with real expertise in both developing and executing on change management plans.

  • What is my team’s workload capacity? Depending on your team’s capacity, you may need a consultant with the experience who can deliver on your specific project with limited oversight.  

2. Put the consultants under the microscope.

Once your introspective work is done, you should have a much better idea of what kind of consulting help you need. When evaluating potential consultants you’ll want to keep this in mind, but be sure to look just as deeply at how they approach their client engagements to ensure a great fit.

Based on how you answered the above, ask potential consulting partners the appropriate version of these questions:

  • How much experience do they bring to the table in your specific area? Ask for specific examples of previous work, lessons learned, failures, and successes. If they’re not prepared to talk about failures and lessons learned, they may not actually have the experience you need. Many consultants will claim to be experts in whatever your specific project requires. Follow the adage, “trust, but verify.”

  • How well can they provide a certain type of support? Maybe you determined earlier that you need high-level strategic guidance. Or perhaps you’re more in need of project management support. Either way, move past general capabilities and ask about their ability to support you in that specific area.

  • How will you work together? This is an example where the “how” matters most. Is their style to be side-by-side day in and day out to co-create solutions with your team? Or, do they typically provide completed work that is developed, packaged, and delivered without much interaction?

  • Who will the primary point of contact be on their team? How well does that person “match up” with the point of contact on your team? Think about potential personality conflicts and how they might affect your project.

  • Who will own what? Ask them to be explicit about the level of engagement they feel is needed from your team to be successful. The consultant will follow your preference here, but this can be an important indicator to ensure you and your prospective consultant are thinking about your project in the same way.

  • How will they measure success? Whether it’s meeting the deadline, completing all deliverables, or your 100% satisfaction, make sure their measurement and yours align.

3.  Before making your decision, consider these general guidelines.

A large consulting practice with a global footprint and diverse service offering may be the best fit for you if:

  • Your project is large in scope and needs a lot of staffing support

  • The use of off-shore resources is vital to meet deadlines and stay within budget

  • Broad expertise across multiple industries and stakeholders will better inform the project

  • Your project will require extensive change management capabilities

A smaller, specialized, boutique consulting group may be the best fit for you if:

  • Highly-specialized expertise and deep industry connections are required

  • Extensive hands-on experience is vital to the insights that will drive the success of your project

  • Flexibility, tight deadlines, and independent thought are a must

  • You have a strong base understanding of exactly what you need and can target consultants who specialize in that unique area, can move quickly, and keep budgets low

Selecting the right consultant can have an enormous impact on the success of your project. As the importance of your project rises, so should the level of attention paid to selecting the best partner. Taking time to follow these three steps will help you to have confidence in your consultant and ensure the success of your project.


Keith Bailey, Director, US New Products at Novartis

Douglas Bock, Partner at Archbow Consulting.


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