By Eric Joseph Esoda, CPA, NEPIRC Executive Director

Based upon regional CEO survey feedback and interview comments, consultant expertise within a specialized industry, reputation for results and ability to provide sound return-on-investment (or ROI) justifications for proposed services are critical factors when CEOs are making consultative service purchasing decisions. Conversely, the number of prior engagements with a consultant and a consultant’s positioning as the low-cost solution are relatively unimportant to CEOs when selecting from among a multitude of consultants.

Through a web-based, telephone and personal interview surveying process, NEPIRC obtained consultative service buying insights from 81 regional manufacturing CEOs. Each CEO was asked to rate the importance of each of seven possible buying factors when considering the purchase of consultative services from local providers. Table 1-A below summarizes survey results.

Table 1-A: Manufacturing CEO Responses:
How important to you are each of the following buying factors when
making consultative service purchasing decisions? 

According to these results, manufacturing CEOs place considerable value on a consultant’s depth of expertise within a specialized area, regional reputation for results and ability to articulate the dollars-and-cents ROI on their proposed engagements. These findings were certainly not surprising and are consistent with NEPIRC’s experience within the marketplace.

What was unexpected, however, was the relatively low weight that manufacturing CEOs placed upon a consulting firm positioning itself as the low-cost provider and the mediocre relevance of a CEO’s prior experience with, or existing relationship with, a particular consultant.

As part of the same survey process, NEPIRC endeavored to discover how CEOs become aware of consultative services that can enhance the profitability of their businesses. CEOs were asked to rate the effectiveness of 13 possible ways in which they may become aware of regional consulting resources. Table 1-B below aggregates the results of NEPIRC’s findings, with CEO learning methods ordered by the combined Very Effective and Effective percentage responses, from high to low. 

Table 1-B: Manufacturing CEO Responses:
How effective do you believe the following methods are to learning about regional
consultative services that can enhance the profitability of your business?

These results indicate that free seminars, low-cost assessments and network events remain the primary ways through which CEOs become aware of local consulting resources. Discussions with colleagues also ranked well in terms of effectiveness. Overall, internet-based methods, such as keyword searches, social media sites and multi-media messages, received relatively low effectiveness ratings. Print media advertising received the fewest Very Effective or Effective responses, but also received the greatest number of Neutral responses, suggesting that it is neither particularly effective nor ineffective as a CEO learning tool.

Perhaps not unsurprisingly, unscheduled consultant visits and unexpected direct phone calls received the highest number of Very Ineffective responses due to CEOs having limited free time during the workday to participate in such activities.