Maintaining a competitive edge in today’s pharmaceutical industry is becoming more and more difficult due to rising costs, increasing regulatory burdens, and greater government intervention. Hiring a pharmaceutical consultant can be a smart decision, but how do you determine which consultant is right for your company? Let’s examine a few key considerations.

The goal of pharmaceutical consulting is to fill gaps. A good consultant looks at where you are now and where you need to be, and then determines the steps and methods necessary to get you from here to there. Selecting just the right consulting firm for your company and your needs involves not so much examining what the consultants can do, but how they do it. Below are 7 key considerations to choosing the right pharmaceutical consultant.

1. Honesty
Now this may seem painfully obvious, but it is something you just can’t afford to overlook. Consulting firms generally offer a broad range of services, and some have specialized knowledge and expertise in one or more areas of the industry. While most of them can get the job done to some degree or another, the trick is figuring out whether or not (and, of course, how well) a consultant can actually fill your particular gaps and solve your specific problems. After an initial assessment, good consultants will give you an honest assessment of exactly what – if anything – they can do for you.

2. Knowledge/Experience (Team/Personnel)
Again, this may appear too obvious to deserve mentioning, but it’s the combination of knowledge and industry experience that make up the total skill set of the pharmaceutical consulting team that you need to consider. There needs to be both breadth and depth. Consider Nigel and Denise Smart, for example, the founders and managers of Smart Pharmaceutical Consulting. Together they have 45+ years of experience in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry—Nigel possessing a strong academic background in chemistry, microbial/fermentation technology, as well as biochemical engineering, and Denise with training and experience in the legal arena.

3. Flexibility (Vision/Perspective)
One of the worst things that can happen when you engage the services of a pharmaceutical consulting firm is that the consultants come in with a preconceived and mostly solidified idea of what needs to be done. This outlook and attitude leads to proposed solutions that probably are not going to be optimum for your specific situation. Instead, what is needed is for your consultants to look at the problem(s) from every possible angle and perspective, analyze and test ideas, and then develop multiple potential solutions. Then, together, you can decide which solution will be the best one – not only now, but also in the long run. Flexibility doesn’t end there, however. For example, the project associates with Smart Consulting can even work as substitute staff and as temporary team members if need be.

4. Leadership Ability
Consultants don’t just assess and advise – they also lead. They not only have to be able to gently persuade members of an organization to accept and adopt proposed changes, they must also possess the ability to imbue both management and employees with a little of their own passion. Good consultants who are good leaders have the following attributes: the ability to take action and overcome obstacles, a commitment to fostering and nurturing commitment, creative problem-solving skills, persistence, faith in the abilities of others, and a willingness to educate people when and where ever necessary.

5. Familiarity with Issues Specific to the Pharmaceutical Industry
The pharmaceutical industry is, simply put, unique. That’s why many of the attempts to implement lean manufacturing in this industry have been less than impressive. Transferring what worked in the auto industry directly to the pharmaceutical industry without adjusting for industry-specific issues such as many unit operations, the high cost of manufacture, technical complexities, and the highly regulated nature of the industry, is not a recipe for success.

6. Good Fit
Every company has its own distinct corporate culture, a specific way of being and doing that is unique to that organization. It is very important that the pharmaceutical consultant you’re considering is a good fit for your organization, otherwise conflicts in style and culture can make it impossible to work together to achieve goals. Asking questions, requiring solid references, and carefully examining track records can go a long way toward ensuring the fit that ensures success.

7. Willingness to Build Relationships
Consultants are not just contractors who are called in to do a job, and then disappear when the job is finished. Good consultants have to be willing to establish long-term relationships. The right pharmaceutical consultant for your company is the one willing to establish a relationship built on trust, respect, and mutual benefit and to be available for long-term, ongoing contact. It has been said that good consultants are business therapists whose primary goal is their client’s success.

The right pharmaceutical consultant can be an invaluable asset to your organization, someone who can help you maintain, or regain, a competitive edge. But be smart – nobody wants to be stuck in a bad relationship.