As Chief Sales Officer at Alien Innovation Consulting, my team members and I often face questions from prospects and clients such as - “An Indian consultant working for an European funding program?” or “An European consultant working on an American grant program?”. It is indeed an interesting question!
My team is composed of professionals we call Funding Consultants. Not sales executives. While the end goal is to get business for the organisation, the difference between sales and consulting is critical to understand. To put it spicily, while consulting leads to a Long Term Relationship, the other is like a One-Sales Stand!
Reflecting on the art of consulting, what are the factors that make consultancy, a good consultancy?
I recall reading this about consulting “you have two ears and one mouth: that proportion is exactly what should dictate a conversation with a client”. What this means is that as a consultant, it is essential to actively listen and not just make a sales pitch. Every client is different and so are their needs. It is therefore upon the consultant to analyse the client’s case, catch the pulse and offer a solution. And it also means that a good consultant will always offer the best discourse of action. Even if it means walking away from a prospective lead.
At Alien, we strongly believe that a successful business relationship with a client always starts with our funding consultant listening. It is crucial to understand where the company is at present and where it aspires to be in the years to come, to be able to support them appropriately. Our internal evaluations, which are simulations of the evaluation process of EIC Accelerator and SBIR grant process, aptly determines the fit of a company. If the resultant evaluation indicates a relatively weaker alignment with the objectives of these Schemes, we present this feedback to the prospects. On top of that, we also advise on measures that could significantly improve their chances for succeeding in the near future.
As is vastly evident, the human element is the most pronounced factor in consulting. Perhaps in the future we would have complex AI algorithms that mimic the human emotions of empathy and the appropriate reactions, but for today it requires you and me - the human factor! Human element however brings its own set of complications and intricacies - especially the cultural differences across the countries can often be misinterpreted. These differences are what make us human, and they need to be celebrated in all walks of life. They are also integral in making each of us, and they are thus vital for building a trusted relationship which is a fundamental block of consulting.
But let’s go back to our business…when being global makes ALL the difference!
Horizon Europe is EU's key funding program for innovation and research. While benefiting from world class research and strong industries, it also aims to strengthen international cooperation and foster strong partnerships. According to the statistics from Horizon 2020 evaluation and monitoring and Framework Programme 7 JRC research paper, there were more than 1.5 million collaborations across 150 countries. Just imagine the magnitude of diversification and cultural differences vested in these collaborations. Would it not require an equally global and diverse team of consultants to guide and support these startups? We at Alien Technology Transfer Group realised the importance of dynamic and globally diverse teams very early on. This is exemplified by our strength of 200 professionals speaking more than 20 languages, and with 5 offices across 3 continents.
When it comes to interacting with innovators from so many widening geographies while consulting for the most competitive public funding research program in the EU, this one ‘global’ stone kills many stones for us! For one, rapport building is super easy! When we speak to these startups from across oceans, the most interesting thing to ask and understand is “How is it currently done in your country?”
Talking about the countless values of an international perspective…
Global teams foster a culture of learning. This is especially crucial when consulting for highly competitive programs like EIC Accelerator or the American federal SBIR. We need to keep ourselves abreast of the latest technologies and developments in every field of science. With a globally diverse team, this learning is not limited to browsing on the internet. On the contrary, ground realities and facts from each different geography give a holistic perspective, thereby enriching the learning.
For many consultants, talking to people from different nationalities and international geographies poses a challenge - for a few it is downright scary! For the various programs under Horizon Europe that caters to so many countries, this skill is an absolute must. Now imagine if you are already getting this exposure and developing an international mindset while interacting with your own colleagues on every day basis! For someone honed like this, talking to startups from across Europe and associated countries would not only be a piece of cake, but they would be able to consult with so much ease and efficiency, as the hindrances of communication gaps would be non-existent!
The other big advantage of being globally diverse is the ability of problem solving, by bringing many different perspectives to the same problem. The expanded creativity and the cultural uniqueness creates a beautiful blend and results in proposing insightful solutions. Let's consider an example related to the training of your team. How fascinating is it to get to know about a particular country and its culture (and thus your clients) directly thanks to your own colleague from that country? Would you ever forget a ‘lesson’ like this?
Once you go global, you will want to stay global.
If the covid19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is to move away from localisation and encourage international collaborations. It is a smart and strategic move to de-risk while thriving on the many obvious benefits of having global teams. To name a few: newer business development opportunities, wider talent pool, better resilience to macro economic factors and immersive culture.
So, when my team members and I face questions from prospects and clients such as “An Indian consultant working for an European funding program?” or “An European consultant working on an American grant program?”, our answer is simple - “ Why would we not?”
By: Vinaya Gedam, CSO