My Take: What Is the Difference between an Analyst and a Consultant?

Gray and in his late fifties with a rumpled tan suit, the man wiped his chin vigorously. A bead of sweat sat precipitously on his forehead, as he turned to me while drinking a cup of coffee before the meeting started. He blurted with great energy, “How do you become an analyst?” I smiled. A little taken back, and trying to figure out how I knew this man, a myriad of images flashed in my mind as I tried to form a cogent answer to his question. It took me a minute to frame an answer, and then I said, “It just happens. I don’t know anyone that started out to be an analyst. Most have just wandered into the job through different avenues. Different analyst models are very different.” Reading his face that he was not happy with the answer I continued, “Most have experience in both business and IT, and have a passion for what they do. They are driven by enthusiasm. They like to write and speak, and have the courage to take tough positions. It is definitely a unique job.”

He nodded his head and grabbed the cheese blintz that I longed for, but was avoiding, and continued, “So, what is the difference between an analyst and a consultant?”  “Ah!” I said in affirmation. “This is a very good question. Most people are confused. I wish that people asked me this more. There are two fundamental differences. First, an analyst is rooted in research. When they give their perspective, it should be from the voice of the findings. A good analyst works with clients: typically hundreds for very short engagements. Secondly, and very important, an analyst does not think that they have all the answers. They are learning from the research. As they triangulate the market, they are an avid student learning as they go. Let’s contrast this to a consultant. A consultant’s positions are framed by their experiences with clients. Their experiences tend to be longer with a shorter list of clients. They speak from a voice of ‘best practices’. A good analyst thinks that the practices are evolving. Does this make sense?” I asked.

I then added, “The analyst position evolved to help line-of-business buyers purchase technology. This was before the proliferation of social media and the larger availability of online resources. While there is still a need to help business teams buy software, the larger issue today is how to best leverage software to drive value. The analyst role is better known in North America than in Europe, but thanks for asking! I wish more people did the same…”

We spent the day together. Colorfully, he added stories and anecdotes to the session. The session was better because he was there. I was hopeful that at the end of the day, he understood what I did better than when we started. In many ways, it was an afternoon of bonding as I facilitated the session sharing research and helping people voice their opinion on the findings. As I picked up my things in the room, I thought back to the morning, and wished that more people asked these questions.

So, what do you think of my point of view? Anything that you would share?

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