The management consulting industry has been much maligned in recent years. The Showtime series House of Lies, whose second season premieres in January, is based off a book whose subtitle is, “How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time.” Eric Berridge, the CEO of the consultancy Bluewolf, knows this as well as anyone. When he’s brought in to a company to fix what’s supposedly broken with it, he often has to weather the skeptical stares of in-house employees, many of whom are likely to earn less than Bluewolf’s average rate of about $240 per hour.
One way Berridge builds trust and creates value, he tells Fast Company, is by walking a few miles in employees’ shoes. And instead of simply issuing a memo with ideas of how to improve the business, his team often develops mobile apps to put those ideas into effect immediately.
FAST COMPANY: Part of your process involves something you call “rep rides.” Are these unique to Bluewolf?
ERIC BERRIDGE: I don’t know if they’re unique to us, but I haven’t seen them anywhere else. Many [high-level] people in big companies think they know how the business runs, and are ready to project new ways of doing things on their employees. Then they roll something out to their sales reps, and it falls flat on its face. We decided we actually needed to get in the shoes of sales reps and customer service reps and do their jobs. We started to build teams of people who shadow sales reps, go from account to account with them, and watch their interaction of a daily basis with clients.
You rode along with a rep for Sysco, the massive marketer and distributor for food service products.
I was riding along with a 26-year-old sales rep named Kurt. We went and met Kurt in New Jersey at the distribution facility there and drove into Manhattan. His territory was five blocks in midtown. He was the No. 1 rep in the company. He had hair down to his shoulders and a scraggly beard. To Kurt’s credit, he knew an immense amount about the 16,000 products Sysco sells–they sell everything from chocolate to coffee cups to steaks and salami; they sell 17% of the food to America.
But he was supposed to be using Salesforce [the popular customer relationship management software], and he didn’t log into Salesforce once. It was physically impossible for him. In my eight hours with him, he called on 30 different establishments, everything from a Mexican restaurant to little tiny delis and bodegas. What I observed in that day was that we needed to create an app for this guy he can use with his thumb. Ultimately we built an app using GPS technology. When he walks into Deli XYZ, the customer automatically comes up, and through a voice automated task manager, he can dictate “Bring ham to Deli XYZ.”
I didn’t know consultancies built apps.
Consulting firms like mine have to be able to build apps. Every app we build is a bespoke app built for the customer, and they ultimately own the IP. Over the past 12 years, we’ve probably built over 500 applications for various clients. We definitely see more and more of a need to build more mobile apps, as the tablet market continues to pervade corporate America.
You give advice to companies and their employees. Did you advise Kurt to cut his hair?
I will tell you that when I went back to the COO of Sysco, his mouth dropped. I said, “Look, this is your number one rep.” Kurt was a funny animal. When I asked him if he used Salesforce.com, he said, “No, I don’t have time for that.” I said, “Couldn’t you enter the information when you go home at the end of the day?” He said, “I’ve got a girlfriend in New Jersey and a girlfriend in New York City. I don’t go home.”