Moving to the Dark Side

The following post is part of a new series we’ve entitled, One Year In. It was written by K & Co. Technical Manager, Dan Shanley. We asked Dan to reflect on his first year as a consultant and to share some advice, be it for colleges and universities looking for a consultant, or for individuals considering a career as a consultant in higher education.

Reflections on my first year as a Higher ED CRM Consultant

After 10 years on the client side in various enrollment management roles, I had had it.

It…was a job I enjoyed, in a field I was passionate about. In those 10 years, I worked with dozens of consultants who affirmed for me that the consulting path was one I had no interest in pursuing, and the occasional few who – by embodying their role as a partner in our success – caused me to second-guess my opinion.

In the spring of 2021, in what I can only chock up to a bout of COVID-restriction exhaustion and millennial angst, I reached out to Kennedy & Company after nodding along to a social media post about the type of team member they were looking for to join their firm. It was a leap of faith move, and would be the first time in more than 15 years I wouldn’t have a campus to call home each day. 

I’ve spent the last year re-defining for myself what it means to “go to work.” Most days, my commute is “down the hall.” My hours are “what works best for you?” And my new favorite phrase is “What if we tried this?”

Remembering those consultants that really seemed to get it from my days behind the desk, I’ve thought a lot this year about why those partnerships worked, and how I could help my clients feel the same way.

For colleges and universities looking to hire a consultant, or for readers thinking about a job consulting in higher ed, here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Consultants never know it all. And we rarely know as much as the client. 


I sometimes chuckle inside when clients refer to a consultant as the “expert.” Our expertise is nothing without the client’s ability to articulate their needs, processes, challenges and goals. I’ve come to appreciate that my role is to help the client more effectively use their expertise, not project my own. 

  • Find a firm that fits.


Whether you’re looking for a new career opportunity, or looking to engage a firm’s services, I can’t understate the importance of finding the right fit. Every firm has a persona, and it comes across in the way their team members engage with the client, and with each other. Finding a culture fit makes meetings more productive, and has significant impacts on buy-in and adoption.

  • Be ready to work.


The client-consultant relationship is very much a partnership. Like any partnership and particularly in technology projects, the more you put in, the more you get out. The most successful and satisfying projects of my first year are those where we did the work with the client, not for them. 

  • It is never as easy or as quick as the sales team promised you. 


It will integrate with anything(If you build the integration yourself). “You’ll be live in 6 weeks(If you dedicate your whole team for 40 hours a week). “Support responds to all requests in 24 hours” (But only to tell you they got your ticket)

Delivering a healthy dose of pitch-free reality is not a pleasant part of the job, but it is a good way to earn a client’s trust. 

Perhaps most of all, I’ve come to appreciate the value in a fresh perspective. Both for myself, in working on new challenges with new types of institutions and new software, and for the client, who with our help just broke through the “way we’ve always done it” wall. That…and the consultant-y lingo.

Sure, I could sum up my first year in decks and deliverables, but bringing it back up to 10,000 feet, I’d say my first year as a higher ed CRM consultant was a success from kick-off to close-out.