Until July last year, P.J. Fitzpatrick, a roofing, siding, and window company in New Castle, Del., generated about a third of its $20 million business from canvassing. Then it decided to stop. The decision, president Rick Stover says, came because company executives saw diminishing returns from the lead source and could foresee some brand compromise. “People were starting to confuse anybody who knocked on their door with us,” Stover says.

The decision also involved the advice of a consultant. P.J. Fitzpatrick's managers needed to know they weren't alone in sensing that it was not only possible but necessary for the company to turn to other lead sources.

TELL ME THE TRUTH Companies often hire business consultants when they “know what to do but need to have their ideas validated,” says Phil Rea, a one-time contractor who transformed himself into a well-known consultant. Some consultants offer strategic advice, some technical expertise.

Most companies consider hiring a consultant either when they're disappointed in current results or when they're “branching into uncharted territory,” says sales and marketing consultant Tony Hoty. They're taking on a new product, developing a new lead source, or just want to upgrade sales skills. Consultants help companies avoid making mistakes, or they identify and remedy big problems.

Fifteen years ago Andy Lindus, VP of sales and marketing for Lindus Construction, in Hudson, Wis., hired retired manufacturing executive Gary Byron “because we were having some service issues.” To this day, a document regularly reaches Lindus' desk called “The Byron Report,” which analyzes the company's services and identifies defects “by category and crew.”

CONTINUED COST SAVINGS For Lindus, a huge benefit of the consultants he uses is frankness. “He's brutally honest,” Lindus says of sales trainer Rodney Webb. “He tells me when I'm being stupid and when I'm making mistakes. In my line of work and position, a lot of people don't want to tell me the truth.”

In the last few years, as sales, marketing, and installation benchmarks were implemented and refined at Lindus Construction, it became one of the largest home improvement companies in the Upper Midwest. The latest change, designed by consultant Jason Kilgore, is a checklist for roofing installers that will eliminate the need for a punchlist or a return visit. “The cost savings for not having guys go back and fix stuff … well, $100,000 is not out of line,” Lindus says.