Late last year we embarked on our most ambitious research programme ever, speaking to hundreds of senior clients in the world’s major consulting markets about their views on consultants.
The latest instalment of this, published last week, examines consulting firms’ strategies for growth. For the first time, we’ve taken consultants’ ideas about growth and asked clients what they think of them. Reactions are mixed. Analytics and big data? Roughly half the clients we questioned aren’t convinced: “It’s becoming a more talked-about issue, but it’s still quite a long way down our list of priorities.” Discounting? Only a sixth of clients would be swayed by a 20% rate cut; you have to cut a lot deeper to have a substantial impact on how much consulting they’re prepared to buy, so unless you’re comfortable with halving your fees (yes, halving them – it’s the point at which clients really start to get interested) then you might be better off not bothering.
But some of the sharpest intakes of breath came when we asked about account management. Clients, so many of whom used to be consultants, know what good account management looks like and know when they’re not getting it. “If the account management isn’t right, I’ll go somewhere else, even somewhere where they don’t have the same quality of solutions. The key thing is all about trust, transparency and team work – if any of these three things is missing the firm won’t deliver.” Only a quarter of the people we spoke to thought that the very best firms they worked with excelled in this respect.
Quizzing people further on what they want has allowed us to derive five rules for account management. The best account management:
It’s the last which is perhaps the most important. Consulting is – famously, notoriously – a people business, yet clients complain a great deal about what they regard as the faceless nature of big firms: “They’re machines. I have to fall in with their way of working; there’s no flexibility.” They’d like to tap into the greater client-centricity of small firms, but they can’t because the latter lack the scale and global footprint clients need. Account management is where these two, otherwise mutually exclusive, facets come together: the individual fronts the organisation; the organisation backs the individual.
- Makes a client feel as though they are a consulting firm’s most important client
- Puts a familiar face on a consulting organisation (continuity is hugely important)
- Is a channel for ideas, not sales
- Is an open door to a firm’s wider expertise
- Bridges the gap between the individual and the corporate
It is therefore the key to how a big firm can look like a small firm, and that’s the best of all possible worlds.