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BrandingWire: Helping a Consulting Business

Posted by Becky Carroll on October 8, 2007

last-slide.jpg For this month’s BrandingWire installment, the posse of pundits (including me) is tackling how to help a consulting firm.  Here is the challenge:

The ideal client/customer for the consulting firm looks like:

    Revenues: $1 million to $25 million
    Employees: 150 or fewer
    Verticals: High-tech and health care
    Location: North America

The challenges facing these client/customers: consumers and other businesses have so many choices, that high-tech businesses (as well as their other target audience made up of clinics and hospitals) are experiencing stagnant growth, or even losing market share. Many of these clients don’t know how to differentiate themselves from their competition.

The consulting firm’s challenge: as a small marketing firm, they are losing contracts to lower pricing and to bigger firms. The consultancy after three years has stopped growing and most of its clients buy one project and don’t return for more assistance for several years, if at all. How do they position and brand themselves in order to return to greater marketplace success?

In a nutshell: Business growth has slowed or stopped, clients are not likely to return, and the firm is being under-cut in price by larger consulting firms.  This same scenario could apply to many businesses, but there is something unique about a consulting firm.  This is a service business.  The marketing of services is often a challenge for companies, as there is not a tangible product to sell.

In this month’s case, marketing may not solve the problem up front.  There looks to be more legwork to do before we attempt any slick re-branding or marketing campaigns.  We need to understand what has gone wrong.

Here are some suggestions on how this ABC Consulting could proceed at this point.

  • Talk to current clients about existing projects.  We want to make sure the firm’s current clients are completely satisfied with the work being done for them.  Are they satisfied with the work done so far?  Is there anything that could be done to better meet their needs?  Would they consider continuing with this consulting firm for follow-on work?  If not, why not?
  • Build relationships with the clients on multiple levels.  People come and go, both from clients as well as from consulting firms.  Building relationships at many levels helps insulate the consulting firm from being ousted when the “new guy” comes along.  Additionally, a strong client/consultant relationship will help keep those lower-priced competitors at bay!
  • Make sure all project work is adding value for the client.  Do we truly understand each client’s needs?  Do we know how the results of this work will be used after we leave?  Binders full of research and “consulting speak” that sit on a shelf or complicated marketing plans that no one buys into will never see the light of day.  Often times, consultants are not re-hired to do follow-on work because the last “consulting deliverable” wasn’t something that the client could use to take action and make a difference for their company.  Every work product delivered to a client needs to count!
  • Look for the next project from this client before the current one is finished.  It is always easier and more cost effective to get business from an existing client than from a new one.  Consultants should keep their eyes open for others areas where the consulting firm’s services can help the client.  It could be to assist the client in taking further action from this project.  It could be in a completely different area. 
  • Quickly put a process in place to capture end-of-project results.  A good project manager always does a “post mortem review” on the project.  What worked?  What didn’t?  What could have been done differently?  Be sure to get feedback from the client during this review process!  Take what is learned from the review and immediately apply it to other existing projects; immediate action is required to keep from making the same mistakes.
  • Talk to former clients, if possible, to find out why they did not continue working with the firm.  Too many firms that lose the sale don’t go back and ask why.  Many times, clients are willing to share what their issues are, if any.  By doing this, the firm may find out that the way they are approaching their projects doesn’t leave room for future work.  Of course, this should only be done with clients that the firm is still on good terms with! 

Putting some of these suggestions into play will help this consulting firm to understand their mistakes, and it will also help set them up for the future.  Now go talk to those clients!

Check out these other posts from the BrandingWire posse for more insight and perspective!

Lewis Green

Drew McLellan

Martin Jelsema

Patrick Schaber

Olivier Blanchard

Steve Woodruff

Valeria Maltoni

Kevin Dugan

Gavin Heaton

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13 Responses to “BrandingWire: Helping a Consulting Business”

  1. This is great. I like the focus on making sure nothing happens to the existing business. I’m betting our imaginary company does not have an annual customer satisfaction survey.

    In addition to multiple relationships, tracking them when they leave the company…they always do. When ex-clients become new clients, it’s always great. Ex-employees too for that matter.

  2. Thanks, Kevin. You are probably right about them not having a customer satisfaction survey! If they were more in touch with their customers, they might have seen this coming. I also like the idea you raised about keeping relationships when people leave companies. It just shows how relationships are with the people, not with the firms!

  3. “Too many firms that lose the sale don’t go back and ask why.”

    Yup! If every company implemented this, they’d be stunned at what they learned. For a company like this one, with a track record of losing current clients, it is vital. The insights gained by asking this question alone may be enough for them to right the ship.

    Drew

  4. “Look for the next project from this client before the current one is finished.”

    From the client side of this issue, I can tell you that the people who do this right, get alot more business. They’re typically the ones that have listened and understood the customer.

    Great post!

    Pat

  5. Building relationships at all levels is not only vital, it’s the best way to brand a consulting company. I wrote about whether the company or the founder’s persona should be “branded” for a service provider. But really, just like last month’s IT provider, we must realize every employee is the brand. They not only represent the brand, they are the brand. This is a consideration in hiring people, in training them and in evaluating them.

    Becky, in a few bullet points you’ve nailed the problems and the solutions. Well done.

    Martin

  6. Becky,

    Like Martin I love this idea: Build relationships with the clients on multiple levels.

    As for going back and asking why we didn’t get the work, we always do. About a third of the companies respond. Still, it helps us learn and adapt to customers wants and needs.

  7. Yes, do a delta to find out what you did not do so well and get feedback — then use it to change your model. Many companies actually do go ahead and capture information through satisfaction surveys well, yet it all falls apart because there is no process in place to change the business on the basis of the feedback.

    Somehow I cannot access WordPress blogs at work… I knew you would have several pointers to chew on ;-)

  8. Drew, I agree with you that this point alone, finding out why they lost the sale/continuing business, is key to their future success. At this late point, however, it may be tough to get customers to answer this question, as the firm doesn’t seem to be in the habit of building relationships with their clients!

    Thanks for your contribution!

  9. Pat, some people think it feels pushy to go out and start looking for the next piece of project work when you aren’t finished with the last one. However, a consulting firm that understands the client needs can see how to build on the current project – and clients are usually open to something that will help them be more successful! Thanks for pulling this point out.

    Martin, thank you for your comment and for your kind words! The relationship is what it is all about. :-)

    Lewis, building the relationships on multiple levels helps insulate us against movement, but also sets up long-term relations with people rather than with companies. Good to hear you always go back to find out why you didn’t get the work! Hey, learning from 1/3 of the companies is enough to see where improvements should be made. Thanks for contributing!

  10. Valeria, you are so right. It is not just in the capture of information but in the use of the information where we can make a difference! Too many companies pay a lot of money for consultants, then they let the reports sit on the shelves and gather dust. As a consultant, I try to make sure my deliverables are written in such as way that they call out for action!

    Thanks for the compliment, too! :-)

  11. dx10 said

    Building relationships at all levels is the best way to brand a consulting company.
    But really, just like last month’s IT provider, we must realize every employee is the brand. They not only represent the brand, they are the brand. This is a consideration in hiring people, in training them and in evaluating them.

  12. I just checked out Martin Jelsema’s insights and I think he’s great! :)

  13. But if you hire a good Seattle network support, your business
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    She became my Big Sis, my mentor, and eventually one of my best friends.
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