BrandingWire: Helping a Consulting Business
Posted by Becky Carroll on October 8, 2007
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!