Update your consulting propositions now!

Consulting firms and their clients have now broadly adapted to the remote working world. Projects have been prioritised – some put on ice at one end, new urgent projects added at the other and a mix in-between.

Client thoughts are turning to the future, now that it’s clear that we won’t be “coming out of this” any time soon. When we do emerge, we’ll be doing it into a new world…but what will it look like?

Strategy consulting firms have seen backlog and pipeline drops by around one third over the past couple of months. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise – who has wanted to strategise over the past few weeks? I believe that these firms are about to come into a new wave of activity, however, scenario planning for their clients, working out what they’ll need to do to adapt to the new world. They’re getting ready for this and the volume of post-COVID-19 “insights” on the major strategy consulting firms’ websites has been steadily increasing over the past week or so – much of this is at an overall “preparing for the new normal” level but some is quite focused on individual sectors or the potential use of specific solutions such as AI. Interesting reading!

Every sector will have its own scenarios to consider – to mention just a few examples, will Utilities think about onshoring their call centres, how can airports utilise contact-free technologies to transform customer journeys whilst maintaining high levels of security, which manufacturing supply chains still operate effectively and which need to go back to the drawing board, will retail banks take the opportunity to radically downsize their branch networks, how much can the health sector provide via home-based care with the support of virtual patient engagement technologies? There will be a huge amount to do and a lot of advice and support to be provided by the consulting and IT industries in particular.

Don’t relax at this point, however. It’s not the case that all firms will benefit equally. You need to prepare, and do it now!

I was reviewing a consulting firm’s Financial Services Digital proposition recently. It was fine…good, even…but I realised that it was deficient in that it looked at the world through a “pre-COVID” lens. Financial Services has, to date, viewed Digital as primarily another channel.  Now that, for example, the over 60’s are using PCs and tablets for video calls and are having to use the internet for shopping, banking etc, there’s an argument that the “cork is out of the bottle”. Digital Transformation is about to hit Financial Services organisations like a tsunami! Digital will be expected by the majority of the retail and business customer bases and there will be a permanent switch in traffic volumes between channels. The impact on operating models, staff skillsets, data accessibility and the like is significant.

Taking this on board (admittedly just a scenario!), the consulting firm’s Financial Services Digital proposition suddenly needs a rethink – it should be more “all-encompassing”, at least in terms of providing the framework, and then the client can understand the scope of the overall transformation required and the elements that this consulting firm can help to address.

The same holds true for many consulting propositions – they need to be reviewed and then updated to take the new world into account. Oh, and just to add an additional flavour, I suggest there are two new world time horizons to think about – “medium term” whilst social distancing remains essential (probably until there’s a vaccine that many of us have been able to benefit from) and “longer term” when we’re properly in the new world.

Enjoy the rethink and stay safe.

Don’t be scared of “sales”!

A very high proportion of consultants has either come up through the ranks or joined from industry. They are subject matter experts, industry experts, team leaders, programme managers and the like, and we and our clients love them for it! Often, however, they are blinkered on the topic of sales, feel uncomfortable when asked to sell our firms’ services and shy away from sales activity, preferring to disappear into valuable client delivery activity, knowledge management or internal training. Why?

The clue is in the first sentence of this post – very few people in consulting firms have come from professional sales backgrounds and whilst IT Services firms tend to have some people with sales training, even these feel more comfortable in a product or solution “features and benefits” world. Professional Services and much of IT Services sales is around “concepts” – there’s nothing to hold, show or point to without creating it from prior client deliverables or accelerator tools, for example.

Sales training is useful in order to make consultants familiar with the “methodology” of sales but, in itself, can create a mechanical process. Adding sales targets to this environment can serve to increase the feeling of discomfort, leading to high stress levels and likely failure. What to do?

More fundamental than the mechanical tools associated with sales is the mindset. I’ve encountered many, many consultants, including at Partner level, who believe that sales is not part of their job description, that trying to sell to a client would damage their trusted advisor relationship and/or that sales is about responding to inbound requests from client organisations. Hmmmm! I can almost smell the fear!

There are many ways to address this but I often find that appealing to the ethical standpoint that all quality consultants have is the best way forward. Would we try to sell something to a client that isn’t in their organisation’s best interests? Would we try to sell them something that we’re not truly capable of delivering? Of course not! Good, so that creates a list of things (that we don’t need to write down!) that we’re not going to raise with them. So let’s look at what we are going to raise.

Whether we’re focusing on a new business sales campaign or expanding an existing account, understanding the relevant issues that the client or potential client is, or may be, facing is a good start point. We can do that, it’s called research and is part of what consultants are trained to do! Then we match these against our firms’ capabilities and identify which issues we’re able to help to address, using combinations of our capabilities – again, standard consulting stuff known as analysis. Next, we develop our proposition, how we can use our bundle of capabilities to focus on the client problem and produce a solution – otherwise known as design.

OK, so we have our head sorted out and we’ve used our core consultant training to develop something that we can go and talk to a client or potential client about – and it’s not just “something”, it’s something that’s in the client’s interests and something that we are capable of delivering. It suddenly isn’t so “scary” after all, is it?!

Now to put the mechanical sales training to good use!

Marketing is about “Being There”

Many Professional Services firms don’t really “get” Marketing – it’s a drain to pour money down which could otherwise go into Partners’ pockets!  IT Services firms tend to “get it” more but the spend can often be focused on things that take up lots of time and budget for little effect.  So what’s the problem?

Marketing professionals talk about the “Marketing Mix”.  In Services Marketing, the original 4Ps of product, price, promotion and place are expanded to 7Ps, adding in process, people and physical environment …. and some people even add an eighth, namely performance – this is a lot of Ps!  If we’re running a services firm and don’t have much Marketing experience, we find all these Ps a bit difficult and uncomfortable and, hence, tend to gravitate to one end of the spectrum and do only what we feel comfortable with (e.g. buy hospitality tickets for the rugby and invite some clients and a few prospects) or the other and try to cover all the bases.  Both approaches fail in most cases.

Let’s start with what we’re trying to achieve.  When we boil it down, we’re looking for Marketing activity to generate sales leads.  In services businesses, sales leads must lead to face-to-face sales meetings because we all know that, in this industry at least, people buy from people…so they’d better meet and get the chemistry going as soon as possible if any sale is going to be made!

Now, it’s increasingly true that there are hygiene factors to consider that don’t directly lead to sales leads or which, if handled poorly, can hold sales opportunities back.  A consulting firm that I’m working with had a sales campaign put on hold recently when the potential client wouldn’t introduce the consulting Partner to his boss to get a decision until the firm’s web site was more fit for purpose…which it now is!  Which hygiene factors to address and how much to spend on them is worth thinking about – I’d suggest that you do just enough to create an environment within which your target market might start to get a warm and fuzzy feeling.  So you want to tweet – why?  You want an article in the FT – do the people who buy your services read the FT?

It’s best to decide which specific messages you want to get to which specific audiences and then, alongside creating something of an environment around this, research how to get to these audiences – which industry journals they read, which conferences they attend etc – and then put Marketing spend and effort into delivering your messages into these places, consciously and deliberately avoiding spend in places that don’t fit with this.  If this involves face-to-face contact as part of the Marketing activity then this is fantastic since it gives you a better opportunity to start building a relationship and increases the likelihood of getting that all important face-to-face sales meeting.

About five years ago, I worked with an IT services firm focused on Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing – they had reached a plateau and were getting frustrated.  We took the same Marketing budget that they were spending by trying to cover all the bases and focused it onto getting specific messages into three vertical industries, and we aligned the sales team up behind these industry messages.  The result?  50% growth in revenues the next year and 65% growth on top of that the following year.

Decide where you need to be and then “be there”!