1991 was the year my consulting work began. That is long enough, I think, to give me some sense of the field. Here is my construct–a map if you will–that helps me understand the consulting marketplace. Perhaps it can help you also.
First out of the gate is Low Knowledge/Low Service, the largest segment of the marketplace. This quadrant can be divided into two camps: (1) Many but not all of the single shingle operators trying to keep their income alive as they enter retirement, and a good number of high octane firms with really good marketing and sales departments, but little substance. The second type is especially dangerous because of the rates the consultant must charge in order to maintain their really good marketing and sales departments. Watch out for anyone that tells you about how large their firm is in total revenue! The purpose of a consulting firm is to increase your revenues and assist you in managing your problems, not to tell you how much money their company makes.
The client’s best interest: Hang up the phone!
Next is High Knowledge/Low Service. This quandrant can also be divided into two groups: the rest of the single shingle operators, and firms with high expertise but little attention to follow through. If you hire a single shingle expert, many of whom will prove to be extremely reliable, be prepared to provide office support for them, an additional cost to you. If you hire a firm that seems to fit, be prepared to receive reports and advice about what your company should do, but little ongoing assistance to implement or manage any projects that grow from the consultation. Be prepared for persons in this job quadrant to be eager for a full-time job, if offered, perhaps compromising their consultative objectivity.
The client’s best interest: Looking for a low cost but strong option? You might find one here among the single shingle operators.
The next quadrant is High Service/Low Knowledge. Here one finds a number of firms who also have good sales and marketing departments. But they also have good product offerings that are repeated everywhere, perhaps with slight adaptations that help the firm claim to have your company’s interests in mind. Service from these firms will be especially good in helping projects get established. White papers generated from firms like these tend to be introductions to consulting products rather than original research or timely information. These firms are reliant on product offerings and hype over the process of creating knowledge and developing your personnel.
The client’s best interest: Make sure the product offering is an exact match with your company’s needs. You might find the quickest timetable to an effective solution here, but you will need to have a lot of initiative and follow through.
The final and smallest quadrant is the one where High Knowlege/High Service can be found. It might be surprising to discover that not all marketplace entrants aspire to this. A few do arrive at it on occasion. Some do it consistently. These firms treat their clients like partners, developing approaches to managing organizational issues. They DO NOT expect that what worked on the last project will necessarily work in a new setting. Contracts with these firms tend to reflect mutually defined objectives that will be addressed rather than products purchased.
The client’s best interest: This is a more detailed and deliberate approach. Sometimes it is the most expensive. The client must remain engaged, and if so firms like these offer the strongest likelihood of success.
It is the testimony of my clients and all clients served by Design Group International that determines whether we reside in this 5% category. I also know, however, that this is our aspiration among a lot of consultative carnage inflicted by those who remain unapologetically low in either knowledge or service.
But let’s not forget all the self-inflicted injury caused by the incompetence of managers and organizational leaders! This is why the flame for consulting still burns brightly in my heart. When organizations are well-matched with consultative expertise it is a beautiful thing.
-mark l vincent