5 Reasons Consulting Leaders Are Missing the Digital Train

I’d like to start with a few stats:

  • 50% of senior executives find thought leadership through advisories’ websites, emails, and newsletters.
  • 42% come across it when doing online research.
  • 38% discover such pieces through social media posts

To add to that:

  • 78% of senior executives agree that good thought leadership would make them consider working with the advisor or solutions provider who produced it.
  • 72% agree that if their own advisor or solutions provider doesn’t produce thought leadership on their priorities, they’ll look at their competitors.

I’ve taken all of the above states from Grist’s latest study on thought leadership. While this highly insightful yearly research piece is full of other useful data points, one thing is clear – decision-makers have embraced digital channels as the main medium for content discovery. 

AND, they expect thought leadership content from their existing or potential advisory partners.

So, if the evidence is there, why are consulting leaders lagging in driving digital growth?

In my experience working with owners and leaders of mid-sized consultancies, there are five bottlenecks – or, potentially, five improvement opportunities.

#1. Shifting from relationship-first to digital-first business development

There’s still too much focus on relationship building/maintaining, which is becoming a risky business development approach because it is not a sustainable long-term strategy and is not scalable. 
Relying solely on existing relationships for new business can lead to a lack of diversification in clients and revenue streams. 
Additionally, if those relationships were to change or end, the consulting business would be at risk of losing a significant portion of its income. 
It is important for consulting businesses to have a well-rounded business development strategy that includes building and maintaining relationships but is digitally first.

Recommended reading: Relying On the Network Is A High-Risk Consulting Growth Strategy

#2. Sharing expertise: from old-school to new-school archetype

There’s a chasm between an old-school and a new-school mindset. The old-school consultancy refuses to share its expertise. The belief is that clients and competitors will steal their know-how. The new-school consultancy believes in the power of sharing/educating and considers it strategic.

Trust in a consulting leader comes from helping others achieve their promised land. The old-school archetype consulting leader doesn’t fit that ‘trust model’. The true measure of a consulting leader‘s worth is not in the short-term gains they achieve but in the long-term capabilities they develop in their clients.

Being visible in the market as a consultant or consultancy is extremely important. Visibility done right means you don’t have to worry about having to sell your consulting services all the time. Sharing your generous knowledge, your point of view, your display of genuine understanding of your target audience’s pain points, and your ability to address them will do the selling for you.

Recommended reading: Why You Should Share Your Expertise To Grow Your Consulting Business

#3. Establishing a growth marketing function  

Marketing in most consultancies wasn't hired as a growth marketing function, so consulting leaders don't see value in working with these marketers. 

At best, somebody in marketing 'does the social media', but that's not digital growth marketing. So consultancies need to hire growth marketers.

How can they make a difference?

When consulting leaders and consultancy owners work together with marketers, these marketers can develop an editorial calendar, optimize thought leadership pieces for search engines, and measure the reach and engagement rate of every piece. 

They can track conversion rates, recycle and update content, use all the data points to suggest changes in the strategy and provide consulting leaders with topic ideas, and so much more. All of these activities should be geared towards the ultimate goal of growing the revenue.

Recommended reading: The New Role Of Marketing In The Consulting Firm: Building Visibility And Trust

#4. Eliminating the ‘client work first’ shortsighted thinking

Consulting leaders keep telling the story of 'client work first' but are fooling themselves in the long run. They believe that it’s up to marketers to increase the exposure of the consultancy.

However, driving exposure to the consultancy is the role of the leader. They need to do that by regularly producing authoritative educational content that addresses the very heart of the challenges that their target audience deals with. 

Marketing brochures don’t get shared. They don’t get forwarded to the network. They don’t get clicked on in newsletters. Content pieces that offer insights, predict trends, inspire action are the ones that get traction.

The role of marketing is to scale this exposure. And that’s why collaboration between consulting leaders and marketers is critical. 

Recommended reading: Consulting Leaders, Stop Outsourcing Your Thought Leadership Responsibility to Marketing!

#5. Adding discipline to positioning

Digital marketing requires discipline in positioning and service offering design, and consulting leaders love to keep all options open and say yes to all kinds of client requests. That’s a big bottleneck. 

Positioning discipline is key to digital marketing success. It’s at the foundation of everything the consultancy does:

  • How individual consultants communicate with prospects
  • How marketers present the services in proposal decks and marketing collaterals
  • What subjects consulting leaders create educational pieces around
  • Which prospects to target and what incoming requests to turn down
  • What to look for in prospective hires
    and so much more.

Poorly positioned consultancies will always struggle with a multitude of business development goals. They often get under mental pressure to start selling downstream availability (order takers instead of transformational experts) and usually start overservicing the clients at too low a price.

Poor positioning is a losing battle in both visibility and trust-building with prospects.

Positioning is used to (1) align the expertise and service offering of a consultancy with the high-priority needs of a narrow audience, and (2) set up strong criteria upon which to make business development and marketing decisions.

Recommended reading: A Consultancy's Positioning Has the Single Biggest Impact on the Buying Decision

In conclusion

We live in a world where information is at our fingertips. “Google” is used as a verb. Don’t know the answer to a question? Google it! And C-level executives are Googling it. 

They are looking for answers to resolve their pain points. They are reading newsletters. They are browsing through web sites of consultancies. They have fully embraced digital channels.

So if consulting leaders want to be serious about growing their consulting business and starting to attract ideal clients in a more consistent and predictable way, they will have to get comfortable with digital marketing.

We live in a new digital-first consulting world.

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