5 Reasons Consulting Leaders Are Missing the Digital Train

This article was last updated on 1 March 2024.

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 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, for a while now, has been 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. And that these relationships are based on impactful, outcomes-driven, highly targeted value propositions.

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.

Expertise-sharing should be done consistently and based on the value proposition of the consultancy. That means each piece – be it a blog article, a guest post, a speaking engagement, a case study, or a LinkedIn post – serves to communicate the value proposition of the consultancy. It acts as proof of the deep expertise in a narrow field. It showcases the consultancy's ability to deliver measurable, high-value outcomes based on that expertise. It demonstrates a deep understanding of the pain points of the target audience.

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 and based on the value proposition that the entire consultancy is aligned around.

Recommended reading: How Consultancies Can Reach the Unconverted Audience in 4 Steps

#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 value proposition

Digital marketing requires discipline in the value proposition – its design and how it's communicated internally and externally. Unfortunately, consulting leaders love to keep all options open and say yes to all kinds of client requests. That’s a big bottleneck. 

Laser-sharp, impactful value proposition is key to digital marketing success. It’s at the foundation of everything the consultancy does:

  • How individual consultants communicate with prospects
  • How consultants present their expertise and services
  • 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.

Value proposition design 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: How Consultancies Can Get Started With Value Proposition Design

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 and learn how to consistently expand their digital footprint based on a well thought out value proposition.

We live in a new digital-first consulting world.

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