The Single Biggest Mistake Consultancies Make: Talking About Themselves
“We supercharge our clients to reach maximum performance levels.”
“We are experts in providing our clients with tailor-made guidance to speed-up change.”
“We work at the intersection of marketing, finance and HR.”
“We unbox your digital power.”
“We are the workforce of the future experts.”
These are just a few of the examples of generic BS that I come across daily on consultancies' websites, social media posts, and various marketing collaterals. “We do this", and “We are the best at doing that”, and “We are so experienced and amazing".
The big we-we-we show. And honestly, it’s boring, not attractive at all. Vanilla differentiation. 100% commodity, everybody is saying the same things. Copy/paste.
I have researched over 200 consultants and consultancies in the past two years, and it amazes me that >90% of firms – both large and small – position themselves with this type of generic, self-centered bragging. They call that their USP. Help!
So many consultancies talk about how unique they are, how impressive their offering is, how they spent the last 20+ years perfecting their knowledge and delivering extraordinary services to clients.
My response is: so what?
Your clients do not care about the “unique” expertise or offering. They don’t care that your list of services is longer than the Iliad. They want their problems solved! It’s as simple as that.
You have been fooling yourself: you are not unique. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of other firms doing the same thing as you. Maybe even better.
The big mistake: the inside view
Most consultancies make the big mistake of telling their prospects an inside-in story:
- what THEIR unique services are
- how exceptional THEIR experience is
- how many years of awesome experience THEY have
- and on and on and on...
It’s all about bragging about THEIR so-called unique expertise, unique service, unique blah blah blah.
Does that sound familiar? Does this apply to your consultancy in any way? Think of your USP, marketing collateral, or even your last introductory call with a prospective client. Be honest with yourself and count how many times you used the word “I” or “we”.
It’s not intentional. But…
Yes, consultancies are selling the ability to deliver services, which, of course, is based on their knowledge, expertise, track record, etc.
So it’s natural for most firms to do just that – talk about themselves and their outstanding qualifications, and I get that and have been there myself.
Recommended reading: Lead with your expertise, not with your consulting services
However, this natural tendency is preventing consultancies from actually selling their prospects on their services, from standing out in a crowded market.
Think of your own daily experiences. Say you injured your knee. What are you looking for from a doctor?
I’m guessing it's to correctly diagnose you and prescribe you a treatment that will fix your knee problem.
And what does a doctor do during the first interaction? He probably asks you questions along the lines of how you injured it, what other symptoms you are experiencing, for how long you’ve had the pain, and whether the pain’s gotten any worse. The doctor doesn’t start the appointment by giving you a breakdown of their services, listing all their fancy degrees, and telling you how many other patients they’ve seen in the last 15 years.
As a consultancy, it’s your job to diagnose your client’s problem and help eliminate it correctly. It’s all about your clients – their needs, goals, immediate pain points, and long-term expectations.
It’s not what you think it is but what it does to your client.
It’s not about your consultancy. It’s about your clients.
Without a strong UVP, the laws of marketing do not work!
When your consultancy's positioning is all about the firm, the messaging is too generic. OR if you try to appeal to too wide of an audience, you end up wasting precious resources.
Recommended reading: To Succeed As A Consultancy, Get Rid Of The Scarcity Mindset
The marketing laws only work when your efforts are tailored to a specific audience with a specific (or prototypical) problem and a specific solution or approach.
- With an inside view, nobody will care about your consultancy's ‘unique expertise’. Clients with significant, pressing problems look for subject matter experts to solve their problems quickly and reliably. Think about the doctor.
- If you fell in love with your self-centered bragging, Google won’t care about your consultancy. Its E.A.T. algorithm will not pick you up because it doesn’t consider you an Expert, an Authority, or doesn’t see you as Trustworthy. You remain the prominent invisible, unknown firm, and nobody is coming to save you.
- Your clients’ referrals will be weak. If you are your moderator in your big we-we-we talk show, people won’t know what client impact they can recommend your firm for.
- Thought leadership and trust-building will not work. You can’t possibly produce the right problem-resolution content if you keep talking about your consultancy. So you just end up with a ton of useless content and meaningless interactions.
- Your ideal client prequalification won’t work if you are unclear about the prototypical client pains your consultancy solves. You end up with a non-ideal prospect flow, wasting all your time.
Your vanity claim of being the best, the most unique, the most experienced will never create trust in your consultancy's expertise.
Here's what I did: moving to an outside, client-centered view from the start
To be honest, I am struggling to understand why this is such a blind spot in consulting with all the information around: articles, books, conferences, you name it.
After my iNostix/Deloitte exit, I started from zero again. It was March 2020, and the world went into lockdown.
Client-centered (the outside view) value proposition design was my driving force.
Here’s what I focused on from the start:
- laser-sharp positioning (the focus of the business) and a clear value proposition, client-driven of course (the outside view);
- a bold and inspiring point of view (often gets forgotten but is an essential component of a consulting value proposition);
- visible and consistent thought leadership (writing-sharing-writing-sharing), openly sharing all my learnings to build trust and help others learn from it.
I commissioned a research study into my niche audience. The goal was to learn everything possible about my prospective clients: how they grow their consulting business, what their struggles are, what their ambitions are, what tools they use, which business models work best for them, and which ones fail. And many, many other things.
I wanted to know my very narrow audience as much as I could to truly understand how to position my offering and develop my value proposition.
Result: I am fully booked after 12 months.
I am 100% convinced every consultancy could do this when it's well-executed.
Here’s my deep belief: Success in consulting is a SIDE EFFECT. What? A side effect? Kidding me, Luk?
I am not kidding you. Success in consulting is an output that results from doing positioning and value proposition (combined with stand-out thought leadership) exceptionally well. Everybody can do it – large consultancies, small boutique firms, solo practitioners – starting from scratch.
So here’s what I strongly argue that your consultancy does. Ditch your useless, self-centered, inside-in USP! Focus on designing an outward, client-focused, Unique Value Proposition. Cancel the big we-we-we show. Immediately.
Recommended reading: Client Case Study: Finetuning a Mid-Sized Consultancy’s Market Positioning
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Hello, I’m Luk Smeyers and I’m guiding consultants through the journey of growing their business by helping them transform into visible authorities. I have been in consulting businesses for almost 20 years, in very different roles: as European CHRO in a global consultancy, as a startup founder in an analytics consultancy, and as a leader in a 'Big 4' consultancy, post-acquisition of the startup. I had the privilege of achieving global visibility as a consultant and I never had to sell, persuade, or negotiate as a result. I have now bundled all those experiences, expertise, know-how, research, reading, successes, struggles, and failures from managing and growing that visibility in the past years.