The Single Biggest Mistake Consultancies Make: Talking About Themselves
Business Development in Consulting
This article was last updated on 20 October 2022.
“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?
Consulting clients do not care about the “unique” expertise or offering. They don’t care that a firm's list of services is longer than the Iliad. They want their problems solved! It’s as simple as that.
Many consultancies have been fooling themselves thinking they are unique. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of other firms doing the same thing. 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.
I encourage leaders of consulting firms to think of their companies' USPs, marketing collaterals, or even the last introductory call one of the consultants had with a prospective client, and count how many times words “I” or “we” were used.
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.
Let's reflect on our daily experiences. Say I injured my knee. What am I looking for from a doctor?
It's to correctly diagnose me and prescribe me a treatment that will fix my knee problem.
And what does a doctor do during the first interaction? He asks me questions along the lines of how I injured it, what other symptoms I am experiencing, for how long I’ve had the pain, and whether the pain’s gotten any worse. The doctor doesn’t start the appointment by giving me a breakdown of their services, listing all their fancy degrees, and telling me how many other patients they’ve helped in the last 15 years.
Similarly, it's consultancies' job to diagnose their client’s problem and help eliminate it correctly. It’s all about the clients – their needs, goals, immediate pain points, and long-term expectations.
It’s not what consultancies think it is but what it does to their client.
It’s not about consultancies. It’s about their clients.
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Without a strong UVP, the laws of marketing do not work!
When a consultancy's positioning is all about the firm, the messaging is too generic. OR if they try to appeal to too wide of an audience, they end up wasting precious resources.
Recommended reading: To Succeed As A Consultancy, Get Rid Of The Scarcity Mindset
The marketing laws only work when a consultancy's 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 a 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.
- Google won't care about consultancies that put out self-centered bragging on their site. Google's E.A.T. algorithm will not pick up such firms because it doesn’t consider them Experts, Authorities, or doesn’t see them as Trustworthy. They remain the prominent invisible, unknown firms, and nobody is coming to save them.
- These consultancies' client referrals will be weak. If a consultancy is a moderator in the big we-we-we talk show, people won’t know what client impact they can recommend this firm for.
- Thought leadership and trust-building will not work. Consulting companies can’t possibly produce the right problem-resolution content if they keep talking about their consultancy. So they just end up with a ton of useless content and meaningless interactions.
- Their ideal client prequalification won’t work if they are unclear about the prototypical client pains their consultancy solves. They end up with a non-ideal prospect flow, wasting all their time.
Consultancies' vanity claim of being the best, the most unique, the most experienced will never create trust in their consulting 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 among consultancies with all the information around: articles, webinars, 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 – consultancies: how they grow their business, what their struggles are, what their business 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 was 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. 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 consultancies do. It's time for them to ditch their useless, self-centered, inside-in USP! Instead, they should focus on designing an outward, client-focused, Unique Value Proposition. Consulting firms need to cancel the big we-we-we show. Immediately.
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Hello, I’m Luk Smeyers, and I’m helping mid-sized consultancies become high-performing consulting firms. I have been in the consulting businesses for more than 20 years, in very different roles: as European CHRO in a global consultancy, as a founder of a mid-sized analytics consultancy, and as a leader in a 'Big 4' consultancy, post-acquisition of my consultancy. I had the privilege of achieving global visibility as a consulting leader, 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 advising consultancies in the past years.