Why Repetition Is the Path to Becoming a High-Performance Consultancy

“Variation in a boutique consulting doesn’t sell. Focus does.” I’ve said these words to my clients – boutique consultancies – more times than I can count.

Let me clarify what I mean.

I come across consultancies daily that offer a buffet of services. Their messaging is all about tailored solutions and hyper-customisable services. I get it. These consultancies are trying to show just how customer-centric they are and want to cast as wide a net as possible. 

I consider that as a mistake. Variation is a boulder that weighs boutique consultancies down.

Large firms – the Big 4s of the world – can afford to offer variation. These consultancies have endless resources and an army of consultants. They can provide a wide range of services because their internal pool of knowledge is massive. But that’s not the case for boutique consultancies.

So why even try to compete against these large firms on variation? Consulting businesses with consulting teams of 30-100 people don’t stand a chance in such instances against consulting firms that employ thousands of consultants across multiple continents!

The superpower that boutique consultancies can employ, however, is developing a signature methodology – a highly effective way of addressing high-value problems for a narrow audience with high predictability in outcomes.

As I’ve witnessed countless times, the path to developing that signature methodology and becoming a high-performance consultancy is through an unwavering commitment to repetition. 

That’s what I’m going to elaborate on in this post.

Signature methodology – what it is and why it matters

A signature methodology is a unique and proprietary approach developed by a consultancy to solve specific problems or address particular challenges their clients face. This methodology encapsulates the consultancy's expertise, processes, and best practices distilled into a structured framework.

Let’s say two consultancies of approximately the same size bid for the same project – developing and implementing a sales forecasting system for a multinational fashion brand. 

Consultancy 1 markets itself as a one-stop shop for all digital sales and marketing needs for businesses in the retail space. Consultancy 2, on the other hand, has a proprietary methodology for implementing sales forecasting systems for large fashion brands that consistently deliver forecasts with 95% accuracy. And has a track record to back up that claim. 

Which consultancy is the client more likely to book? The answer is obvious.

That’s the power of a signature methodology. It creates trust with prospects – the impact of such consultancies’ work is typically exponentially higher, while the risks of hiring such firms are exponentially lower. 

Here are just a few reasons why a signature methodology for solving important client problems is a driver of the success of high-performance boutique consultancies:

  • It offers differentiation: A signature methodology distinguishes a consultancy from competitors by offering a distinct approach that has proven to deliver impactful results.

  • It allows consultancies to demonstrate success: Building up on the point above since a signature methodology is implemented repeatedly will enable a consultancy to build up a library of successful case studies to demonstrate the methodology's effectiveness.

  • It leads to standardised processes and swift delivery = maximum efficiency: Developing, refining, and deploying a signature methodology opens doors to efficiency gains. It allows consultancies to optimise their resources, the technologies they use, the processes they utilise, the human capital they allocate to projects, client onboarding, etc.

  • It produces higher profit margins: The formula here is quite simple. High-impact results delivered with a signature methodology allow boutique consultancies to charge premium prices. Standardised processes and optimised efficiency reduce costs. I’ve worked with high-performance consultancies that reported 2x or 3x higher profit margins than the average in their industry.

  • It reduces outcome variability and makes for happy clients: In a 2023 UK study, more than 50% of consulting firm clients felt that the value they receive in return for their payment doesn't match up (says this Harvard article). Implementing a signature methodology over and over and over again means consultancies can measure the outcomes and, when needed, tweak the method until they achieve minimal variability in outcomes.

  • It reduces the time needed to onboard new consultants: New hires can hit the ground much faster when introduced to standardised processes, systems, and frameworks than when they are thrown in the environment of “improvise as we go”, which is inevitably the paradigm of service variation. Training materials can be easily aggregated into a knowledge library, further facilitating the onboarding process.

  • It serves as the foundation for audience education and makes sales and marketing more efficient: A signature methodology is an endless trust-building tool. Boutique consultancies can create authoritative, education-driven pieces revolving around the pain points the methodology resolves, constantly driving demand for their services.

  • It bolsters a consultancy’s value proposition: A signature methodology becomes a core part of its value proposition identity, representing its expertise, thought leadership, and commitment to delivering high-value solutions.

  • It makes for easy recommendations: Deep expertise delivered through a signature methodology makes it easy for clients to offer referrals and recommendations. “Consultancy X helped our business achieve a 120% increase in Y with their Z approach” is a 'simple message' that can come with a signature methodology.

Recommended reading: The 12 Characteristics of a High-Performing Boutique Consultancy

Repetition – a bridge between expertise and a signature methodology

A signature methodology is only effective when it delivers outstanding results. In my experience, designing such a methodology without repetition is impossible. 

By focusing on the same narrow list of problems for a highly targeted audience day in and day out, a consultancy achieves the following:

  • Expertise clarity: The deeper the level of expertise, the more apparent it becomes how to solve foundational problems for clients.

  • Optimisation of resources: Repeating similar projects over and over again results in the consultancy’s ability to narrow down its portfolio of resources that it needs to utilise for each project: everything from the onboarding emails it needs to send to what consultants assign the project to, to which software solutions to use for every step of the project.

  • Data aggregation and streamlining: The only way to benefit from data insights is to standardise data aggregation and have enough relevant data to yield meaningful insights. Repetition of projects allows consultancies to streamline data aggregation to collect enough data to analyse it. Which tool delivers the best results? Which step in the process requires further refining? How many consulting hours are used to complete a project? Which consultant requires additional training to improve the quality of work or increase efficiency? The answers to these questions are hidden in the data.

  • Pattern identification and recognition: Repetition of projects, combined with diligent data aggregation and analysis, will, over time, allow consultancies to spot patterns. It will give the consultancy a macro view of why specific pain points occur, what type of “treatment” is most effective in solving them, what impact these problems can have on the organisation, and so on. 

    Pattern recognition differentiates experts from those with a superficial level of knowledge. It enables consultancies to diagnose prospects’ problems with incredible accuracy.

  • Discovery of opportunities: The more a consultancy engages in repetition, the easier it is to develop vertical service extensions. Instead of creating entirely new services (meaning having to pitch a new audience and lacking sufficient depth to compete against firms specialised in these fields), consultancies with deep expertise can develop new and deeper components of already existing consulting services. Why? Because their deep knowledge and profound understanding of client problems due to repetition allow these consultancies to spot opportunities.

  • Easy knowledge transfer: Repetition, focus, and deep expertise enable a consultancy to set up efficient knowledge transfer procedures. Whether it comes to internal recruiting and bringing new consultants up to the expected level of knowledge or helping clients build an in-house team, firms with repetitive processes and projects can transfer knowledge more effectively.

Repetition vs “the hustle”

One of the most common traits I encounter in boutique consultancy owners and leaders is their “hustle mode”. It makes perfect sense, of course. Running a business means being responsible for bringing in revenue, recruiting top talent, doing quality control, and about a hundred other things. This “hustle” often fuels the very existence of a business.

However, the “hustle mode” should be kept in check as it can come at odds with the commitment to repetition. It requires discipline and the ability to commit to a long-term vision. That’s why I urge boutique consultancy owners and leaders to be mindful of their entrepreneurial spirit – that eagerness to explore opportunities – and develop the discipline required to maintain focus.

Repetition vs customisation

Repetition, by definition, leaves very little room for customisation. That, of course, doesn’t mean that boutique consultancies need to forget about customisation completely. Even applying a signature methodology will not be 100% the same for each client, no matter how narrow the client profile is. Typically, some minor tweaking and adjusting need to be done.

However, I want to warn consultancy owners and leaders to be very careful about keeping the scope of customisation to a minimum If a project requires a high degree of customisation or is outside the immediate fo. In that case, I recommend that boutique consultancies ask themselves whether they would be justified in charging at least 50% more – whether the client would agree. Why? Because a consultancy won’t have the advantages of the signature methodology and repetitions, those efficiency gains must be compensated.

Case study: Winning with a Signature Methodology

A large pharmaceutical company invited me to help them assess pitches by consultancies for a post-merger digital transformation project – a 3-year contract valued at around €3 million.

In brief:

  • 14 consultancies submitted a proposal at the initial stage (RFP)
  • 4 consultancies were invited to pitch (12-person evaluation committee)
  • The final decision came down to picking between two consultancies:
    • A Big-4 firm
    • A boutique consultancy of 120 consultants that quoted €180K more than the Big 4 firm. Despite being €180k more expensive than boutique consultancy, it got the project.

At first sight, it may seem counterintuitive. The pharmaceutical company had a proposal from the Big 4 consulting firm that was much more suited to their budget, and they could tap into the massive pool of consultants they offered. 

In the exceptional pitch delivered by the boutique consultancy, the core strength lay in their 'signature methodology', which was developed and refined through repeated application over several years.

Their approach, tailored to address specific post-merger digital integration challenges, was presented with remarkable transparency during the pitch. The consultancy openly shared its journey of repetition, detailing the iterative process of perfecting its 'signature methodology' through past mistakes and lessons learned.

This candid presentation demonstrated their deep expertise and instilled high trust and confidence in the client. The impact was profound—despite a higher cost proposal, the client was compelled to choose the boutique firm, valuing the predictable, outcome-driven results promised by their proven, repeatedly tested approach.

This pitch - see the recommended reading link to the case study below this paragraph - exemplifies the transformative power of repetition to develop a signature methodology to distinguish a boutique consultancy in a competitive market.

Recommended reading: The Best Consulting Pitch I’ve Ever Seen

In conclusion, a high-performance consultancy hinges on the unwavering commitment to focus and repetition. 

The ability to design a signature methodology is paramount for boutique consultancies aiming to thrive in a competitive landscape. This distinctive approach, honed through repetitive application, offers numerous advantages ranging from enhanced differentiation and standardised processes to increased profitability and client satisfaction. 

By committing to repetition, boutique consultancies can refine and deepen their expertise, optimise resources, streamline operations, and unlock valuable insights from data that drive sustainable growth. 

While the allure of service variation is strong, everything that I’ve observed in my work with both struggling consultancies and high-performance consultancies points to the conclusion that it is the disciplined dedication to repetition that ultimately paves the path towards building a reputation for delivering outstanding results for clients, which is, ultimately, what clients want to pay for.

Repetition and focus are not merely a means to an end but the cornerstone upon which high-performance consultancies are built.

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