Does the Internet make Consulting Obsolete?
16 years ago, when I started my career as a total newbie in consulting, the daily rate I charged to clients was really high. In fact, it was higher than what many seasoned consultants bill now in 2013. At the time, clients were ready to pay expensive fees because high-quality consulting offers, at least in Europe, were scarce. Andersen Consulting (my first employer) had 2 magic weapons: their methodology was unique and their ability to recruit and train the right people was impeccable. Today, Internet has obviously made these competitive advantages much easier to get for clients. But does that make us obsolete as consultants? Maybe not – we just have to change entirely the way we work and the value we provide to our clients.
Internet: Changing the Game in Consulting
Yes, you can get everything you want from the Web: new books and movies, fancy clothes, expensive imported foods, and luxury accessories. You can even get some new friends or find your life partner. As far as your job is concerned, you also have access to an infinite range of knowledge and resources. What used to be reserved for only a happy few is now accessible to everybody.
In minutes, you can get templates for a job contact or a shareholders' agreement. If you’re your conducting market research, you can also get pages and pages of useful data that was once exclusively for big firms. Given more time, you can become an expert in a specific field by getting high-level training for next to nothing on websites such as codeschool.com. Once again, these training materials that were once reserved for only big firms are now available for all.
Being well informed and well trained is causing our clients to become more demanding. Competition has grown immensely. Today, market places such as jobserve.com make it easy to buy consultancy at a cheap rate that is ready-to-go from all over the word.
We Need to Upgrade our Services
Fortunately, many basics of our value proposition remain unchanged in the Internet age: we help our clients solve problems or improve their performance. We bring added-value expertise with an external point of view on their problems. Not surprisingly, competitive consulting firms are still growing at a fast pace. Here is how they adapt:
1. Sell results, not only expertise
Knowledge is one thing. Getting the proper results is another. Of course, corporations can train their teams or recruit new people, but it’s more risky and it takes time. As an external consultant, we can give flexibility and much faster time-to-market. This is an essential advantage in helping clients survive in a very competitive world.
It is clear that clients are no longer buying information that is available in open-source directories. However, clients are willing to pay for ready-to-use deliverables that are tailor-made for their organization.
As a consequence, besides strong analytical skills, consultants also need to demonstrate that they are street-smart, pragmatic and creative. They need to have strong leadership skills and persistence. These qualities are necessary to make things happen. Left-brain strengths are still useful, but they need to be completed with right-brain competencies
2. Offer differentiated competencies and cutting edge expertise
I have worked in the digital business for more than 14 years and I realize that this background is very useful for my clients. The Internet offers a very vast array of content, but a lot of it has no value. Many studies shows that data is often replicated from one website to another. Garbage is therefore often spread all over the web. Only experience can make it possible to distinguish between what is good and bad, to separate the wheat from the chaff. It saves time and money.
Clever clients are willing to pay for the ability to avoid mistakes or to limit risks. They also want to pay for an expertise that goes, even slightly, beyond the state of the art. In web marketing, being the first position on Google search results can make you very rich. You only get this result if your expertise goes further than the general knowledge you can find on the Web. Whatever the business, being 5% cheaper or uniquely better than your competitors makes it possible to gain significant market share in the long run.
3. Relentlessly search for useful innovation
After years of downsizing, clients’ teams are often reduced to the bone. They cannot afford to spend a lot of time to scan new methodologies. Constant innovation is usually a luxury they cannot afford due to lack of staff. Consultants are here to help. They offer time and expertise.
Consultants also offer an external view and the liberty to challenge the existing norms.
4. Develop specific tools
Specific tools such as benchmarks, analytical frameworks, or any original methodologies work wonders. They provide an exclusive value that your clients won’t find anywhere else. They also bring economy of scale, because the cost to build them can be split among several clients. Whether you build them or buy them on platforms such as consultingcafe.com, they will make the difference.
5. Market yourself (again, again, again…)
It’s often frustrating to sell yourself to clients that can’t make a difference between a cheap freelancer and a long time expert. Marketing is an excellent answer to this problem. Day after day, you need to explain why you are an expert. Potential clients need to understand the complexity of your work and how you can bring a differentiated value.
You also need to market yourself to make sure that clients who need your services are aware of your expertise / competencies / tools that you can offer. These clients might be next-door or across the globe in Shanghai, Berlin or Dubai. Using a personal blog, websites, and social networks are a good way to start reaching your potential market.
As you can see, the Internet will not kill consulting. The Web Revolution gives us more opportunities than threats. Clients will still need highly skilled workforce, bringing better results, in a short time frame. But in the Internet age, we need to be even more result-oriented, differentiated, innovative.