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7 Traits that Separate the Very Best Consulting Firms from the Rest

You run a great consulting firm. You can point to glowing testimonials and clients who stick with your consulting firm like fluffernutter pasted to the roof of a six year-old’s mouth.

And while you originally found your consulting firm’s tagline on a pizza box (“You’ve tried the rest, now try the best”), you still believe your team delivers better results and value than the average crew of consultants. Let’s benchmark your performance against the traits of the very best consulting firms.

What does separate the very best consulting firms from the great? Much like this companion article about the very best clients, we can sort consulting firm behaviors into Rock Bottom, Rock Solid and Rock Star.

The list of traits below is purposely incomplete. It desperately needs input from thoughtful consultants like you.

7 Traits of Rock Star Consulting Firms

Declines projects that are outside the consulting firm’s area of expertise, and actively finds an outstanding, alternate resource for the client.

Proactively thinks and acts beyond the strict bounds of the consulting engagement to help the client achieve their goals, while alerting the client well in advance if the client’s request or a requirement to achieve the goals is substantially outside of scope.

Delivers A-level work ahead of schedule by exquisitely balancing the quality of work with speed of delivery. (A.k.a. “Working to a 95” unless speed of delivery is unimportant to the client, in which case “Working to a 98” is the rule.)

Combines deep, deep experience and expertise in a particular area with active innovation. As a result, each project’s solution is rooted in proven approaches and better than the solution the consulting firm has provided on any previous project.

Constantly synthesizes data from client work and the broader world, then translates the findings and learnings into valuable insights for clients.

Ties a portion of compensation to performance; sharing risk and reward between the consulting firm and the client without sacrificing long-term health for short-term gains.

Stays in integrity, despite pressure to compromise values, and helps clients make the right choice rather than the expedient one.

The list above only scratches the surface.

What else do you do that sets your consulting firm apart? Or, at least, what does your consulting firm aspire to do that would make clients consider your firm to be among the very best?

  1. Warren Miller, CPA, CFA
    December 16, 2021 at 12:02 pm Reply

    Excellent 7-item checklist. Thanks.

    • David A. Fields
      December 20, 2021 at 10:26 am Reply

      You’re welcome, Warren. Thanks for your feedback.

  2. Patrick J. McKenna
    December 20, 2021 at 12:52 pm Reply

    It is not what you verbally assert, it is what you can prove that really makes any difference! Therefore, it’s all just smoke-screen B.S., unless you are prepared to give the client a written assurance, a guarantee of their satisfaction: “If you do not think that as a client, you got value equal to or greater than my fee, please feel free to pay only what you believe my services were worth.” There are only a handful of consultants that, in the past 30+ years, I’ve ever come across that were willing to guarantee their client’s satisfaction.

    • David A. Fields
      December 20, 2021 at 5:01 pm Reply

      Thanks for your perspective, Patrick. Your overall point rings true: the very best consulting firms stand by their work.

      Interestingly, the vast majority of consulting firms we work with guarantee client satisfaction. The language they use in their contracts varies, of course, and as consulting firms grow larger some additional protections for the firm also have to be built in; however, a satisfaction guarantee is, arguably, the sign of a Rock Solid consultant rather than a Rock Star.

      Thanks for chiming in on the discussion, Patrick!

  3. Ray Scott
    December 20, 2021 at 1:03 pm Reply

    Good list. The issue of trust should be in here somewhere; a Rock Star consulting firm is trusted by their clients.

    • David A. Fields
      December 20, 2021 at 5:02 pm Reply

      Good point, Ray. Quick question for you: Aren’t even run-of-the-mill, good (or great) consultants trusted by their clients?

      One of the tricky parts of designing this list was differentiating between table stakes for being a very good consultant, and differentiators for Rock Star consultants.

      I’m glad you highlighted the importance of Trust, Ray.

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