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The One, Unique Attribute That Will Attract Clients to Your Consulting Firm

More and more competition for your consulting firm is flooding the field every day. Your prospective clients can choose from an ever-increasing range of solo consultants, independent boutiques, freelancers on platforms like Catalant, plus the big-name firms. How does your consulting firm stand out? What makes you unique?

Here’s a better question: should your consulting firm’s uniqueness stand out?

That depends on your goal.

If your goal is to be able to preen about how unusual and different your consulting firm is and gain admiration from peers, then the answer is Yes.

If, however, your goal is to win clients more easily, then the answer is No.

Common marketing wisdom (derived, primarily from product marketing) tells you that you need to highlight your unique benefits. There’s even a handy acronym, USP (Unique Selling Proposition), that experienced marketers claim is the obvious first step in developing your consulting firm’s message.

As a result, everyone’s trying to be unique.

Being unique is not unique. Being the same is unique. (Sorta.)

Fortunately, in the consulting industry, our clients actively don’t want us to be unique.

What clients want is the most reliable, credible solution to their problem.

Even when a prospective client asks, “What makes your consulting firm unique?” they want to hear that you’re not unique.

If you claim, “We’re the only consultants from Mars and we we blow exploding colored bubbles out our noses!” they’ll respond, “Whoa, dude that’s crazy. Totally unique. I’ll never hire you.”

If you say, “There’s nothing unique. We’re really boring. All we do is solve your particular problem and we solve it really well for clients just like you.” They’ll react with, “Wow. Boring and competent. You’re hired.”

Focus on quality.

Focus on credibility.

Focus on results.

Those are what interest clients.

Leave different behind.

Ignore the competition. Even if your consulting firm specializes in a mature, well-established solution—say, Lean Six Sigma, when you become a truly excellent practitioner you’ll win clients. Particularly, if you narrow the range of clients your consulting firm serves.

There’s plenty of demand for well-established, proven solutions to common problems.

And a funny thing happens on the way to becoming credible and reliable.

As your consulting firm develops its chops by learning and practicing fundamental and advanced techniques, and by emulating excellent consulting firms in your field, you’ll naturally develop your own points of view.

You’ll become a sought-after consulting firm with thought leadership borne of deep experience and masterful skills.

Your consulting firm’s voice will emerge and it will be uniquely yours. Not because your firm is trying to be unique or trying to stand out. Because, without worrying one whit about your uniqueness, you’ve put in the time to become excellent and to create outstanding results for your clients.

And that’s what most clients are seeking.

Leave uniqueness behind. Ditch differentiation. Forget flagging your consulting firm as one-of-a-kind. Consulting isn’t about you anyway—it’s about your clients. Simply become a demonstrably outstanding practitioner of your craft.

I’m curious: what makes your consulting practice a reliable, credible resource?


16 Comments
  1. Eric Bakey
    July 13, 2022 at 7:20 am Reply

    Insightful article as always, David. My firm is reliable because we don’t charge upfront fees — we only get paid on results. We take a fair percentage of sales while we partner with our clients to build out repeatable marketing systems.

    • David A. Fields
      July 13, 2022 at 8:44 am Reply

      You’ve adopted an interesting approach, Eric, that a number of firms employ: using your fee structure as a indicator of reliability. That can be an effective inducement to prospective clients.

      The advice we give all our clients that work on a fee structure like the one you mentioned is: do not confuse your fee structure with your value proposition. Your reason for being and true benefit to your client is not your fee structure–it’s your ability to provide results. Providing those results is your value proposition. The fee structure is merely a risk-reduction device that makes it easier to contract with you IF the prospect believes you’re a credible solution provider.

      Eric, thank you for the (rare) opportunity to delve a bit deeper into the best practices of risk-based fee structures and, of course, for sharing what communicates your firm’s reliability.

      • Eric Bakey
        July 13, 2022 at 9:45 am Reply

        That’s a critical nuance I had never considered before too! No Upfront Fees aka “Free” = worthless if they don’t believe I can get meaningful results… and I’m only willing to risk no-upfront fees when collaborating with the RIGHT people.

        • David A. Fields
          July 13, 2022 at 9:51 am

          Well said, Eric. This is a partnership business and you’re wisely discerning which prospects will make good partners. Good on you!

  2. Eric
    July 13, 2022 at 8:19 am Reply

    Thanks David. In fact, that is how I have built my solo business. I provide a good work product at an acceptable price. In over 20 years I have never done any marketing and the networking that I have done has not yielded me any new clients. Old clients may come back. I have heard from people I have worked with over 10 years prior look me up and ask if I could help them. Provide good service and a good work product and clients will come.

    • David A. Fields
      July 13, 2022 at 8:55 am Reply

      Providing good work at an acceptable price is a solid mantra to live by.

      Alas, there’s overwhelming evidence controverting the maxim that providing good service and good work products will lead to clients. Twenty years of “no marketing” is the exception, not the rule, for solo consultants and the extremely rare exception for boutique consulting firms. Of course, it’s quite possible that you’re marketing without realizing it by nurturing deep relationships with clients, friends and others you meet.

      Either way, kudos to you for enjoying a successful practice, Eric, and thank you for sharing your inspiring experience!

  3. Gabrielle
    July 13, 2022 at 9:34 am Reply

    Good article and love the “protrarian” point of view! 😉

    In my own experience, the “different” part works for (1) grabbing attention (think AIDA formula), (2) they remember you more easily. But that’s about as far as that goes (sprinkles on the ice cream cone). You are spot on for what clients care most about once you’ve got their attention (or they remember you). They care about whether we can get them the results they’re after and if we have experience with their type of business. Period.

    As you point out, what we need to remember is, “Consulting isn’t about you anyway—it’s about your clients.” Thanks for the reminder!

    • David A. Fields
      July 13, 2022 at 9:54 am Reply

      Excellent point, Gabrielle. For marketing purposes, a “pattern interrupt” is often necessary to attract a prospect’s eye. That is different, of course, from why the prospect will hire your consulting firm.

      I appreciate you bringing that idea to the fore, Gabrielle!

  4. Thomas Cox
    July 13, 2022 at 12:09 pm Reply

    As you’ve said elsewhere, and as I think most consultants know, clients face a huge (often unstated) risk: hiring the wrong consultant to make the wrong intervention can massively harm the client company.

    Massive harm.

    Think of hiring a surgeon for your parent’s risky, life-saving operation. Do you want the surgeon with a clown nose, or the one with the track record, and an aura of extreme competence and reliability?

    Our clients want the same.

    • David A. Fields
      July 13, 2022 at 12:26 pm Reply

      Exactly, Thomas. Hiring a consultant is generally a high-anxiety decision for our clients. It’s a risky bet–particularly since it has failed for them in the past. Uniqueness does not reassure clients that you’re mitigating their risk. Experience, examples and a well-proven approach on the other hand relieve the pressure.

      Thanks for your wise addition to the conversation!

  5. Patrick J. McKenna
    July 21, 2022 at 3:59 pm Reply

    I’ve somehow managed to build a highly successful 30+ year consulting career, that took me to 47 different countries, subscribing to the wisdom of Jerry Garcia, the founder of the Grateful Dead rock group who said, “It ain’t good enough to be the best of the best, I want to be the only cat who does what I do!” Being competent at your profession, or in your industry, only brings you to parity with other competent professionals or firms – and the goal should not be equivalence, but rather preeminence.

    • David A. Fields
      July 21, 2022 at 4:25 pm Reply

      Congrats on your successful career, Patrick. That’s excellent! You took a different path from most folks. Your path reflects a specific set of goals which is highlighted in your assertion that “the goal should not be equivalence.” I can’t say I agree on that one.

      There’s nothing wrong with being at parity with other competent professionals and firms. Most consulting firm leaders don’t actually care whether or not they’re “the only cat who does what they can do” and are more interested in having a rewarding business that supports their lifestyle. Creating a rewarding, lucrative, thriving consulting practice doesn’t require a consultant to be the best in the world. In fact, in most cases, that level of preeminence is unnecessary to solve the client’s problem.

      I do appreciate your point of view and am glad you shared it, Patrick.

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