You’ve probably been in a situation where your consulting firm is competing to win a project. For instance, say you know you’re one of many consulting firms bidding to help the Foucault Co. shift their momentum.
You review the other players and your own approach to Foucault’s challenge. Then you decide what you will emphasize to distinguish yourself from other consulting firms—the pivotal difference that will swing Foucault’s project to your firm.
Your decision in that type of situation can shape your consulting firm going forward. Once you identify how you’re superior to other firms, it’s natural that your energy, marketing, solution development, and systems all revolve around supporting your competitive advantage.
But they shouldn’t.
Resist the urge to direct any part of your firm’s efforts based on some perceived edge you hold over other consulting firms.
Competitive advantage misses the point—for the long-term prosperity of your consulting firm, and even in the competition for the Foucault project.
Competitive proposal situations create a false frame. It’s like someone presenting you with a drawer of black socks and brown socks then you thinking those are your only choices. False frame. Dude, you can spin over to the store and grab a funky pair of multi-colored socks.*
First of all, your consulting firm’s primary competition isn’t another consulting firm. It’s inertia. The number of clients who Need your consulting firm’s services outstrips the number who are seeking help. By a lot. But most potential clients feel insufficient urgency (a.k.a. Want) to hire a consulting firm.
Second, your firm’s other big competitor is most often internal staff—if not current staff, then staff they could hire instead of paying your consulting firm’s high fees. Most clients harbor an inherent bias toward using any form of home-grown solution over contracting an outside resource.
Third, competition doesn’t matter.
Consulting isn’t a summer track meet where your goal is to be the fastest in race. Some of your competitors aren’t even running in the heat (inertia and internal staff).
Plus, the slow consulting firm at the back of the pack can win Faucault’s engagement by turning off the track and serving the judges hot chocolate at 160 degrees.
Don’t look for a competitive advantage. Look for a customer advantage.
If you abolish competitors from your thought process and redirect all that energy to understanding your customers better, you’ll fare better as a consulting firm.
Leave the game of one upsmanship, and devote your consulting firm to answering questions like the following:
- What are your prospects’ most pressing needs?
- What’s causing clients like Faucault to spin in place?
- What’s blocking prospects’ urgency to hire a consultant, and what could open the tap? Could you heighten urgency by creating awareness? By touting a new message or a realigned perspective?
- What’s missing in current solutions that would make your consulting firm’s solution extraordinarily desirable?
- What unmet, client needs are adjacent to the problems your consulting firm solves and could be addressed at the same time?
When you examine competitive offerings, rather than looking for spots where you can be better than your competitors, look for opportunities to better meet client’s needs. That’s a subtle, but important difference.
Of course, it’s okay to tout your solution’s superiority over competitive alternatives, as long as you’re hanging your consulting firm’s direction on clients’ needs, not competitive advantage.
How have you oriented your consulting firm toward customer advantage? 14*
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.