Types of Consulting Services That Enhance Business Strategy
When most people think of top consulting and strategy firms, they think of business strategy and development -- and for good reason. Improving an overall business plan and strategic tactics is the main focus of many consulting agencies.
What’s more, consulting firms have teams in place that are able to focus on your specific goals or industry, offering specialized expertise that caters exactly to your needs and business growth goals. Consulting and strategy firms who target business strategy are able to offer services such as management consulting and general business audits that can direct your focus to areas that will grow the company, increase revenue and please shareholders.
Information technology consultants are particularly helpful if you have a certain program or system that your company is implementing. IT consulting and strategy firms have highly skilled and qualified experts in place who will be able to come to your offices, implement a program, troubleshoot any issues while the implementation is taking place, and train full-time employees how to properly utilize any system.
Some IT consulting firms will be able to send consultants who are well-versed in developing programs too. This may enable them to customize certain programs or software to your business goals, ensuring that you find even more success with the product AND their assistance. IT consulting agencies can also include certain security analysts, website developers and computer network architects.
Marketing consulting firms gather competitor analysis, detailed audits, market share information and business and demographic data to advise a business on possible marketing ventures. Top marketing consulting firms can also work with companies on executing a new marketing strategy across applicable channels.
However, they shouldn’t be confused with digital agencies -- although they can sometimes see a similar focus, marketing consulting firms provide a much more mathematical, analytical approach to marketing. They are well-versed in overseeing projects, budget management, and translating data into actionable outreach.
Human resources (HR) consulting firms are contracted to help businesses with employee relations. They aren’t a replacement for a traditional HR department. Instead, they should be used to improve the general function of an HR team or department.
Specific tasks that HR consultants can assist with improving include defining employment terms, facilitating a change in upper management, determining retirement processes, overall talent management, and implementing career development and growth opportunities for various team members and the company at large.
Financial consulting is another highly coveted strategy firm that businesses enlist. The best financial consulting firms offer a wide variety of revenue-related services, including risk management, investment opportunities, tax assistance, company restructuring and real estate.
Top finance-centric consulting and strategy firms usually have access to top talent pools. Consultants are highly-screened, heavily tested, and usually held to a strict GPA cut off from top MBA programs. Enlisting the help of a financial advisory firm will give you access to brilliant minds that will help to keep your business safe.
Understand A Consulting Practice’s Expertise Through These Questions
Before you enlist the help of a consulting or strategy firm, make sure you have a strong understanding of their focus. While there are some robust and comprehensive agencies out there, the fact of the matter is that they likely can’t do it all and there are going to be areas that they excel in more than others.
Take the time to understand your own business needs and goals, then ask the following questions to ensure a consulting firm aligns with them.
- What is your focus?
- How many consultants or employees will be on our team?
- What is their experience?
- What standards or best practices do you have in place for attracting and/or training top talent that will help our business needs?
One of the best aspects of partnering with a consulting and strategy firm is their personal attention to a client’s individual needs. Not every business is the same and not every company operates in the same way or is striving towards the same business growth goals. Therefore, the following questions will give you a better idea how they will adapt their skill set to you -- not your business to them.
- How dedicated will team members be to our company/project?
- Will any consultants be placed in our office?
- What is your plan for tailoring your services to suit our business needs?
- How do you determine achievable business growth goals?
The way in which a best consulting and strategy firm works is imperative to its success. How consultants operate, create a strategy and ultimately deliver results should be streamlined and organized -- anything less may be a waste of your time and money, resulting in less-than-desirable outcomes.
In addition, make sure you understand how the firm develops a process logistically -- is it a simple step-by-step course of action (linear) or is it more collaborative, free-flowing and able to adjust as information is continually gathered (iterative)? The questions below should help clarify this.
- How long do you think the project will last? How did you determine that timeframe?
- How often will we be communicating with the consultants from your firm?
- What is your process for creating a roadmap or strategy?
- Is the process linear or iterative? Why do you believe this is the most successful route?
- How do you plan to hold consultants and team members accountable for deliverables and deadlines?
- How will you solidify the results we will be striving towards?
Your objectives may seem difficult to quantify -- especially with a more abstract project, like improving company culture. However, every project should be striving towards a specific goal, and top consulting firms are very familiar with how to accurately measure the success of them. Don’t be afraid to ask specific questions about the process and previous successes or failures, like the questions below.
- What clients have your firm worked with?
- What similar project have you worked on and what were the results?
- Have clients been happy with the results following similar projects?
- Have you ever had to revisit a project with particular clients to improve results after the initial end of a project?
- How do you plan to measure results?
Of course, the cost of services should always be discussed before committing to a consulting or strategy firm. However, take special care to understand exactly who or what you are paying for, how often, and if there are any special deals or long-term partnerships you could strike -- especially if you are in need of several services.
- What is the cost of your service(s)?
- Are their tiers to pricing?
- Is there a discount or lesser price is we use your firm for more than one initiative?
- Are costs one-time, based on results, per hour or for a general time frame?
- Are there any hidden costs we might accrue throughout this project?
How To Choose The Top Consultants To Grow Your Business
Set Specific Goals
Studies show that setting specific goals vastly increase your odds of accomplishing -- and even surpassing -- them. But setting the right objectives for your business is a two-way street.
Before you meet with any consultants, take a cold hard look at your business and determine where you want to see growth and how you want to see it evolve. Then, as you’re interviewing consulting and strategy firms, ask them what achievable goals they see in your future and how they plan to reach them. This will accomplish two important things:
- Ensure you and a potential firm see eye-to-eye on the potential growth of your company.
- Allow you to determine if the consulting firm is able to make reasonable assessments, goals, and strategies.
Know The Consultants
When you hire a top consulting and strategy firm, you aren’t just paying for their stellar reputation -- you’re paying for a collection of experts who will help advance your business. Therefore, you need to take the time to understand each potential team members history, areas of expertise and prior successes and failures.
It’s important to remember that a firm or consultant’s failure shouldn’t necessarily be a red flag. “I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000,” former Chairman and CEO of IBM Thomas John Watson, Sr. famously said. “No, I replied, I just spent $600,000 training him. Why would I want somebody to hire his experience?” If you notice a project that didn’t produce great results, instead ask the consultants or firm what they learned from their mistakes and how they would prevent them from happening in future projects.
Forge A Relationship
Incorporating a consulting and strategy firm into your business plan means that you are essentially handing the keys to your business to an outsider. So, it is imperative that you develop a strong and trusting relationship with the agency AND its consultants before you sign on the dotted line.
As President and COO of Luxor and Excalibur Hotel and Casino Renee West said: “You can have the best strategy and the best building in the world, but if you don’t have the hearts and minds of the people who work with you, none of it comes to life.” It’s your duty to make sure that any consultants are as invested in the success and well-being of your company as you and your internal employees are.
Determine The Cost
Unfortunately, the cost is always a factor when choosing the perfect business consulting agency to outsource to. Although it shouldn’t be your end-all, be-all, make sure that the overall price, team size and personal attention all suit your needs AND your budget.
For example, a small startup may find more success working with a smaller boutique consulting firm that can work with their flexible budget while giving them copious amounts of personal attention as opposed to a global agency with higher-profile clients and larger accounts.
Create A Comprehensive Contract
When all is said and done and you’ve discovered the most outstanding consulting and strategy firm that will champion for your brand, work with your legal team to create a comprehensive contract.
Although run-of-the-mill contracts may seem good enough, it might also be worth your while to draft a separate non-disclosure agreement to protect private business data, information and future plans. While no one enters into a professional partnership expecting it to sour, airtight contracts will protect both you AND the firm and will ultimately breed a safer and more positive working relationship.
Top Value Propositions & Differentiating Factors Of The Best Consulting Firms
Top Consulting Firms Are Effective Partners
Perhaps the most important attribute of a consulting firm is its willingness and ability to work in true partnership with its clients. Top consulting companies are quick to promote both the quality and expertise of their business consultants and their commitment to partnering with clients closely to generate results.
Bain & Company, one of “the big three” management consultancies, emphasizes their ability to act as a strong partner to their clients on their website, saying, “We care for our clients' business as our business. We think and act like business partners, not academic advisors. We share our clients' aspirations, work to understand their reality, and align our incentives with their objectives—so they know we're in this together.”
Leading Consulting Firms Have A Global Presence
Most businesses are not content to think small. Business success in the modern world means becoming a global brand, so when consulting services are required it’s wise to search for a firm that has a global presence. Having offices around the world means the firm is immersed in the culture where they’re operating. Employees in global offices come from diverse backgrounds and bring unique perspectives to the table. A global presence gives the consulting firm the insight necessary to properly consult with foreign business expanding operations into new territories.
The Best Consulting Firms Have Digital Expertise
A major challenge of modern business operations is meeting the demands of the digital consumer and implementing technology appropriately in order to improve business performance. The best consulting firms are keenly aware of the challenges and opportunities that digital presents and they readily promote their ability to help clients excel in an increasingly digital dominant world. Technology consulting is a key service offering of any top consultancy.
Top consulting firm, Boston Consulting Group, takes an appropriately aggressive stance on digital, saying on their website: “To assist your company in your digital transformation, BCG brings market-leading expertise in a range of capabilities and in delivering digital projects at a large scale. We are truly committed to helping your company build digital capabilities and to transfer those to you when you are ready to move ahead independently.”
The Most Effective Consulting Firms Focus On Results
Consulting should not just be a thought exercise. At their best, consulting services should be tailored to the business’ unique needs and designed to help the company achieve specific and measurable goals. The best consulting firms approach their client projects with results in mind. When interviewing different firms, be on the lookout for the ones who are eager to understand where your business is trying to go and those that pitch services and strategies designed to help get you there.
Another of “the big three”, McKinsey & Company, promotes their ability to get results for clients on their website: “We help our clients make significant and lasting improvements to their performance and realize their most important goals. With nearly a century of experience, we’ve built a firm uniquely equipped to this task.”
Expert Consulting Firms Have Experience Serving Multiple Industries
In order to act as an effective business consultant, the consulting firm you partner with should have experience in your industry. This experience is what gives them insight into the biggest challenges companies in your situation are facing, and it’s what positions them to be able to offer strategies to uncover solutions.
When interviewing consultants, check out the firm’s website to see which sectors they have the most experience consulting in. Many top consultancies publish extensive material, including blog posts, case studies, and white papers, designed to highlight their expertise within a range of industries.
Service Offerings Of Top Consulting Firms
The best consulting firms offer a range of services to meet the needs of clients facing a diverse set of challenges. These services cover a variety of functions, including marketing, management consulting, technology, and business operations.
The list of consulting service available at most top firms is quite long. In general, though, you can expect the following to be on offer:
- Strategy Consulting
- Supply Chain
- Digital Transformation
- Mergers & Acquisitions
- Information Technology
- Analytics & Data Management
- Sales & Pricing
How The Best Consulting Firms Market Themselves
A major element of marketing a consulting firm is thought leadership. Content marketing is critical to establish a consultancy as a leader in the industry. You can expect these firms to invest a lot of effort into promoting the voices of their management consultants through interviews, blog posts, speaking engagements, and other publication opportunities. Digital PR is central to the marketing strategy of a consulting firm, as the decision makers at key prospective client properties are likely to take notice when they’re quoted or represented in the press.
Most consulting firms use their websites as content hubs. Their web properties are designed to showcase their research, intelligence, and expertise. Bain & Company even has a mobile app entirely dedicated to showcasing their content in the form of insights on key business topics of the moment.
Consulting firms also take an active interest in social media marketing. Social channels are great places for them to share their insights and reach broad business audiences. You can expect them to be particularly active on business-oriented networks like LinkedIn.
Embarking on an engagement with a consulting firm can help transform your business and bring about positive change, but that’s only true if you’re able to find an appropriate partner to suit your needs. Different consultancies position themselves differently, but ultimately the top firms have many key values in common. These are the top differentiators to look for when evaluating consulting firms:
- Effective partnership - Does the consulting firm emphasize their commitment to a strong partnership with their clients? Are they able to work in close collaboration with the businesses they support?
- Global presence - Does the firm have offices in key locations across the globe? Will they be able to appropriately support your business’ entry into a new market?
- Digital expertise - What is the firm’s level of expertise in digital and technology? Can they support digital transformation for their clients? Is digital an integrated component of their approach to their work?
- Result-oriented - Is the consulting firm committed to finding ways to achieve results for your business? Do they approach strategy with a focus on your goals and bottom line?
- Breadth of service - Does the firm offer a wide range of services to accommodate a variety of client needs? Can they offer a custom solution should your business require it?
Top Features Of The Best Consulting Companies
Nothing could be more important in the selection of a consulting firm than making sure they have the experience and expertise necessary to take on the job you’ve hired them to do. Top consulting firms will have decades of cumulative experience amongst the consultants on staff. It’s up to you whether you decide to work with a firm that has experience specific to your industry or vertical, or if you choose to go with one that has worked with a broader range of clients. Niche expertise may allow the firm to onboard more quickly, while broader knowledge can mean an influx of fresh ideas.
Before signing a contract, it’s important to understand the firm’s history of success. Top consulting firms will have long track records of getting results for their clients. They should be open to sharing examples of past projects with you and to detailing their approach (without giving away any sensitive information, of course). Make sure to take the trouble of checking the references provided by the consulting firm, and ask specific questions about the reference’s experience of working with the firm. A proven track record of success is the best indication that the firm is capable and effective.
Solving difficult problems requires creative thinking, and it’s important that the consulting firm you end up working with will be able to come up with innovative ideas to meet the challenges inherent to your project. Top consulting firms value creative thinkers and make these people central to their organization. Be sure to try to get a sense for the firm’s team before making a decision. Are the consultants on the team passionate? Interested in your business? Committed to thinking outside the box? If so, it’s a great indication that they’ll bring value to your project.
Any relationship between a client and a consultant requires open communication. Communication is essential to making sure goals are met, challenges are communicated, and issues are resolved before they become catastrophic. The top consulting firms in business today understand that they live and die by their ability to communicate with their clients. Look to partner with a firm that values transparency and honesty -- that’s how you’ll know that together you’ll be able to weather the issues, delays, and challenges that are part of any project.
Top consulting firms have exceptional leadership. Culture is a huge element of a firm’s ability to be successful. It contributes to employee happiness and productivity. It makes sure quality talent is recognized and promoted. It guides the team’s approach to their work. A happy culture is good for clients. An unhappy one doesn’t bode well for your project. The thing about culture is that it begins at the top, so look for a consulting firm that has a strong leader steering the ship. Check out what people say about the company on social media and how employees rate the experience of working there on websites like Glassdoor. Doing so can offer insight into how the company is run.