Management Consultants and Marketing
Over the last few years I have helped a number of successful management consultants build stronger brands and more dynamic pitches. I have long wondered why professional consultants often have such a difficult time pitching their own services. I have come up with the following weak spots:
- It’s personal: Management consultants are pitching intellectual capital–their own intellectual capital, to be exact. Some feel awkward identifying their best traits… others just don’t know them. I find that a brand 360 helps to focus on key areas of value, as well as weaknesses. This means allowing a 3rd party to interview clients, prospects (particularly those who have been prospects for a long while w/o buying in), and colleagues. For a solo-consultant, the list does not have to be long… even 6-8 interviews will provide good clarity.
- Inventory marketing: There is an impulse to give a tour of what I’d like to call the “mechanical room.” The pitch will review theoretical frameworks and give an inventory of systematic approaches used to detect, diagnose, deliver, etc… The problem with this approach is that it is interesting to students of management consulting (who are few) but more often alienates listeners with it’s prognostication and spacecraft infographics. Plus, it’s completely undifferentiated. Unless you have a proprietary framework or system that delivers truly extraordinary value, you are fatally boring your prospects.
- A sticky story: Contrary to common belief, storytelling is a great way to explain your approach in a way that is clear, interesting, and memorable. I know a handful of consultants who are masters of storytelling, reviewing past successes in a way that shows off their niche area of expertise without gloating or sounding long-winded. (See Chip Heath interview about developing a sticky message.) Of course, you can’t just wing it… effective storytelling requires a planning and practice.
- Who do you want to be? There is a tendency among consultants to emphasize their versatility and adaptability. Surely, these are attractive qualities in a consultant… but as a differentiating characterstic, this approach is a big fat loser. Why? Prospects hire consultants for specialized expertise. Small firms in particular survive on their niche cunning. All management consultants are generalists to some degree… but that is not the quality that will attract attention. To stand out, smaller firms must drill down to focus on a particular industry (or limited industries) and/or niche expertise. They must have a strong, unique point of view.
- Spend money on graphic design. This is a big one… and terribly overlooked. Management consultants are by and large pitching their services to the C-suite—successful men and women accustomed to high-end pitches. In many cases, your audience are HNW individuals with the ability to appreciate good design. There is no bigger turn off than a dowdy-lo0king powerpoint presentation or business card. If you don’t have a strong eye for design, find someone who does. Look for an agency/designer with experience in the high net worth market or with high-end professional service firms.
- Customize your pitch. If you are pitching your firm to a medical device company, you better have some portion of your pitch touch on medical devices. Turnkey Powerpoint presentations are great, but reserve 2-3 slides to focus on particular industries and segments. You need not have experience with medical device companies to accomplish this customization. Conduct some preliminary Internet-based market research to uncover what are the competitive forces in that industry, areas of innovation, regulatory issues… something to illustrate to your prospect that you have done your homework and intend to be rigorous.
A slow economy is a perfect time to make improvements. You may have a lighter schedule and the luxury of some self-reflection.