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It’s time for a new client-consultant relationship – overhauling the consultancy model

The existing consultancy model is due an overhaul – or we risk putting ourselves out of business.

Anyone working in a business consultancy firm knows the market is highly competitive, and it’s a constant battle to win and hang on to new clients. But how many consultants actually analyse what their customers want from them, and change their business models accordingly?

At Kenzie Group, we strive to put client requirements first, and in February I surveyed 10 major construction and engineering firms to find out which three things they value most in a consultant.

The firms I surveyed told me that the three things they most value in a consultant are:

  • Transparency throughout a project
  • Honesty
  • Confidence that the consultant will do the job well

I’d bet good money that those are the traits any HR or L&D consultant’s clients would value most highly, but the service these businesses are getting from their consultants falls short of the mark.

Common complaints include:

  • “We don’t feel like we matter to them”
  • “We aren’t kept up to date”
  • “The consultant lacks knowledge and experience”
  • “We feel like the process is spun out unnecessarily”

Crucially, when picking a consultant, price is much less of a determining factor than the confidence that the job will be done well.

One of the biggest bugbears is the poor quality of project kick-off meetings. While both parties are, of course, responsible for the success of any such meeting, it was commonly reported that consultants were arrogant, didn’t listen to clients’ concerns and rushed headlong into the detail. The issue for me here is why the client accepts this: they are part of the problem and so need to be part of the solution.

Clearly there is a divide that needs to be breached. Having spent time on both sides of it, I feel it will take a brave person to step forward and start to repair the relationship. But it needs to be done, and it will take steps from both sides – consultants and clients – to improve the working relationship.

To slow down the front-end process, a more structured approach should be adopted. Ensuring that the consultants have the right skills and right cultural fit may seem like an easy task for consultancy firms, but will be difficult to make it a reality in a sector that’s largely staffed by freelance contractors.

Joe Bond, managing director at Kenzie Group, told me: “Construction and engineering consultants have the dubious reputation of being ‘body shops’ – they will throw any available person at a job, regardless of experience or expertise.

“I want to change that; it’s not good for anyone, particularly the consultant, who can be the victim of poor management decisions by client and consultancy firm alike.”

Like Joe, I believe that HR and L&D can lead the way in upping the professionalism of the consultancy sector. Our clients trust us, and we rely on their word of mouth recommendations for our livelihoods.

Ultimately, if we don’t change the way we’re working – and soon – we risk eroding our reputation, and doing ourselves out of business.

Penny Whitelock, May 2016

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