Strategic consulting would be easy if it weren’t for all the problems your clients have, right?
But then again, all these problems are why your clients are turning to you in the first place.
Maybe your client is having issues with their company vision. Maybe they’re struggling to adapt to market forces. Or perhaps the issues are more tactical, like struggling to develop or stick to a project plan or project timeline.
Maybe it’s all of the above, plus a half dozen other issues.
Complex, multifaceted client issues require adept responses using the right mix of strategic approaches. Consider these eight proven approaches you can use to grow your clients’ business — and your own.
Defining a consulting strategy
A consulting strategy is a specific way to think through or approach helping a client with a problem. That problem could be something big-picture, like business strategy, strategic planning, restructuring, or digital strategy, or it could be something more focused, like executing a digital transformation, entering a new market, or launching new product offerings.
Why do consulting firms use specific, defined consulting strategies? Because while analytical skills, experience, and good business sense may be enough to solve some business problems, approaching every problem as a completely different scenario can be cumbersome.
A bespoke approach might sound good, but it’s difficult to scale and leads to problems with client management.
Consulting strategies help to jumpstart the “solutioning” process by applying a framework to a business or a specific problem, initiative, or process. Choose the right consulting strategy, and you’re well on your way to identifying the right path forward.
Strategy consulting vs. management consulting
These are related concepts, but there’s a notable difference between them. Management consulting services focus on the overall performance and management of a company. That might sound like a loose definition, but that’s because management consulting is incredibly broad, potentially encompassing just about any facet of a business.
Strategy consulting or strategic consulting is a subset or type of management consulting with a much narrower focus. Strategy consulting services can help a business navigate a specific problem or work toward a specific, often revenue-related, goal.
While there’s no law against offering multiple types of consulting within a single consultancy, many firms choose to specialize. And of these specializations, the strategy consulting market carries some weight. It was a $55 billion industry in 2019, and one market research firm projects it will break $100 billion by 2027.
8 consulting strategies to boost client growth
Below we’ve collected eight examples of consulting strategies that consultants use to boost client growth. If you’re not yet using one or more of these, consider adding them to your arsenal!
1. SWOT analysis
A SWOT analysis breaks down both internal and external factors affecting a business into four categories:
These are often laid out in a 2 x 2 grid, resulting in four categories of strategies:
Opportunity-strength (OS) strategies: ways to capitalize on strengths
Opportunity-weakness (OW) strategies: ways to minimize weaknesses by pursuing opportunities
Threat-strength (TS) strategies: ways to use strengths to combat external threats
Threat-weakness (TW) strategies: places to disinvest, take offline, etc.
The first challenge with the SWOT analysis is getting the right factors on the chart (and/or getting buy-in that those factors are the right ones). The second is turning those factors into actionable strategies: sometimes these will be obvious, but not always.
The SWOT analysis is as old as strategic consulting itself, and many organizations (including the government of Queensland, Australia, big banks, and the University of Kansas) still hold it up as a winning strategy.
But not everyone agrees. Professor and strategy advisor Roger Martin has strong words on the topic:
“When I give a strategy talk, I often ask the audience: Who here has either performed or received a SWOT analysis? Virtually all members of every audience put up their hands. . . . I then ask: Who can tell me a blinding insight that came out of any such SWOT analysis? I am still waiting for my first hand on that second question.”
2. PESTLE analysis
The PESTLE analysis (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, Environmental) assists strategy consulting firms in understanding the macro-environmental factors affecting a client's business.
PESTLE dives deeper into the external factors that make up the Opportunities and Threats of the SWOT analysis, which makes these two tools complementary. A PESTLE analysis could serve as an impartial judge for a business struggling to coherently define the external half of their SWOT analysis (or who’s trying to do it off the top of their heads, which inevitably turns into a battle of personalities).
The strength of PESTLE is that it forces businesses to think more deeply and categorically about external threats and opportunities. But it shares a similar weakness to SWOT: a lack of clarity on who decides the factors, and what to do with those factors. (This, of course, is an opportunity for your consulting firm, as you have the expertise and insights to guide these analyses into decisive action.)
For what it’s worth, you’ll sometimes see this acronym spelled PESTEL instead. However you spell it, it’s the same thing. PEST and STEEP are other acronyms that drop one or two of the categories.
3. Porter's Five Forces
Porter's Five Forces is a framework created by Harvard’s Michael E. Porter back in 1980. It doesn’t look quite so closely at an individual business. Instead, it analyzes the industry that a business is situated in, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of that industry as measured by five industry forces:
Potential for new entrants
Power of suppliers
Power of customers
Threat of substitute products
Every industry experiences these five forces, but not in equal proportion. Consultants can use this strategic framework to help clients think more critically about their industries (and, by extension, their own places in their industries).
4. Cost leadership
Cost leadership is a strategy where a company makes the necessary choices to become the most attractively priced among its competitors.
Competing on price is the most reliable way to gain a competitive edge, but it’s more important for some businesses than others. These factors make cost leadership even more valuable:
A high number of competitors
High customer power (leverage)
High threat of substitute products
5. Process mapping and analysis
Consultants are often called in to help businesses that don’t understand themselves. Maybe they’ve been lucky. Maybe they’ve outgrown the model that brought them initial success. Maybe technology or their industry has changed around them, making their current business model look nothing like the original one.
Whatever the case, these businesses have found some degree of success (even if it’s fading). But the current leadership can’t clearly articulate how they do what they do.
It’s unfortunately quite common for a business (especially in creative industries or the knowledge economy) to have no clear map of its processes.
Process mapping and analysis, then, is the work of building visual maps of the workflows and processes at a business. It can be tedious, even painful, and can generate quite a bit of discussion among client leadership.
But once these processes are mapped, the consultant can assist by providing an outside perspective, analyzing what’s working well and what could be optimized or improved for greater efficiency, reduced costs, increased outputs, and so on.
If a business doesn’t know what it should aim for, it can’t engage in effective long-term planning or short-term execution.
Benchmarking is one solution. Consultants can benchmark a client against industry standards and competitors to gain context and understanding so they can set better performance goals and strategies that help the client grow.
7. Value chain analysis
Another concept pioneered by Michael Porter is the value chain, which is the linked series of business activities that go into making a product or delivering a service (in other words, delivering value to customers). It’s a little bit like process mapping, but zoomed out to the entire company or product lifecycle level.
But much like with process mapping, many businesses have an incredibly messy value chain. An impartial outside expert voice can help an organization see the gaps, inefficiencies, and liabilities in their value chain.
By identifying and then shoring up these issues, consultants can assist clients with value creation and help them create a competitive advantage.
8. Gap analysis
A gap analysis sets up the current state of an organization, defines an ideal future state for the organization, and then studies the space between those two states, looking for where the organization is falling short (gaps) and ways it can improve.
It’s a great tool for developing targeted growth strategies because it cuts away some of the fluff and excuse-making that can show up in broader consulting strategies (“We’re #1 in x, so why change?” or, “But the [economy/industry trends/supply chain]!”). Instead, a gap analysis focuses on very specific gaps between where the client is and where the client wants to be.
Plan and execute winning client strategies with Teamwork.com
Choosing the right mix of consulting strategies is one key to success in professional services consulting. Another key? Keeping all the streams of work straight across numerous clients so your firm can deliver on-time results every time.
Teamwork.com is the all-in-one platform you need to take charge of your own professional services project management, helping you avoid some of the same operational pitfalls you’re guiding your clients to resolve.
With Teamwork.com, you’ll be able to track every detail of every client project with unprecedented visibility. You’ll also be able to track billable hours in a way that’s intuitive and useful — because Teamwork.com was built for client work.