It’s no secret that working at a consulting firm can be challenging, no matter the specialty. The firm is being hired to solve some major problems that their client’s business is facing. Oftentimes, solving these problems requires an astronomical amount of people hours spent analyzing information, finding applicable benchmarks, and working to ensure that whatever the firm recommends is the best possible approach.
The smart folks that join these firms do so because they love problem solving. Each new client brings an interesting challenge that is just different enough from the past work to make it exciting. However, all too often, these consultants are spending hours upon hours doing work that can be made easier with software. Instead of using their experience and expertise, they end up spending a large portion of their time going through manual processes, which may ultimately lead to burnout due to a general lack of fulfillment in their day-to-day work. Investing in internal efficiency software can be a generous act for your employees on the ground, as it’s ultimately reducing friction and allowing them to do their job more effectively.
In addition to that, having a good reputation isn’t always enough in this day and age when pitching new clients. Clients are wanting more. They know they have many options, and they want to understand what makes one firm different from the other. Sometimes this can be like comparing apples to oranges, but when a potential client is trying to make an apples to apples comparison, having software assets that allow you to serve your clients more effectively may be the edge you need to beat the competition.
Many consultancies have already validated some form of an idea of what they could build. Often, this is informed by associates in the day-to-day trenches; The folks that have created impressive Excel macros, move across storage systems at the speed of light gathering relevant information, and create pages or slides that distill all of that information into something digestible by the client.
This does the trick for a long time, but the context of how all these tools and tricks work together is often locked away in their brilliant minds. What happens when that person leaves? The next person needs to scramble to figure out how the last person was doing the work or--even worse-- they miss something critical and it misinforms a key strategy.
Excel models and PowerPoint decks are great tools for a reason. They do the job well. Many times, these Excel models serve as the initial prototype of an idea. They validate the solution, even if it is only within Excel. Once patterns begin to emerge from the work and processes, there’s a great opportunity to build software around those patterns to allow the consultants to work more effectively and efficiently. Not only does this help the consultants from an efficiency standpoint, but it creates less room for human error when they’re moving at the speed of light to prepare for a client presentation.
Now the firm needs to find someone to help build upon this idea. Do they hire? Or do they partner? While some consultancies have product-focused business units, they may also want to mitigate their risk by bringing on staffing that’s not fixed rather than ramping up staffing on their own or having to wait until there’s room on the roadmap to fit their priorities in. Instead of having to hire and manage a product team (or multiple product teams, it may be a better business decision to bring in a partner that provides a variable cost to the business.
Consultancies understand the value of bringing in outside assistance to solve business problems of their own. They understand their strengths and weaknesses, so partnering with a product agency like Crema isn’t a new concept to them. They come to the table as experts in their space, and we can come to the table as experts in leveraging technology to solve the problems they’re experiencing.
We do our best work when someone within the consultancy is a designated product advocate; someone to own the decision making but also champion the solution(s) internally. Generally, this person is well connected in the organization and knows whose shoulder to tap to gain more information about a particular topic when needed (e.g., how we serve clients on x types of studies).
Sometimes, the product advocate may not be able to make the decision to bring on a new partner or to make this large of an investment. If you’re finding yourself in that scenario, it may require some extra due diligence on your part to (1) identify the key problems that need to be solved and (2) pitch possible solutions to your leadership. Once alignment is established, you can begin the hunt for choosing a product agency.
It’s not enough to bring in a vendor to do the work, but instead to bring in a partner that will act as an extension of their team; someone who’s going to be invested in solving the right problems and not just taking orders; someone who’s going to challenge the assumptions and provide alternative solutions; someone who’s going to allow the organization to level up their services through innovation and technology. We've created a guide to choosing a digital product agency to help you navigate the search.
If you have identified a product advocate in your organization (or maybe you’re the advocate), the next step is to gather buy-in from your team. The solution will only be as good as its usage. If you don’t gather enough buy-in, you will have built this fancy product that no one uses. This is often the stage that’s easiest to get stuck in, but after years of working with consultancies, we’ve identified what works well to ensure usage remains high.
The consultants will often defer to their typical processes any time something doesn’t work exactly as expected – understandably, they need predictability. However, products are built incrementally, so there’s a balance to be found that helps them but doesn’t slow them down.
As you begin exploring a new solution, it’s incredibly important to interview and understand how folks on the ground level are doing their work. What’s most important to them? What’s one piece of functionality that could be built that would maybe save them 5% or 10% of their time? Through these interviews you’ll learn what the actual problems are that need to be solved, rather than just doing what the leaders in the organization think need to be solved for. You’re also bound to generate some excitement from some of them. Take note of that so that you can come back to them and create product evangelists out of them. They can quickly become influencers on the ground level and help mitigate reservations about the new product amongst their cohort.
When creating a new product (especially in this space), the first [few] increments should prioritize internal value over client-facing features. By delivering value internally first, you ensure that it will actually be used with clients once you roll out the client-facing features and/or product(s). This is important to not lose sight of; If your ground-level folks aren’t using the tool, the clients won’t see it and the product will begin to gather dust, leading to a loss on the investment.
Providing clients with a well-polished digital user experience goes beyond the stereotypical pages or slides that get presented to a client and allows the client to interact with the insights and recommendations in real-time. No longer do they have to wait for a big reveal. Instead, they can view work happening in real time, and the information can be dynamically updated as business conditions change without needing an associate to manually process those conditions. This can open up additional opportunities to capture revenue for consulting firms, ultimately opening up their consultants time to serve more clients well.
When thinking about building a solution, always remember your internal groups first and the costs saved there. If you can make your consultants’ lives 10% easier through technology, not only will you save on the hard costs of that time, but they will likely stick around longer and build stronger relationships internally and externally to help your business thrive.