Consultant-client combo: Game changer ?

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Today, the advent of new AI solutions emphasizes the growing need for client insights to complement consultants’ expertise. In this article, we explore the evolving relationship between consultants and clients and how this collaboration aims to sustain the positive impact of consulting.

How building a trusting and lasting relationship with the client leads to incredible results ?

Consultants play a crucial role in helping businesses achieve better results in terms of profitability and innovation. However, it is important to acknowledge that the success of consulting relies not only on the expertise of the consultants but also on the quality of the relationship between the consultant and the client.

Consultants who invest time and effort in developing strong relationships with their clients can better understand their needs, challenges, and long-term goals. This in-depth knowledge enables consultants to offer tailor-made solutions that maximize value for the client. Philippe Ploteau, Consulting Director at Sopra Steria, gives us clues about a successful lasting relationship with a client: 

The idea is to fully understand the customer’s expectations, and ultimately to seek the best solution for the customer, which may not be the solution for which the consulting firm will have the most support, but will be the most beneficial solution for the customer.

He adds that “more and more, we’re involved in what we call co-construction”, co-construction being a process where consultants and clients work together to develop customized solutions. This approach involves close collaboration, where the ideas and skills of both parties combine to create innovative results. Co-construction allows clients to take ownership of solutions and integrate them more effectively into their business.

What we must remember here is that a good consultant needs “to give customers the best advice for their specific situation, rather than trying to serve them ready-made recipes”, as our interviewee points out. And to do so, consultants must keep track of new trends and methods and technologies to remain up to the task

Two ways of learning in consulting

Consulting projects offer new frames of reference, new language and transform complex managerial situations into controlled situations for the client. Yet, while it is an opportunity for the client to learn how to improve their business, the consultant also has an opportunity to learn. 

Consultants working on a new mission may recognize previous situations that they have worked on, but they must learn and dive into each new client situation to fully understand it and offer innovative and tailored solutions. At Sopra Steria, Philippe Ploteau shares that they “have thematic tribes, i.e. small teams who are brought together to reflect on a certain number of subjects”. It is by this process of learning that the consultant-client combo gains an in-depth understanding of the market, the trends of some industries and knowledge of complex situations, bringing new innovative expertise and solutions.

How to reach innovation

The value of the firm is often embedded less in the properties of the firm and more in the specific talents of highly skilled individuals”. This quote from Maister shows one of the specificities of consulting work, which is that consulting is highly dependent upon human resources, and so to have these highly trained consultants you must have a network to rely on, to offer the best solutions to the client. Philippe Ploteau continues by saying that, at Sopra Steria, “we have a whole host of networks and technology partners, from software solution providers to major providers such as Microsoft, Google et cetera, with whom we have regular, periodic meetings. And themselves they bring us their vision of the market, the subjects they are thinking about, the new products they are developing in R&D, and so on. 

This enables them to stay competitive and shows another particularity of the consulting industry, which is that it is knowledge-intensive.

This goes with what we said about the fact that each mission is an opportunity for the team of consultants to learn, but it also spotlights the fact that consulting is an intangible service. Consultants deliver a service that cannot be counted or stored, it is co-constructed with clients and the outcomes can sometimes be hard to directly establish.

The impact of consulting

Indeed, it is often challenging to directly quantify the impact of consulting on profitability and innovation. The effects of a consultant’s advice may take time to manifest themselves, and many external factors can influence outcomes. However, it is precisely this intangibility that makes the client-consultant relationship so crucial. Clients rely on the reputation, expertise, and commitment of the consultant to create value. For Philippe Ploteau, a first good sign is if the client wants to work again with you, and “after that, it takes a lot more time to measure the benefits in terms of conversion into euros, operational efficiency, business development, and so on”. 

Barriers to innovation and profit in consulting projects

Implementing innovative solutions often requires a significant shift in established practices, both within the client’s organization and in the consultants’ methods. Clients may face budget constraints and resource limitations that hinder the adoption of recommended strategies or technologies, delaying the realization of financial benefits. It is important to develop an intimacy with the client so that concerns can be shared out loud. Also, the consultants may lack perspective on internal workings and rely too much on external solutions that do not integrate well into existing processes. They may also lack perspective on the long-term viability of certain solutions, especially in areas like AI today, hence the need for their clients’ insights.

Overall, what drives innovation and profit in a consulting project is having a logic of co-construction, to bring trust, knowledge and solutions that can be seamlessly integrated into the client’s business. This process is characterized by a shared commitment to seeking the best solutions for the client’s specific situation, rather than offering ready-made recommendations. This is how the consultant-client combo can translate into innovative solutions and more profit, and enable consulting to have a great impact!