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Why it’s good to change old habits

For the last few weeks, the Source thought leadership team has been busy rating a huge amount of consulting firm content to input to our Quality Ratings Report covering the whole of 2020. And while the challenges of 2020 have changed certain elements of what we’re seeing, there are some key characteristics of firms’ output that we see year after year. A good example of this is a widespread issue with the prompting action element of our scoring matrix, which for many publishers is the score that brings down their overall rating. To score well in prompting action, a report would need to create a compelling argument for change; provide the audience with a clear and specific set of actions; and explain what the firm in question does to help clients with the topic, as well as the type of skills and experience the firm can bring to bear. On the face of it, all of that seems fairly straightforward. So why are firms consistently falling short?

There could be a few reasons:

Fear of giving away the crown jewels. Consulting firms know what clients need to do to change or adopt a new idea because they have recruited the best, developed high-quality tools and techniques, and built up knowledge on the back of many client projects. So why would they give all that away in the form of easy-to-follow guidance? But the reality is that, however clear and comprehensive your action points, a client looking for help is still likely to want that help—they’ll just be convinced that you really know what you’re talking about.

The good news is that firms have proved that they can do this—the early part of the COVID pandemic saw a slew of reports that provided downloadable checklists and templates for clients to use, as firms rushed to be of practical help. What’s more, many firms tell us that offering up such action plans was key to gaining trust in a deeply troubled market.

Fear of being overly salesy. OK, this can be a tricky tightrope to walk, but even a solid description of a relevant practice area would be a good start for firms that currently offer the reader no clue as to their abilities beyond the standard boilerplate. Add in details of frameworks used, example benefits that might be gained, or even some case studies, and you’re really getting there.

A disconnect between thought leadership production and the rest of the business. Teams of researchers, rather than delivery consultants, are often the people responsible for thought leadership production and it’s very likely that those researchers sit in a completely different part of the business from consulting delivery teams. It comes as no surprise that this results in thought leadership lacking a clear picture of the solutions the firm can offer, or the benefits that are typically achieved on these projects. Happily, this is another area that saw some change at the onset of the pandemic, as delivery partners who were keen to help clients—and perhaps had more time on their hands—eagerly stepped up their involvement with thought leadership production. With any luck, this has led to closer relationships for the longer term that can help build a stronger bridge between research and delivery.

Do any of these stumbling blocks sound familiar? If so, it might be time for a rethink. If some tweaks to your thought leadership approach lead to a client sharing your report among their peers, sticking their neck out and raising the issue with colleagues, or picking up the phone and asking for a chat, surely that’s worth it.