Clients’ views through the GCC looking glass

  • Julie Ahadi

Researching clients’ views on the consulting industry in the GCC can sometimes feel a bit like falling through a rabbit hole: We don’t claim to have encountered any rabbits in waistcoats along the way, but much like Alice in Wonderland, we have, at times, felt as though we’ve entered into an alternate reality…

That’s because clients’ opinions about consulting firms can be quite different in the GCC from those we are used to hearing in other parts of the world. It’s a phenomenon we talked about before, but just to recap, our contention is that clients here have developed their own views over a relatively short period of time, and from a blank piece of paper, about what it is consulting firms do, regardless of whether this conforms to the received wisdom about consulting firms held by those who’ve been using them for much longer.

There are examples of this trend continuing to play out in our latest GCC Perceptions Study– where clients have shared their views with us about a range of consulting firms. HR firms, for example, once again stand out like polar bears in the Arabian Desert by popping up in places–to the untrained eye at least–you’d least expect, e.g., Korn Ferry Hay Group, alongside the traditional technology powerhouses, top the rankings in the digital technology space and Willis Towers Watson do the same in data & analytics.

This might not be as strange as it seems though. The alternate reality from which these opinions appear to stem is not one filled with talking cats and Mad Hatter tea-parties, but rather, the future image of themselves that consulting firms are projecting onto the market. If you consider how huge a strategic challenge talent and people-related issues are in this region, for example, it’s clear to see why HR firms might be in the ideal position to pick up a range of projects, even where they do not play to their traditional strengths. And tal   king of tradition: the importance of earning gratitude and respect in GCC–and the Middle East generally–is a defining factor of succeeding in business in this region. It makes sense, therefore, that once a firm gets its foot in the door, builds strong relationships and, most importantly, delivers on its promises, all manner of things may be sent its way for consideration, causing a further distortion of the norm.

Of course, not every piece of news arising from this year’s GCC perceptions’ report, for which we surveyed 200 senior clients across the region, gaining over 600 responses, can or needs to be explained away by clients ripping up the rulebook and defining their own set of rules about consulting. Unlike the fantastical land that lies beyond the looking glass for Alice, a large dose of normality bleeds into the picture, too, be it the fact that IBM and Accenture are top of mind (highlighting the inescapable power of the global brand and importance of technology in just about everything right now) or that clients are raising the bar in terms of their expectation of the value they expect consulting firms to deliver–these things are being said to us by clients everywhere.

So yes, while there are certainly some very distinct opinions expressed by clients in the GCC (and good reasons for it), there are also some things that feel very familiar. And here again we are reminded of Alice who at the end of her adventure, awoke from what she believed to be a fantasy world only to find herself dropped back into “real life” with a solid thump.

For more information about the 2017 GCC Client Perceptions Study, please contact Jodi Davies.