Could better relationship management solve consulting’s value problem in the GCC?

Our latest research on client perceptions points to a value problem in the GCC region. Only 37% of clients think firms add more in value than the fees they charge, while more than half (52%) think they pretty much get what they pay for—the worst of all regions we ask about. This presents a problem for firms even in normal times: Clients are far less likely to turn to consulting firms for support if it’s not clear that it’s going to be money well spent. However, that’s even worse news during the current crisis as budgets are squeezed and all unnecessary spending is cut. If you can’t convince clients that spending on consultants is value for money, they’re less likely to seek firms’ help in managing through the crisis and reaching the new normal.

So what can firms in the GCC do about this? A possible answer lies in account management. It may be a stereotype that the region has a relationship-driven culture, but it’s true in many cases. Middle Eastern clients often want to build up a personal connection and a level of trust with a commercial partner, with less of a separation between business and personal life than may be typical elsewhere. We think this aspect of business culture in the GCC is reflected in the data: There’s a statistically significant relationship between perceptions of the strength of account management and the value of consulting work—the strongest relationship of any region we look at.

A key aspect of account management is managing the personal relationship with the client, and that’s where the link to value is. It’s an important chance to work with clients to measure, track, and articulate the value that past projects have returned, and continue to earn for the client. It’s an opportunity to understand what value really means for that specific client beyond just cutting costs or increasing revenues. And it’s also an opportunity to build a relationship that transcends a business transaction and enables the firm to genuinely become a trusted adviser, which can be transformative in terms of value to a client.

Unfortunately, clients in the GCC rate firms lower for account management than any other clients: Only 59% are positive about the account management process. The only attribute clients in the GCC rate worse is breadth of services, which may itself be a symptom of poor account management. If account managers are acting as gatekeepers, they could be restricting clients’ access to the full range of services the firm offers. rather than actively linking them up to the full spectrum of the firm’s expertise.

Of course, it might not be that consultants in the region are worse at account management than their colleagues elsewhere. It could be that the importance placed on personal relationships by the business community in the GCC means clients hold firms to a higher standard. Either way, improving account management is a way to help articulate to clients how you add value. That’s going to be crucial to continue to win work and limit any discount in fees, but it’s not going to be easy without personal contact.

Those Zoom calls are going to have to do a lot of work.