Differentiating your firm could be simpler than you think

What drives a great client experience? You’d be forgiven for thinking that there was one rule that applied to everyone. After all, we’ve written extensively about convergence in the consulting market, and how clients struggle to see much difference between firms, which kind of suggests that everyone has figured out the same winning formula.

But our data paints a more nuanced picture than that—the drivers of high scores (by which we mean a high proportion of people speaking positively in our client survey) can vary significantly from one firm to the next. Let’s take firms that people often lump together—McKinsey and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG hereafter)—and look at the drivers of positive perceptions about their digital transformation work.

The greatest driver of high scores for McKinsey is the extent to which it’s seen to have an innovative approach to its work. Clients who score it above average for innovative approach, and who are then also impressed by its account management and its ability to match suitably qualified people to projects, then award it very high scores for its digital transformation work. On the flip side, clients who don’t think McKinsey is innovative in its approach, and who then also describe its culture as “very poor”, tend to rate the firm’s work in this area as “low-quality”.

But BCG’s clients see things differently. Their views on BCG’s digital transformation work are most split by their opinions of its account management. If clients describe that in positive terms, BCG’s digital transformation score is boosted. If they’re also impressed with its subject matter experts, and how it matches them to projects, BCG earns the highest rating possible for digital transformation. But if it fails to impress on account management, and is deemed “very poor” in its ability to implement, it’ll be awarded a low score.

So what does this mean? It echoes a point made in our recently published white paper about the DNA of consulting firms: If clients want different things from different firms, but struggle to see much differentiation in the market, a firm could differentiate itself simply by listening to what its clients really want from it.


In November and December 2017 we surveyed 3,197 senior buyers of consulting services across the world. Each told us about three consulting firms they feel familiar enough with to comment on, giving us 689 responses about McKinsey and 719 about BCG.