How to create a blockbuster consulting service

One thing we can be sure of in the professional services of the future is that firms will be offering many more services than they do at present. I don’t just mean that there’ll be more cross-sector convergence, with consulting firms offering legal services, civil engineering firms offering consulting, etc.—although that will be true—but that traditional service lines will have been disaggregated into a multitude of smaller propositions that reflect changing client buying behaviour.

If we want evidence for this, we need only turn to the report we published at the start of this year, which looked at how technology is changing the everyday lives of ordinary consultants. A significant proportion of the people surveyed said they were now spending more time developing software tools that could be provided to clients during a project. Looking forward to the next five years, almost everyone expected that they’d be spending more time developing new products and services, effectively taking tools designed for a single client and commercialising them. But if you’re a firm that’s creating and managing a huge number of new propositions, can you ensure that all this effort isn’t wasted?

We’ve written previously on the blog about the four characteristics of a “blockbuster” service—as in this article, for example, on cybersecurity. Essentially, it’s when: It resonates in society, not just in the boardroom; it’s a new issue, something that the current generation of business leaders haven’t dealt with before; there’s evidence that something can be done; and it will generate a large volume of consulting work, otherwise the incentive for consulting firms to invest in promoting the idea isn’t sufficiently great.

I’ve always thought of these four points as characteristics you’d look for in deciding whether something is the next big thing, but it’s also possible to use them to increase the probability of success. If we know, for example, that a proposition that resonates with society is likely to be adopted by clients more quickly than one that’s focused on a narrow business-only concern, then we can think about how we reposition the service.

So, four things to think about if you’re trying to ensure that a solution you’ve developed for a single client will have traction in the wider market:

  • Social resonance: Understand and articulate how the proposition could deliver value to society. If you’ve got a new way to enforce regulatory compliance, for instance, emphasise what the social cost of non-compliance is.
  • Something new: Think about the aspects of your proposition that clients won’t have encountered before. It might revolve around a genuinely new issue (cybersecurity is a good example), but it might be that you’ve developed a new way to solve a long-standing problem. A word of caution: Make sure you’re right—there’s nothing worse than turning up to a client claiming that you’ve invented something only to discover that they’ve seen it all before.
  • Hard evidence: Gather data on what the proposition has already delivered in terms of concrete results. Yes, this takes time, but it’s essential—don’t be tempted to launch the service unless you can prove its worth to increasingly sceptical clients.
  • Investment: Kick-start interest in your idea through thought leadership and marketing. No one can buy a service they’ve never heard of.

I’m not suggesting that every new proposition that pops out of a client project has the potential to be a blockbuster service, but by focusing on these four aspects, we can increase the probability that some of them do.

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