Spend more on marketing, earn more in fees, in the GCC

  • Edward Haigh


Most consulting firms give fairly short shift to marketing at the best of times. Seen by many as a function whose remit extends as far as producing shiny brochures and organising events, the average marketing department is under-funded, under-staffed and – by my reckoning – misunderstood.

That’s a shame when marketing sits at the heart of some of the industries greatest challenges today. I’m not talking about marketing communications here, though that’s a part of it. I’m talking about marketing as the business of developing the right products for the right markets at the right prices. Or “meeting customer needs, profitably” as I think you get taught in marketing 101.

Not all the blame for this lies with the leaders of consulting firms: many marketing departments seems to do little to disabuse management of their preconceptions, living up to their own stereotype and creating a vicious circle that becomes very hard to break. But most of it does. And it must, because it’s leaders who can most easily change things.

Where change is happening it tends to be brought about by central marketing functions, and often under the supervision of that rarest of beasts in the consulting industry: the CMO. The trouble is that, like a memory-hungry processor, the effort it takes to run a central marketing function in a consulting firm leaves marketers elsewhere starved of resources. And in places like the GCC that’s a real problem.

Marketing managers in places like Dubai will count the cost in missed opportunities: their businesses are likely to be growing well – after all, the market as a whole is growing at about 20% year on year – but they’ll quite reasonably suspect that a decent commitment to marketing could help them to grow faster than their competitors. That ought to be incentive enough, even if the opportunity needs quantifying. But our latest research suggests that marketing may have a role to play in raising prices in the GCC, too.

The axiom that clients will always want to pay less for consulting services turns out to be a flawed one. In fact, our recent survey of 859 clients around the world showed that the opposite is often true. But it’s less flawed in the GCC than it is elsewhere, where 28% of clients (compared with 36% elsewhere) admitted they’d be willing to pay more. Why?

The answer appears to lie less with the quality of services being delivered by consulting firms – in fact if anything GCC clients are more impressed with quality than their counterparts elsewhere – and more with the issue of value. Specifically it lies with the expectations of what we call “indirect clients” (explained in our report, but basically prospects), most of whom think that consultants will fail to deliver more in value than they charge in fees, and whose opinion in this respect stands in stark contrast to their “direct client” counterparts: people who are actively working with consulting firms now are generally much more positive about value.

That mismatch points,  in my mind, to a marketing opportunity: find a way to convince prospects that you’re going to deliver value and you’ll find a way to increase your fees. And if the chance to increase your fees in a market growing by 20% isn’t enough to help GCC-based marketing departments get their hands on some serious funding, then I’m afraid I’m fresh out of ideas. You could do a shiny brochure, I suppose.