The digital difference in what clients say is important to them

In our annual survey of clients, we asked them to tell us how much of their job is about digitising their function or organisation to see if there are any differences between those with digital responsibilities and those without. Sure enough, there are some quite differing opinions about what’s most important when working with a consulting firm.

We’ve looked at what clients with no responsibility for digital transformation (let’s call these non-digital clients) say is important to them, and ranked each attribute from one to 15, then overlaid what clients with the greatest responsibility for digital think (let’s call these digital clients). While there are some similarities (account management is important regardless), there are some differences that stand out:

  1. First, innovation is more important to clients responsible for digital work than it is to non-digital clients. Twenty-six percent of digital clients say an innovative approach is the most important thing when working with a consulting firm, versus 19% of non-digital clients. Having an innovative approach is likely to be more highly valued by digital clients because they’re in the business of challenging the way their company has done business for decades. Charged with reimagining their business model to succeed in a digital future, fresh ideas about how to achieve their aims are more important than tried-and-tested methodologies.
  2. Subject matter expertise is less important to clients with heavy involvement in digital work. This could be related to the previous point—new ideas are more important than deep knowledge of how things are today. But it could also reflect clients’ preference for consultants that talk about the “so what” of digital technology: They’re more interested in what AI can do for them, rather than deep expertise in the intricacies of exactly how it works.
  3. A firm’s breadth of services is much more important to digital clients. Digital transformation by nature means bringing together many different skills and disciplines; rather than having to orchestrate several firms with different specialisms, having just one that can bring it all together makes clients’ lives easier.
  4. Clients with major responsibility for digital transformation are less price-sensitive than those without. Several things could be at play here: The urgency of change, fear of disruption, and the fear of being left behind are probably all working to loosen purse strings. But it could also reflect clients’ acceptance that there’s a premium attached to complex transformation in which digital skills are in short supply. Previous research has shown that some clients are willing to pay more for the skills of a digital native than they are for the grey-haired experience of a partner.

Our white paper on the DNA of consulting firms put forward the case that by simply aligning itself to what clients say is important, a firm could differentiate itself in the eyes of clients. Of course, as this shows, what a client says is important can change depending on what they do; success to digital clients looks quite different from what it looks like to non-digital clients.