#1: Know what makes you special
When you start a conventional consulting firm (or any other type of business for that matter), you get the luxury of choice. You’ve spotted a need out there in the market and have a good idea of why you’d be better placed to serve it than anyone else. But internal consulting teams start from where they stand: If you’re the internal consulting team within a major automotive manufacturer then your market is probably limited to other automotive companies or to sectors which have similar issues (with complex supply chains, for example). Setting yourself up as an expert in clinic trials in the healthcare sector would be a bit of a stretch. But necessity drives invention: The fact you don’t have much room to manoeuvre means that you can be a lot more thoughtful about what precisely is your unique selling point. Broad-based consulting firms squander this: With so many possibilities to choose from, they struggle to say why they’re special at any one.

#2: Understand your market
Conventional consulting firms often take market size for granted. However big they are, they’re much smaller than the sum of what is still, despite increasingly maturity and some consolidation, a fragmented industry. But the more focused your proposition, the more important it is that you not only size the prize, but also understand who your key competitors are in your clients’ eyes, and what you’ll need to do beat them.

#3: Publish thought leadership
Three-quarters of clients say that thought leadership is the most effective way for any consulting firm to market to them. And eighty-six percent say that they pass on material they find interesting to their colleagues, so the impact of good work is magnified. Don’t waste time on doing glossy brochures that explain who you are and what you do at length. Invest it instead in one flagship piece of original research, which you can mine over months, raising your presence in the media and giving you something to talk to prospective clients about.

#4: Invest in account management
The simplest stuff is often the most important. Identify your most important 20-or-so potential clients, analyse their business and quantify the positive impact you think you could have on them. Consultants who come to listen but have no concrete suggestions about how to help are one of the biggest gripes clients have.

#5: Leverage your heritage
But perhaps the biggest opportunity here lies in something you probably take for granted, and which your competitors will see as a disadvantage: Your parent company. There’s little that appeals more to senior clients than the chance to talk to their peers, either in their own sector or in others. What you bring—and most consultants don’t—is a wealth of real-world experience. The successes you’ve had aren’t just on paper. And that’s going to be a huge competitive advantage.


Fiona Czerniawska is a leading commentator on the consulting industry and a co-Founder of Source who provide specialist research on the management consulting market to consultants and their clients.