Can Consulting Be Designed, Packaged and Sold as a Product? – Part One

Contribution by Divya Krishna – Engagement Lead at Bristlecone

As a consultant, the golden rule that I learnt was to clearly understand the customer’s requirement before assuming a solution. In my opinion use of analytical reasoning is the key to identifying the right solution. In fact, the solution approach will form as you go about detailing the requirements along with problems and operating landscape.

The dimension related to technology consulting includes a tool which assumes pivotal rules and the consulting solution is designed around it. There are two layers to this kind of consulting often defined by the design of the tool. Firstly, there is the basic architecture of the tool, which will demand certain pre-requisites in the form of articulation functional process requirements as input. Consultants are required to work around the existing system landscape, enabling the deployment of this tool, while involving the client’s IT & user community. Secondly, this tool supports some business objectives. The alignment of processes or requirements is first made with the strategic goals and then the tool is leveraged as a platform which enables or optimizes processes. This essay has been limited to the aspects of technology related to consulting.

Some peculiarities I noticed being in the consulting domain are:

[list][item icon=”9733″ ]Companies which develop and market these tools are progressively moving towards easy deployment. More like plug and play![/item][/list]

[list][item icon=”9733″ ]Consulting companies are still required to support the deployment of these tools as internal ITs are unable to get a grip on the plug and play features[/item][/list]

[list][item icon=”9733″ ]Sales of either kind of companies are leveraging each other to achieve their sales targets. Some large consulting companies (deployment champions, as I would like to call them) have a deep rooted relationship with heavy mining. Smaller consulting companies (deployment experts) are riding with larger product companies as deployment partners.[/item][/list]

[list][item icon=”9733″ ]Consulting, going by the initial golden rule of mapping a solution with requirements, has now become very limited in scope, both in terms of customer’s expectations and seller’s service offerings[/item][/list]

[list][item icon=”9733″ ]Then there are companies which are partly developing their own solution while servicing products from competing companies[/item][/list]

[list][item icon=”9733″ ]Leveraging best practices as a term for marketing along with service delivery baseline has become a critical part of the offering s within your line-up[/item][/list]

Based on my observation, an immediate glance would indicate that this model of consulting & product mixture business is maturing.  Ideas, which were new and susceptible 10-15 years back, have now reached a point of validation. This commoditization reflects in the awareness around the service delivery mechanisms that customers easily assume. One can infer that, packaging a service around the tool has a clear cut success formula and does not require much effort or invention. This should be a favourable setting for designing, packaging and selling a consulting offering just like a product, right?

I have a few a concerns, though.

Let me begin with challenging the success formula of packaging a consulting service. As I pointed out earlier, customers are aware of what to expect from a consulting service. This methodology still has to stand the trial of its realized benefits. I would like to make a case, about the processes I helped in setting up, and the successful deployments. But, have these processes benefited the customer? Is the customer sensitized to identify the actual benefit in his business case?

Generally I like to stay within the boundaries of best practices, which is more utilized in my defence than any gains that I can pass on to the customer. The issue with best practices is around averaging of tangible goals. [blockquote style=”1″]For example, if a consumer goods company can save 12% from its first year spend through a saving program, it is doing a good job![/blockquote] Even two similar companies may not subscribe to a single set of best practices assuming both of them are striving to achieve similar goals. It clearly goes against the basic tenets of entrepreneurship. Enterprises exists in the market place to fill a certain unique void. Practices certainly cannot be so generic if one goes by this definition of enterprise.

Moving over to the companies which are offering such consulting services, it may seem reasonable for a deployment champion to offer such business services, as their businesses revolve around account mining which also explains their business verticals. Offering a deployment here and there will only add to billing and ensure that a rival is kept out of this client’s ecosystem. They aim to sell their brand but mainly play on customer’s priority to minimize risks.

Smaller consulting firms (deployment experts) have a much harder bargain. Yes, a product company will need them to provide the deployment expertise in the overall sales cycle, but they also need this partner firm to share the risk of overall project failure. How can you find fault with a product which is perceived to be working well for another company? Obviously, something must have gone wrong with the deployment. Another interesting observation is the diktat of sales organization within these smaller consulting firms. Sales functions are opportunistic but marketing has to define this opportunity. Marketing in such firms is limited to lead qualification or building communication collaterals. Actually there is nothing wrong with this approach! My concern, based on my assumption that opportunities lead to series of disconnected business offerings, is that this scenario inhibits the process of solution lifecycle development thereby fulfilling only short term goals at the cost of a sustainable differentiation which takes time to cultivate.

Considering the scenario to be real, how does one champion the packaging and selling a consulting solution that can be differentiated in the market while customers can clearly relate to benefits?

In the part two, we will explore how a consulting firm can approach to package a consulting solution and differentiate it in the market place.