I Might Know Why Your IT Consulting Practice isn’t Growing

I’ve been working in the IT consulting space for some time now, having started off in server rooms, then on to code, architecture, then advisory services and ultimately into management consulting . Along the way I’ve worked for small shops, international consultancies and finally my own business. I’ve started practices and, torn them down.

I’d love to tell you that I got everything right the first time, but I didn’t. I learned the business by doing. That means I made a lot of mistakes, had a few late nights, and (on occasion) had to do some soul searching.

It’s been great.

I love consulting and, I’d like to think I’ve learned some do’s and don’ts when it comes to building a successful practice along the way.

For those of you who feel like you are pushing a boulder uphill, these are likely may be, the reasons why:

You’re too focused on technology and not results

Buyers typically procure consulting services to fix a problem. That is, to optimize a business process, or generate revenue through insights derived from new technology. They want to know about the range of business problem scenarios you’ve encountered (similar to theirs) and how you improved the situation.

Have you helped clients increase sales, reduce operational costs or usher in measureable change?

If you are opening sales opportunities on the strength of your technical acumen, your words will fall on deaf ears.

You’re positioned as an implementer, not a consultant

Advisors lead big projects and programs because they understand business alignment, working with stakeholders across functional areas and the importance of organizational change in driving new technologies.

Advisors get a seat at the big folks table and sell from within. Implementers, no matter how great they are, will be pigeon holed into their chosen technology and role.

You spend too much time marketing to non-buyers

IT folks love mingling with other IT folks. That’s OK, to a point.

A mid-level manager or architect can certainly act as an influencer, but your competition knows that deals are made where the checks are approved.

Put simply: spend less time at user groups and more time connecting with upper management

Your offerings are too wide

You can’t be everything to everyone. Most buyers understand this better than consultants, and they’ll sniff you out in a second no matter the size of your company.

I’ve seen large consultancies try to sell clients on expertise with every technology under the sun.

Most don’t have it, and when they get their first opportunity to pitch a new project in an area they are light, they come across as amateurs.

Don’t be an amateur. Focus on what you’re good at. Niches can be extremely profitable in the consulting business.

Your expertise isn’t deep enough

If you are going to go deep on a particular focus area, say Business Intelligence & Reporting, then you should be able to work with the finance group (The Business) in aligning the initiative with their needs and the IT group as they implement.

If you can’t support selling or delivering to both groups, there are plenty of competitors who can and they’ll circle your client like vultures.

You keep trying to package solutions

How do you know you have the cure for the client’s ills before you’ve heard the problem? Actually, the first next step after meeting a potential client is to get to work on defining the objectives of the project. Stop spending your non-billing time trying to come up with one-size fits all solutions. I have yet to see two clients with the same problems in the same working environment.

Focus on creating great case studies and other write ups that tell the client you are capable of solving problems similar to theirs. Canned approaches can be leveraged later in the sales process.

One more note: packaged solutions in the services space can be viewed as commodity work. Commodity work gets the greatest pricing pressure and often has lower margins.

You haven’t documented your wins

Case studies, whitepapers and such are extremely important. If you don’t believe me, read the above again. If you are on the bench, you should be adding to your sales collateral (and meeting prospects).

If not, how will anybody know how great you are?

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