Category: Strategic Consulting

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

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

Before, I begin the part two I would provide a gist of the major concerns that revolves around packaging a consulting solution:

  • Packaged solutions should be appealing to a large set of target audience to justify its presence in the solution line-up
  • Consulting solutions are highly differentiated to suit a very specific requirement adding tough challenges to articulate the package
  • Customers have specific expectations and any change to that will mean either loosing relevance or necessitate the need to set the expectations
  •  Smaller consulting companies have to struggle with varying opportunities or sometimes the lack of it and hence, solution line never attains a critical mass

Truth is that there is no one answer to whether one can package and sell consulting solutions like a product. It can vary from companies in terms of what they would like to focus on depending on their perceived strength. Market acceptance is difficult but not negligible as packaged consulting brands are yet to appear and customers still evaluate the same kind of firms for any deployment, more specifically on the same grounds. There is a potential for a branded packaged consulting solution and this opportunity has not been tapped into as yet. I must admit that multiple rapid deployment solution are one kind of packaged solutions being offered today. Most stake holders who know about the RDS schemes will admit that such packages are oriented either to sell a specific tool set or used as an entry point. The value is mostly around the price point and scope of deployment is highly skimmed to keep the engagement short. This sort of packaging has limited scope as price and timeline advantages are valid for a very short duration and most importantly, they haven’t been observed to overcome the business challenges.

The packaged solution idea that I am going to bring about will have the following attribute:

    • It should solve key business challenges. For e.g., increase the agility of supply chain via a demand management solution or  rapid procurement process
    • Whoever be the target audience, it can be tailored to effectively fit into the customer’s landscape. Each company is different and their existing processes have evolved with that company, so the new solution should not alter the evolution process
    • Business application deployment approach should take the above two points as key influencers. This mapping has to be built in.
    • The solution should have a post deployment services component which should ideally serve three areas:
      • Achieve the planned objectives to maximize the return on investment
      • Change management with incentive driven adoption techniques
      • Monitoring of the deployed solution life cycle. Customer trust is the biggest asset of a packaged solution

It is also interesting to note that a packaged solution is of higher relevance to a smaller consulting firm, but in reality it is easier for a large firm to come up with it.  For smaller firms, it can proves to be a key differentiator and help them ride on its brand value.

My first take would be to invest in a platform solution and then derive offshoots from it to create market level solutions. We have seen two leading technology innovators bringing us new age mobile devices having sensational features. However, going back to customers of one of them, who are using products other than the mobile device of that company, most of them will agree to have seen similar features in the other products. So, the phone on its own is an innovation of the platform consisting of the device and its ecosystem. The other company has been banking just on the ecosystem and has created a sufficient pull for product companies to leverage this ecosystem. Investment in a platform also helps in minimizing the risk as one can start small and quickly adapt to something that can sell.

Now, for conceiving such a solution the central idea should revolve around creation of a brand which will develop by answering what business goals the solution will serve. Start at the strategic level because those demands have been fairly well articulated. Firms have to be very realistic in defining this part because it is the promise it intends to make while selling the solution and has to live up to it. The second critical component will be to blend it with the platform (not necessarily just the tool but entire ecosystem consisting of the processes, applications, probable customer landscape, etc.) Here the idea is to detail out the consulting requirements with respect to the process changes, application integration readiness, change management, all linking to the business goals. This is the investment that firms will have to make with risks in mind. It will require great intelligence creation, process detailing, technical superiority and advanced testing including study of scenarios of what can go wrong. Smart firms will be able to do this with lesser efforts but with stronger fundamentals.

Bear in mind that too much dependency on systems and application will be risks not worth taking. Tools are just enablers which has to be deployed in any case, so an expertise around the deployment sector can only serve as a critical component but not the heart of the service delivery. In fact tools which are complex to deploy can also be complex to maintain. Chosen tool set should be integral part of platform development but the platform should not be entirely based on the tool set. Though over a period of time, firms will favour specific tools sets but keep an eye on the future as tool set development is controlled by the tool maker and that market is also competitive. Hence, tool set integration design should be at best, a modular one.

Consulting is still a service offering with time bound diminishing utility, and therefore, post deployment services are the only thing that can help in productizing the solution. The package will remain incomplete sans such services. Coming back to the original promises that were made, the post deployment services should be designed towards fulfilment of such promises but should not be interfering in nature. Hence, it is important to arrive at the right mix of offerings ranging from strategic level to ticket based support services. Adoption will be a critical component as realization will only happen when the change is widely accepted. The last bit is to instil trust in your customer’s mind by being present till the end of the life cycle. As companies would evolve their platforms and solutions, customers should also benefit from this evolution because it increases the longevity of their initial investment.

Lastly, the marketing divisions of these firms need to invest heavily in identifying patterns of the business goals that these solutions will serve. They will need to collaborate with their delivery organizations to understand what will be realistic and suitable for them to offer. A unique offering will drive up price tags and revenues, while being value for money for the customers. I hope firms will be able to achieve such packaged solutions and some of them might even go on to become game changers.

To summarize, consulting services of specific kind can be designed, packaged and sold as products, provided they are aligned with business goals of the customer and help them in transforming their businesses positively. It will however require a series of innovations and firms intending to do this has to be certain of the risk that prevails in innovations. I strongly feel that such risks are worth taking!

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

Read: Can Consulting Be Designed, Packaged and Sold as a Product? – Part Two

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:

  • Companies which develop and market these tools are progressively moving towards easy deployment. More like plug and play!
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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
  • Then there are companies which are partly developing their own solution while servicing products from competing companies
  • 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

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. 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! 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.