The rise of the boutique consultants
Mita Srinivasan
10X People

The rise of the boutique consultants

According to Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, “In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it's the fast fish which eats the slow fish.” This signals a change in the paradigm where clients are looking for transformational relationships versus transactional ones. Rani Salman and Sophia Ather of Caliber Consulting share their reasons for the rise of the boutique consultancy firms.

Consulting firms come in all shapes and sizes: big, small, general, specialists, industry experts, functional experts, etc. Research shows that a client’s choice of a consulting firm revolves around a few key factors namely, price, experience, and reputation. However, in a recent APQC study it was found that one of the most important factors was the ability of the consulting firm to create a strong ‘partnership.’ This signals a change in the paradigm where clients are looking for transformational relationships versus transactional ones.

The desire is waning, for bright young consultants to come into an organization for short periods, submitting recommendations in superfluous PowerPoints, and then leaving, without seeing their suggestions through. Clients value deep partnerships with consulting firms as it typically translates to more sustainable relationships and better tangible results.

This is where consulting firms in the SME space have a major advantage. They are typically working with fewer clients as opposed to thousands of them, making smaller firms better equipped to build strong, meaningful partnerships, which clients crave. Moreover, SME consulting firms tend to be specialized in certain areas of expertise, which allows them to foster a deeper alliance.

Boutique consulting is transforming the consultancy landscape whereby going above and beyond to give clients recommendations that are not ‘one size fits all’ cookie-cutter solutions, but truly take a deep dive into understanding the organization’s strategic goals, current context, and organizational capabilities. Moreover, the boutique consulting firm operates as a small fish in a big pond and can be much more agile and responsive than the bigger consultancies which can many times be bogged down in bureaucracy and slow decision-making.

When comparing boutique/SME consulting firms with the consulting majors, three clear advantages come out which may signal the rise of the boutique in the consulting space.

The Generalist vs the Expert:

Many senior executives and managers criticize large consulting firms for sending in generalists when the job requires an expert’s opinion. Clayton Christensen, a former Harvard professor talks about some prestigious consulting firms to be operating as a ‘Black Box.’ Whereby companies come up with a problem and a solution is provided however there is very little visibility into how the process takes place. This leads to a challenge in assessing the value and impact of a consultant’s recommended solution.

The boutique’s ability to specialize and be focused on a few critical areas of expertise often increases the quality of deliverables and the overall impact that they can bring to an organization.

Agility and Flexibility:

From culture to mindset, boutique consultancies prosper by being more responsive and agile. They tend to be more flexible with a client’s requirements which are likely to change during a project. Moreover, understanding the root causes of a problem may shift as the consultant gets a better picture of the client’s context.

Boutique consulting firms with a wide network of experts can rapidly pivot alongside evolving needs to cater to the growing shifts in client demands and additionally add value by implementing tailor-made solutions. In addition, special task forces can be deployed to ensure the efficient and effective execution of initiatives if the client doesn’t have the manpower.

Furthermore, bureaucratic lines are blurred with boutiques, and clients gain direct access to whoever they wish to interact with from consultants to senior managing partners. The faster the flow of information the quicker the work gets done, inspiring new thinking and innovation for projects which otherwise may be slowed down due to traditional processes and procedures.

Building Capabilities:

Real change and implementation are very difficult; statistics show that 70-90 percent of strategies and change initiatives never meet the expectations initially set. To make the consulting solutions sustainable and drive real impact, there is always a need to build capabilities of the employees of the client organization to ensure they are geared for success, long after the consultant is gone. Firms such as Caliber Consulting realize that for effective strategy execution, employees of the organization must become de-facto strategists.

To compete in a saturated market, boutique consulting firms are making their footprint by innovating, tailoring solutions, and walking clients through the execution process. Traditional paradigms are shifting, and the rise of boutiques is well underway.

About the authors

Rani Salman is the Managing Partner of Caliber Consulting. a boutique consulting firm specializing in business transformation with three focus areas of Strategy, Organization Design; and People & Culture. Sophia Ather is the Marketing & PR Lead, responsible for the marketing related to Caliber Academy’s training events and programs in their three specialty areas.