Interview on client relationships in the management consulting industry


Michael McLaughlin, editor of Management Consulting News, recently interviewed me about how consultants can implement knowledge-based client relationships. A couple of brief excerpts from the interview are below – go to the full interview on Management Consulting News for the rest, in which I discuss trends in the industry, managing procurement professionals, the role of brand, consulting firm marketing programs, and related issues.

McLaughlin: What is a knowledge-based client relationship?

Dawson: It struck me early on that knowledge is the real heart of the value consultants provide. I don’t mean just the knowledge of the consultant, but the way that the consultant applies it so that the client learns or is transformed as a result of the engagement.

I distinguish between black-box consulting relationships and knowledge-based ones. In a black-box relationship, the client engages the consultant to come up with solutions, processes, or implementations and, hopefully, a result is achieved for the client. But, at the end, the client is none the wiser.

In contrast, a knowledge-based relationship has a higher degree of interaction and, as a result, the client actually learns to change. Maybe your client becomes better at making decisions, or managing processes, for example.

McLaughlin: If you look out over the next few years, how do you think the profile of a successful consultant will change?

Dawson: One of the driving forces in the economy is increasing specialization. As time passes, consultants will need deeper specialization.

Clearly, that in itself is of limited value. In part, increased specialization implies that greater collaboration within a firm will be necessary to succeed with clients. But as individuals, we need both an area of deep specialization and carefully selected areas in which we have a generalist understanding.

The importance of the individual practitioner, whether you work solo or you’re a specialist within a larger firm, is waning. The ability to work effectively in teams will continue to be the real driver of success.

Personal networks are another factor that has been important in the past and will continue to resonate. Clients are increasingly seeking out consultants, not just for their expertise, but for the consultant’s access to the unique insights of others in their networks.

Read the full interview.