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Consulting Roles

Why clients rather use different consulting firms for different roles

Roles which consulting firms and consultants assume on their clients' projects vary widely depending on the reasons why client organizations use consultants. When evaluating and selecting consultants, the different roles provided by consulting firms have to be matched with the clients' specific project requirements.

Consulting is more than giving advice. Management consulting includes a broad range of roles which sometimes are difficult to categorize. One way to categorize consulting roles is in terms of the type of intervention (e.g. "promoter", "doctor", "fire fighter", etc.) or in terms of the consultant's tasks (e.g. strategy development, competitive analysis, concept development, etc.). But in practice, as many differences exist within these categories as between them.

Perhaps a more useful way to analyze and structure the varied roles of consultants is to consider the main reasons why client organizations engage external consulting firms.


Why do clients engage consultants?

Changes in the business or the economic environment can create a need that can't be met with the existing skills within a client organization. If one looks at the most common needs why client organizations use consultants one can see that there is a lot to consider when selecting the right consultant for a specific task and/ or role. 

  1. Provide additional resources and temporary assistance to solve a client's problems (the "extra hands")
  2. Provide additional skills, knowledge and experience to solve a client's problems
  3. Provide a third-party, neutral perspective and/ or objective review, e.g. to make a diagnosis or to redefine a problem
  4. Legitimate decisions ("political cover")
  5. Building a consensus and commitment around corrective action ("change management")
  6. Recommend solutions based on peer, cross-industry or cross-functional best practices and benchmarks
  7. Analyze, diagnose, redefine and solve problems, issues, challenges & opportunities
  8. Facilitate client learning (clients how to resolve similar problems in the future) through training, coaching and education.


Reasons for engaging consultants


What type of consultant is right? The impact of the required role of a consultant

As we have seen, the decision which consultant is right for a specific project is widely dependent on the required role the consultants should assume. In practice, the consultant’s project role is typically not a single one, but a combination of different roles. For a specific project, basically there are five main types of consultants:

  1. Specialist - World-class capabilities in selected area(s)
  2. Game Changer - Game-changing answers that no-one else can provide
  3. Vendor - Adequate performance + Low cost + No hassle
  4. Total Solution Provider - Total package from a reliable supplier
  5. Trainer, Coach & Facilitator - "Enabler" of solutions teaching clients how to resolve problems.

If a consultant is supposed to assume a "legitimate function" or a "political role" providing outside validation clients usually rely on renowned consulting firms ("the big consulting brands"). The consultant's brand and image as a "legitimator" seems to provide support for an idea and certainty to managers in uncertain times. If a consulting firm is used by clients to provide objective review or expert advise, clients have a much broader range of choice for consulting firms. In this cases, when selecting a consultant, brand considerations may be less important than the right skills, expertise and knowledge.

A majority of clients would like to use a different firm to help them plan and/or design changes to their Technology, organisation or processes, and to help them implement those changes. But why do clients in these cases not turn to "one-stop-shops"? Part of the answer lies in skills: Planning & design, and implementation require different types of people who have different backgrounds and experience. Part in price: Clients want different price points for different services and they think that firms that offer multiple services will cross-subsidise one with the other and that "implementation specialists" offer lower rates.

consultingsearcher® the web-based platform for procuring consultants uses different role descriptions of consultants which are based on different profiles and skills of consultants: from project manager, expert advisor, sparring partner and coach to trainer and interim manager.


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