Every year, as GLG’s Head of Professional Services Firms, Americas, I help welcome the latest class of new graduates to our Associate program. We hold a workshop on Chris Anderson’s 2004 article, The Long Tail, and discuss why GLG is sometimes referred to as “the long tail of consulting.” GLG pioneered the expert economy 20 years ago delivering top professionals customized access to both popular (fat tail) and niche (long tail) experts at scale economics. And we still lead it today, bringing the power of insight to every great professional decision.
I’ve been giving this talk for 10+ years, but this time was different.
We were welcoming our largest-ever class, with 120 talented new hires. And GLG Associates ask sharp, probing questions. This year, one new team member challenged me on whether it was time to write an update to The Long Tail. After all she pointed out, a lot has changed since 2004.
Indeed, much has. Streaming, for example, has enabled a “stage 2” of the long tail revolution, providing disruptors like Netflix and Amazon even broader opportunities to threaten content producers and cable companies.
But not every industry stalwart has proven a victim of long tail disruption. Take the management consulting space for example. Leading strategy firms are flourishing, audit firms are investing in their consulting divisions, boutique consultancies are multiplying, and market research firms are coping with the onslaught of online consumer survey platforms. All this comes even amid the rise of internal strategy teams at corporations and the growing ability to find former consultants quickly online.
These consulting and advisory firms are prospering in a long tail world and are among GLG’s fastest growing clientele. How? They’re adapting to an even more specialized economy by following three key rules:
1. Go Long Tail – early
Advisory firms know clients demand precise insights from the front lines. And while they’re strengthening their own smart teams of industry and functional problem solvers, they cannot hire every niche expert.
For example, let’s say you’re bidding on a project outlining healthcare supply chain best practices in moving cold and regulated products across country lines. A general knowledge of healthcare supply chains isn’t enough. To power better recommendations, you need insights from supply chain managers experienced with refrigerated products, procurement professionals, and former healthcare regulators.
As a result, consulting firms are embracing the long tail – early and often. Clients work with GLG to learn quickly, check assumptions, and pressure-test recommendations. And increasingly, clients are leveraging us during the proposal phase, before a project even starts. They can speak to 10 industry participants in two days, arriving at their first meeting armed with a series of smart questions to challenge prospective clients and increase the likelihood of winning work.
2. Knowing quant isn’t optional – add data to back it up
Another way consultancies are thriving is by adding richer datasets and technology toolkits to their approach. Firms are investing in digital transformation, AI, and machine learning expertise. And surveys have moved well beyond simply canvassing consumers.
At GLG, we see our clientele increasingly using our platform’s survey capability to poll our 700K+ subject matter experts and professional populations around the world. Conversations provide key insights and voice of the customer – but B2B surveys and other proprietary datasets add the quantitative fact base to “back it up.”
3. Don’t just make recommendations – enable them
Finally, advisory firms know they need to do more than deliver a PowerPoint deck at the end of a project. They see the benefit in offering an array of enablers to help clients implement their recommendations.
We see clients leveraging GLG to either place technical executives at client sites to see a recommendation through, or to facilitate workshops pairing client teams with outside senior executives who have implemented related change programs or managed through similar market dynamics.
By complementing their own teams’ experience with insights, best practices, and lessons learned from the front lines, consultants win credibility with and elicit deeper commitment from C-level executives making bold decisions. And through workshops and “implementation advisory boards,” firms create a vehicle to stay in touch with clients and further influence the outcome of their work. After all, keeping clients is substantially easier than winning new ones.
By following these three rules, today’s consultants are dispelling past critiques of their industry – that they learned on the client’s dime and that their only deliverable was a PowerPoint placed on a client’s desk. Instead, they’re delivering invaluable, expert-tested advice, quantitative context, and implementation enablers.
Consultancies are thriving, not by avoiding long tail expertise but by embracing it – in part by tapping platforms like ours. Firms are marrying their traditional strategy frameworks and problem-solving approaches with a newer role as “curators” – assembling and divining takeaways from a more diverse array of human insights and datasets, and offering clients enabling tools to address today’s complicated problems.
Rather than threatening management consultancies, the long tail is creating new opportunities to deliver value to clients.