The Search for the Holy Grail

As the CEO of a consulting firm specializing in outsourced managed recruiting services, I look for opportunities for long term engagements with clients where the relationship is more strategic partner than vendor. Even though the term partner is used throughout our web site, in case studies and other marketing material most prospective clients see us as a “vendor” providing a transactional service that  is short lived and not necessarily strategic nor unique.

I sometimes say to myself, “Don’t they get it! We want to partner with them. We want to be more than a vendor. We want to help them succeed long term.” The prospective client either doesn’t see the value in a long term relationship, or equates the term “partner” with a significant cost to the company.

The problem is that the word “partner” when coming from a consulting firm carries as much weight and value as words like “value add”, “customer centric”,  “best practices”, “competitive advantage”. They have been used so many times by so many consulting firms that they no longer have any meaning. They are just words. They fall on deaf ears.

In the book The Consultant’s Calling by Geoffrey Bellman there is this definition of Partnership.

“A Partnership is created when the client’s investment in your unique combination of abilities equals your investment in the client’s unique combination of opportunities.”

Is this what we mean when we say “We want to partner with you”? Is this what the client hears when we say it, and is it what he wants? Both sides want something the other has and both are willing to invest time and effort and take risks.

The client wants a consulting firm’s unique abilities, expertise, knowledge, perspective. The consulting firm wants the client’s unique opportunities that require the firm’s abilities, expertise, knowledge and perspective. Too often the consulting firm’s wants are never addressed and are often lost in a sea of anticipated revenue.

Instead of looking at an engagement solely in terms of revenue, look at it in terms of what it allows you to do for the client, what abilities and expertise it allows you to use and improve upon. In most cases, clients think they know what they want and also think that the only thing the consulting firm wants is to be paid.

Imagine saying to a client, ”I understand that you need some help solving these problems. We have helped a number of companies like yours solve similar problems. We want your business so that we can become even better at what we do and we know that helping you solve your problems will do that. And we expect to be paid well for this. “

Sounds like the beginning of a true Patnership, the Holy Grail. Or maybe its just wishful thinking on the part of someone who has been on one too many Crusades.

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