Why don't consultants want to tell people what to do?


Consultants make their living from telling organisations how to do things better. So why, when it comes to thought leadership, are they so hesitant to offer actionable recommendations, or to say a little about how they could help beyond the advice already provided on the page or screen?

In our latest ratings, and this is very much in line with past experience, prompting action scores—on average—a dismal 1.91, far lower than the average score for differentiation, appeal, or resilience.

Are we being particularly demanding in the way we assess whether and how thought leadership prompts action? We don’t think so. Here’s what it  takes to score 3/5 for each of the three questions within prompting action:

Question What is required for a score of 3/5
A. Is the audience given justified and actionable recommendations to apply within their own organisation? Offers specific actionable recommendations
B. Does it give the reader a clear idea of how the consulting firm could help whilst avoiding being a thinly disguised sales pitch? Provides information, relevant to this specific topic, about what the firm does
C. Is the target audience likely to conclude that this is a topic they need to take action on? Persuades the audience to consider this issue with colleagues to decide if action is required


Despite what feel to us like reasonable demands, prompting action is the lowest scoring of the four criteria for every single firm in this report. And even the highest scorers on prompting action (North Highland and Capgemini) only reach 2.27.

So, if we aren’t being too picky, what is getting in the way of higher scores for prompting action? Here are the three concerns we hear when we speak to our consulting clients:

Concern one: If we tell them too much, they won’t need to pay us for our insights
In our experience, the more you tell, the more obvious it is that something is really rather complicated and that expert help would be very valuable. After all, a surgeon could write you a guide to performing brain surgery but you probably wouldn’t try to do it yourself. And the flipside of not giving much away is that your audience could well be left thinking that you haven’t got much to say, and that they don’t need to talk to you.

Concern two: Practical, actionable recommendations are not what thought leadership should be about
This might be how you view it, but it’s not what we hear: Based on our extensive research with senior executives, practical actionable recommendations are exactly what many in your audience are looking for. More often than not, consulting firm thought leadership is read because the reader has an issue they are looking to attack. If you aren’t able to help them with their problem then they may well not come back for more.

Concern three: Telling our audience about our relevant services undermines the concept of thought leadership
We think we understand the genesis of this concern as we’ve seen those “fake” pieces of thought leadership which really are little more than a glorified description of a service offering. However, if you’ve offered your audience something of substance, underpinned by evidence, most are very open to understanding how you could help them further. In our recent research*, nearly two thirds of buyers of consulting services told us that if the content is good, they want to know more about the relevant experience of the firm. They also (98% of all respondents) wanted to know about the relevant experience of the experts who had created the content before investing their time; upfront bios satisfy this need and create a great opportunity to sow seeds about what your firm can deliver.

We believe that it’s time to set aside the concerns above and to intelligently and sensitively prompt your audience to action. The firms that do so should see a greater return on their thought leadership investment and leap forward in our quality rankings.

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