What consultancies can learn from potatoes
Buying a potato is simple, right? You go to a shop, pick up a spud, pay for it, and you’re done.
But that’s how it always happens. Sometimes you buy one potato. Sometimes you buy a bag of them. Sometimes a sack. Then there’s variety. Some people buy plain old baking potatoes. Others will buy Maris Pipers or King Edwards. Foodies might opt for heritage varieties, or different coloured ones, or sweet potatoes.
And still we’re not at the end of the choices available. You might buy oven chips instead of potatoes. But what kind? Fries or chunky chips? Wedges? Peeled or skin on? Curly fries? Smiles? Alphabites? Or why bother with an oven at all? Why not get microwaveable chips? Or just go to the chippy and buy steaming hot, fresh out of the fryer chips?
There are many more potato options, but let’s stop here. The point is that for whatever type of potato product you want, it’s out there. Someone is producing a potato in whatever form you want.
Producers will tightly specify the types and form of potato they’re selling and then market them very specifically. They’ll talk about the benefits, whether that is crisper chips, better flavour or convenience. By clearly defining their offer, they make it easy for customers to understand what’s being sold.
But consultancy isn’t potatoes, is it? It’s bespoke. Consultants treat each client differently, providing a solution based on a client’s needs. You can’t define it like a potato.
Well, it’s true that services can be harder to define. But harder doesn’t mean impossible. You can define which sectors you support. You can say which services you offer. Many consultancies think they do this, but what they actually do is list every possible sector they could work in and every conceivable service a client might want.
Many consultancies, whether they’re offering PR or legal advice, shy away from tightly defining what they do because they’re scared of losing potential clients. But this fear leads to an opaqueness that deters customers.
It manifests itself in two ways. One is the long list of services and sectors on consultancy websites. These lists are supposed to show clients you work in their sector, but actually they’re just hard work. Who wants to look through a list of 20 things to see if what they want is on it?
The second manifestation is bland language. We’ve all seen consultancy websites dripping with industry-specific jargon. The tell tale sign is often an opening line describing a firm as “leading”. A potato would never be described to customers as leading because a potato knows what it is.