In a nearly viral discussion on one of my LinkedIn groups, the originator asked (at some point long ago) if a period of free consulting was worth investing in to help secure a potential longer term relationship with a would-be client. In that discussion group, the question was asked within the context of an individual or “single shingle” consultancy. After more than 5000 comments over several years, the answer to that question remains decidedly inconclusive.
Yet, in the case of a turnaround management firm looking for a competitive edge on a client pitch, the answer seems clear – using an offer of limited, “free” added value consulting to win a case is an investment well worth making.
In one prominent case, 4 names were provided to $400 million diversified energy client that needed to engage a turnaround manager for the development of a cash flow model and for a basic financial assessment. The management of this client felt that its issues were in fact driven by operational problems. Accordingly, the consultancy that offered the client 2-3 days of free, value added marketing and sales force effectiveness consulting won the assignment and then saw the case blossom into a multi-month, multi-consultant financial, sales and marketing assignment. The case generated tens of thousands of dollars in incremental revenues for the firm and untold value for the client and its stakeholders.
This same approach helped that same firm to land several other assignments over the course of 3-5 years. In some cases the eventual client just pocketed the initial free work and never ended up paying for additional operational consulting. However, in all the cases it was evident that the offer of “free” consulting was one of the key reasons the firm beat its competition. In the end, the offer was one of the only things that differentiated the firm from its very competent competitors on the pitch.
I don’t think it needs 5000 comments over the course of several years to conclude that: in a very difficult and highly competitive turnaround environment, offering “free” value added consulting is a strategy worth exploring.