I was having a coaching session with a senior executive of a consulting firm. He was discussing the challenges he was having with his team around their lack of training and expertise around having to hunt for work. Effectively, they have been inside cats rather than outside cats due to for a large period being focussed on one large client who accounted for approximately eighty percent of their revenue.
The rationale in this business for many years had been on delivery. Deliver well to this client and the rest looks after itself. Constant revenue, we know the client well and no need to spend time on other clients. This went on for many years with solid profits, work coming in the door without having to chase it and the majority of staff being content with being inside cats.
So what does an inside cat for a consulting firm look like? If you were to think about what an inside cat looks like in real life, you can draw similar comparisons. An inside cat waits for the work to come to them. It is comfortable and very much owns the inside of their domain. It tends to be a little complacent because its instincts have been dulled due to no need to find work, chase opportunities and convert. It knows its next meal is coming regardless of circumstances.
This is not sustainable nor good for any consulting practice. You need outside cats and you also need your inside cats to get out and hunt and chase opportunities. This needs to be done in a structured and systematic manner where opportunities, the right clients and type of work is targeted and planned to ensure your business is sustainable, diversified and never reliant on one client, industry or geography again.
This business I mentioned above due to no fault of their large client is going through a world of pain. Commodity prices have mean freezing of consulting work at their client with a ripple effect on them. Panic and fear is evident as not only has the work dried up, but the outside cat’s instincts that are normally well honed are rusty and not evident. The leader is challenged to think through how to build an outside cat mindset in his team in a manner that ensures they are focussed and outcome driven in returning their business to profitability and long term sustainability.
I think all consultants can be outside cats in their own way. Whether that is actually winning work, attending industry events, thought leadership, speaking engagements or other activities, the key is for all to contribute. The other key insight is to never have a business that is reliant on one industry, client or geography regardless of how much hay you are making while the sun shines. Make this a focus on your strategy in ensuring that where you put your focus, it is not in the one basket. It may not hurt you short term but I can guarantee that it will impact at some stage.