Managing at the intersection of pipeline and delivery is like a high-wire act. Get it right, and your consulting firm will likely see strong, sustained growth. Get it wrong, and your revenue and profit suffers.
In our recent survey of over 250 consulting firms across the U.S., we found that the fastest growing firms (those with over 20% revenue growth in the past year) were extremely effective at managing in this unique intersection of business development and client service. In fact, 81% rated themselves as extremely effective here, compared to just 6% of other firms.
So, what’s their secret? What is it that these firms do differently to build a robust pipeline while delivering stellar client service? We conducted a leaders vs. laggards analysis of the data to find out.
The Leaders included 30 firms who rated themselves as “extremely effective” at balancing business development and client service. In other words, these firms are exceptional at managing at the intersection of pipeline and delivery. The Laggards were 19 firms who rated themselves as “not at all effective” or “not very effective” in this area.
We compared mindsets, systems, and behaviors between these two firm sets based on how they answered questions related to firm growth, business development performance and client satisfaction. The insights we uncovered reveal how the best firms manage the pipeline-to-delivery intersection to drive growth. Now, you can model their approach to help unlock revenue growth at your firm.
KEY GROWTH STRATEGIES ADOPTED BY SUCCESSFUL CONSULTING FIRMS
The savviest firms know how strategically critical it is to manage at the intersection of pipeline and delivery. They’ll also tell you it’s no walk in the park. It takes investment in time, people, and resources — but it’s worth it because aligning pipeline and delivery:
- Enables them to maintain momentum amid industry disruption by coordinating business development and operations.
- Allows for more agile adoption of technologies that maximize efficiency.
- Attracts top talent by offering the opportunity to work on coveted, high-growth accounts.
- Creates a legacy of growth through visionary leadership.
- Drives growth through data-driven marketing strategies.
Today’s most innovative consulting firms have achieved unprecedented growth by mastering this coordination of pipeline and delivery.
STRATEGY 1: THE RIGHT MINDSET FOR SUCCESS
The key differentiator starts with a mindset. How leading firms view the connection between pipeline and delivery. They know siloed functions within the firm stifle business, while collaboration fuels growth.
What does collaboration look like? Marketing and delivery teams engage in regular knowledge sharing. Marketers don’t look to subject matter experts to conjure insights on their own. Nor, do subject matter experts simply turn to marketing to make their thinking “look pretty.” In the best firms, thought leadership is nurtured through a collaboration between subject matter experts who spend their time consulting with clients and marketing teams who focus on tracking the wider landscape. This cross-pollination breeds a well-rounded knowledge base that yields higher quality thought leadership. It helps these firms not only attracts ideal clients, but serve existing ones more effectively.
These leading firms also embrace dual metrics of client satisfaction and consultant utilization. They recognize that it’s a virtuous cycle. While utilization targets are crucial in many firms to manage for profitability, chasing them at the expense of generating incremental client value is shortsighted. Satisfied clients drive growth through referrals, repeat business, and expanded engagements. Sometimes, over-delivering is actually in your best interests.
Without this mindset, the risks are real. Silos block expertise sharing that could create more resonant thought leadership and higher-value solutions. And neglecting client satisfaction damages referral pipelines and retention. Growth-oriented leaders understand happy clients and cross-functional harmony unlock sustained success. They cultivate a collaborative culture, blending varied expertise into revenue-driving insight.
STRATEGY 2: EFFECTIVE SYSTEMS BUILT FOR BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT AND DELIVERY
Where pipeline and delivery intersect, you’ll find the most successful firms using and investing in technology systems like CRMs and project management tools. Virtually all firms have these systems in-place, but leaders are much more likely to have invested the extra resources of time and commitment to get them working to their fullest potential. Not only do they look to these tools to give them key insights about their existing and ideal clients, but they also rely on them to provide clear visibility into pipelines and backlogs, giving them confident foresight into likely wins and timing of engagements.
Project management systems like Deltek Vantagepoint prove pivotal to precise resource planning as new work arrives. And with granular visibility into engagement progress, consultants can be optimally assigned based on up-to-date context.
Without these systems, firms fly blind, risking over- or under-booking. Over-booking strains delivery and dissatisfied clients, while under-booking hurts utilization and revenue. But with scalable systems powering visibility and planning, guesswork disappears.
The investment pays off: Replacing gut instinct with data-driven decisions directly correlates to growth, satisfaction, and reduced risk.
STRATEGY 3: EMPHASIZING OPERATIONAL DISCIPLINE IN BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
Mindset and systems only thrive with diligent operational discipline, the third success strategy of top-tier firms. These top performers hold regular sales meetings to review pipelines, backlogs, and staffing needs. Additionally, partners and managers adhere to CRM best practices like maintaining clear visibility on completed tasks, keeping tabs on pending items, and analyzing the latest insights.
This type of operational discipline provides firms with consistency and day-to-day structure that turns into a competitive advantage. By maintaining diligence around processes and best practices, they’re able to sustain clarity and focus even amid rapid growth. It unlocks their capacity to balance delivery quality and generates the insights and responsiveness necessary for adjusting resources and plans in fluid situations.
As other firms stumble reactively, leaders are disciplined operators. They enable agility, consistency, and breakthrough performance. In short, discipline translates process into profit, turning the day-to-day structure into sustained success in volatile markets. It is the linchpin that allows great strategies and systems to achieve their fullest potential.
TRANSFORM YOUR CONSULTING FIRM GROWTH STRATEGY WITH EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT METHODS
Now you know the secret recipe of some of the fastest consulting firms: those who are most effective at managing in the intersection of pipeline and delivery. They bring a collaborative mindset, robust systems, and disciplined operations to drive major impact.
Your next steps? Incorporate these principles into your own growth strategy. Start by fostering collaboration between marketing and delivery teams. Recognize the value that each holds that the other could learn from. Explore metrics beyond utilization. Love your clients — get serious about client loyalty and engagement. Think beyond NPS and consider metrics like Earned Growth Rate.. Get serious about your martech and delivery stack. Evaluate technologies to streamline pipeline and delivery workflows.
But mindsets, measurement, and systems won’t suffice. Make discipline a part of your firm’s DNA through regular pipeline reviews, implementing CRM best practices, and prioritizing continual improvement.
Mindset guides strategy, systems enable scalability, and discipline drives consistent execution. Together, these principles unlock the full potential at the crossroads of sales and service.
Appendix: Survey Firmographics and Demographics
This research of 269, U.S. based consulting firms was fielded online between 7/24/23 – 7/27/23. Respondents consisted of a relatively equal mix of CEOs, firm, practice, business development, and marketing leaders. Firms ranged in revenue from $5M to over $100M. And, primarily included a mix of IT services, strategy, operations, and HR consulting firms.