Many organizations and leaders grapple with strategy, its scope, extent, and driving forces. It’s not as simple as doing something so daunting that no one else can copy you or fight tooth and nail for a larger share of the pie. Business strategy is a complex terrain that covers three broad aspects:
Do something new
Build on what you do already
React opportunistically to emerging possibilities
Among the many definitions that exist, here’s one that more or less covers it. According to professor and author Michael D Watkins, “A business strategy is a set of guiding principles that, when communicated and adopted in the organization, generates a desired pattern of decision making. A strategy is therefore about how people throughout the organization should make decisions and allocate resources in order to accomplish key objectives. A good strategy provides a clear roadmap, consisting of a set of guiding principles or rules, that defines the actions people in the business should take (and not take) and the things they should prioritize (and not prioritize) to achieve desired goals.”
He goes on to summarize strategy in the 3Ws and 1H: the mission includes what will be achieved; the value network that covers with whom you do business; the strategy defines how resources can be optimized to achieve the business mission and objectives; the vision and incentives drive the reason why people perform towards the business goal. He goes on to write, “Together, the mission, network, strategy, and vision define the strategic direction [and alignment] for a business.”
Who is a business strategy consultant?
The business strategy consulting market encompasses eight wide disciplines: corporate strategy, business model transformation, economic policy, mergers & acquisitions, organizational strategy, functional strategy, strategy & operations, and digital strategy. Strategy consultants customarily work for executives and high-ranking managers performing the brain work and advisory functions of strategic value creation across the full value chain. Here’s a quick summary by function:
Corporate Strategy Consultant
Also called a strategic management consultant, they formulate an enterprise-wide business unit strategy and the necessary goals. They often empower businesses to develop the vision and mission statements, strategic decisions, execution roadmaps. They also assess strategic options and support business functions in their growth agenda like building capabilities, entering adjacent and emerging markets, etc.
2. Business Model Transformation Consultants
These consultants play a significant role in the design and development of contingent strategies that future-proof businesses to changes in the external environment such as inflation, economic downturns, etc. This function expands to a range of organizational and operational elements like value propositions, market segmentation, cost structure, pricing design, and organizational structure. As technology takes precedence in this domain, several business model transformation consultants may also work in digital design, IT strategy, or digital transformation of organizations.
3. Economic Policy Consultants
This domain of expertise offers strategic services in policy setting and economic advisory to governments and international political and private institutions. From taxation to budgets and spending, and monetary policy to banking mechanisms and interest rates, they are instrumental to orchestrating governmental interventions in the labor market, national ownership, housing, and other areas. They also conduct evaluations for governmental authorities and corporations in socio-economics, competition, merger proceedings, and economic studies for antitrust cases.
4. Mergers & Acquisitions Consultants
Mergers & acquisition strategy consultants work with corporate finance advisors, relevant lawyers, and investment bankers to focus on strategic and commercial activities during the pre-merger and post-merger integration phases. Discussions and advisory functions revolve around building strong business cases, the understanding economic impetus for the merger or acquisition, doing due diligence in the potential market targets, supporting alliances with ecosystem partners, and assisting with Initial Public Offerings, etc.
5. Organizational Strategy Consultants
Organization strategy involves elements of the businesses like resources, the scope of business, business’s core competencies, organizational structure design, corporate governance, assessing organizational competitiveness, developing human capital, and supporting change management.
6. Functional Strategy Consultants
Functional strategies circle around the development of plans, decisions, and roadmaps for organizational functions like sales, CRM, marketing, finance, human resource, information technology, supply chain, research & development, and procurement.
7. Strategy & Operations Consultants
Business strategy is increasingly advancing towards implementation functions and knowledge transfer programs to help organizations build internal capabilities. Terminologies like process management, operations, technology are gaining currency to the extent that consultants carry out both advisory and operational functions. Strategy consulting firms have developed limbs to include operations and gain a competitive edge over other consultants in the ecosystem.
8. Digital strategy consultants
A rising tribe of consulting strategists to expand and scale business ambition through technology. Business offerings range from developing strategies for digital operations and transformation, designing IT, online, and e-commerce strategies, building analytics capabilities, cloud transitions, and high-level work in technology architecture, governance, and application management.
Qualifications of a business strategy consultant
Besides the graduate degree in strategy, marketing, finance, human resource development, etc, one would need a relevant MBA degree from a reputed institution with work experience in consulting firms. Firms like Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Co, PwC, McKinsey, KPMG, Deloitte, EY, and Goldman Sachs add a lot of value to one’s profile. Here’s an inventory.
A Bachelor’s degree in business analytics, management, etc
2 – 5+ years of experience in business strategy and related disciplines
Knowledge of industry trends, market flows, management frameworks, etc
Project management skills and experience
Report writing skills
Interpersonal, communication, and people skills
Furthermore, certification programs add more feathers to your hat. Find a list below.
Certification courses to look out for consultant resumes.
Project Management Professional (PMP)
Offered by PMI, this certification requires more than two years of work experience and a written exam consisting of rigorous multiple-choice questions across six disciplines: project initiation, project planning, project execution, project monitoring and controlling project closing, professional and social responsibility. The certification requires renewal every 3 years to help consultants keep abreast with the times.
2. Certified Sales Professional (CSP)
Offered by MRERF, the program offers comprehensive insights into consultative business selling. It covers a range of subjects like business creation, territory management, goal-setting, prospecting, and so on. Requirements: 2+ years of work experience, oral exam, and 3-year renewals.
3. Certified Manager Certification (CM)
Offered by the ICPM, this certification involves a series of examinations that may be taken before one obtains work experience. One may also specialize in animal management to gain expertise and professionalism in the field of Animal Resources Management.
4. Master Project Manager (MPM)
Offered by the AAPM, this certification requires over three years of experience in Project Management. Renewals are required every two years.
5. International Accredited Business Accountant (IABA)
Designed for both theoretical and practical knowledge for successful practitioners, candidates need three years of relevant work experience or two of which may be attested to by a college degree. Related work experience may be in accounting or financial services. No renewals are required but only those candidates who clear the exam and meet the experience requirements may adopt the IABA designation.
6. Sales Management
Offered by SIOR, this certification is for professional achievement for highly qualified commercial real estate practitioners with two years of business experience in brokerage, fee-based services, or executive management.
7. Certified e-Business Consultant (CEC)
Offered by the EC-Council, this certification is designed for candidates who wish to garner professional knowledge of e-Business implementation, trends, project management, approaches, technology, risk factors, delivery, audits, and post-completion activities. Prior work experience and future renewals are not required.
8. Associate Business Continuity Planner (ABCP)
Offered by the Disaster Recovery Institute, the ABCP certification provides entry-level knowledge in business continuity planning for those starting out with their career. Renewals are required annually.
9. Change Management Certified Planner
Offered by Learning Tree International, this certification provides frameworks and technical know-how into workplace structures, human resources, and processes for change projects. The topics revolve around change strategy, collaborations, influence over people, business process re-engineering, modeling adaptive behaviors, and setting new organizational goals. Renewals and prior experience are not required.
10. Certified Business Analyst Professional (CBAP)
Offered by the International Institute of Business Analysis, the Certified Business Analysis ProfessionalTM (CBAP) designation is for leading and senior professionals of the BA community. It requires a minimum of 7,500 hours of Business Analysis work experience over about 10 years with 35 hours of professional development in the prior 4 years. Renewals are required every three years.
11. Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)
Offered by the Scrum Alliance, the Certified Scrum Product Owner professionals are taught the practices, principles, and technical language to fulfill product owner roles on Scrum teams. They are likely to be closest to the ‘business side’ of a project and need to launch the product after having influenced key stakeholders.
12. Senior Professional in Human Resources
Offered by Human Resource Certification Institute, the Senior Professional in Human Resources certification is designed for strategic and policy-making elements in HRM. It requires more than two years of work experience and three-year renewals.
13. Certificate in Global Business Services (CertGBS)
Offered by ACCA, the Certificate in Global Business Services provides entry-level knowledge in business services, shared services, and the outsourcing industry across the various business functions. No renewals or prior work experience are required.
14. Communication Management Professional
Offered by the GCCC, the Communication Management Professional is for generalist consultants who have between about two years of prior work experience. Renewals are done annually.
15. Certified Management Course (CMC)
Offered by IMA, This certification is advanced and designed for accounting and financial management skills. It requires more than two years of work experience with a written exam. Renewals happen annually.
Skills a business strategy consultant needs
A business strategy consultant’s work can be in any of its sub-disciplines like e-commerce, Marketing, Sales, CRM, Human Resource Management, IT, Finance, Operations, and Supply Chain Management. Along with specialized skill sets in their respective domains, they need general skills like the follows:
Quantitative and analytical skills
People skills and teamwork
Knowledge of the business environment and current business affairs
Problem-solving ability and creative thinking
Responsibilities of a business strategy consultant
According to the hierarchy of consulting purposes, consulting is more than giving advice. They consist of a set of very particular skill sets both traditional and more nascent. Many consulting firms steer clear away from execution functions. But there is a new breed of firms that include these implementation practices in their job.
Keeping clients informed and educated.
Solving client problems and addressing their concerns.
Diagnosing business problems and redefining problem statements if required.
Performing advisory functions based on the diagnosis.
Facilitating the implementation of recommended solutions.
Wielding influence, building a consensus, and driving commitment to the business actions.
Knowledge transfer mechanisms or facilitating client learning.
Achieving definite business success and improving efficiency.
Is a business strategy consultant right for your business?
A business strategy consultant can bring a lot to the table from reviewing your business plan or model, comparing it with business goals, diagnosing tough business challenges, fixing them, suggesting plans of recovery and action to stressed businesses, networking, and so on. Here are a few reasons why you may need one for your business.
Market research and intelligence.
A professional business strategist can give you leading insights into the market, your customer segments, competition, trends, and external factors like technology and economics that affect your business. You can save a lot of your research, data collection, and analysis costs by getting real-world advice from a consultant.
Fresh outsider perspectives.
If you ever find your team unable to think beyond the box, a consultant can offer a new angle to your boardroom discussions. The job of a consultant is about more than giving advice. It helps institutionalize or build capabilities of best practices in the industry. These new perspectives can be very resourceful to a homogenous group of decision-makers eliminating unconscious biases.
While your executives may be busy doing business as usual, a business strategy consultant usually has the history, training, specialized knowledge, and techniques for the job to help you get on the balcony and pick your battles instead of getting caught up in the field of play. This can add immense value to your business growth and scalability.
This can be a game-changer if your executives are relatively young fresh out of MBA programs from top-notch B-schools. Or even if you executives lack formal training or experience in management styles. Consultants usually have the managerial experience and knowledge to help your business understand which of them apply to your business and in what context.
As crucial as planning and decision-making are, consultants can offer a clear roadmap for your business, with objectives, deliverables, metrics, and course correction strategies. The difference between strategy and execution is the difference between thought and reality. A business strategy consultant’s experience can offer measurable value to your business.
Things to look for when hiring a business strategy consultant
If you have not hired a business consultant strategist before, here are a few questions to ask before you do.
What is their niche?
How well do they know the market industry and what relevant experience do they have?
What do they know about your company, offerings, competition, and market trends?
Do they have some sample work and references in the relevant domain of expertise?
How would they prioritize and tackle multiple challenges in a crisis?
Do they have experience in financial modeling, analysis, and projections?
How do they handle different personalities and opinions? How do you get teams to work together synergistically and secure buy-ins?
What is their value proposition?
Can they influence a difficult situation and manage deep conflicts?
Can they execute a disruptive strategy?
Make sure you have all the bases covered before you make a strategic hire. The high cost of a wrong hire may do more damage than good. But the right hire can offer the full value of the cost and the business targets you’ve set for yourself.
Where can I find the best business strategy consultants?
Around the world, several industries are looking for cost-optimization strategies. If you’re contemplating hiring a business strategy consultant, you’re going to need a competent partner with comprehensive knowledge and the ability to complement your strategic needs.
You can find great business strategy consultants in legacy consulting firms. But that industry itself is ripe for disruption on account of several factors like secrecy, cost, their business model, and operational policies. Organizational needs across the world are shifting dynamically and the big consulting firms may or may not manage smaller projects at acceptable profits. It may even be looked down on.
If you’re a small to medium-size business, you’re probably looking to hire the best with optimal project costs. Even if you’re a larger firm that can easily afford annual contracts and subscriptions with a large consulting firm, you can still find simpler ways to get the job done with speed, reduced cost, and efficiency.
Chief strategy officers and those responsible for shaping the direction of their organizations are often asked to facilitate “visioning” meetings. This helps teams brainstorm ideas, but it isn’t a substitute for critical thinking about the future. Neither is the one-, three-, or five-year strategic plans that have become a staple within most organizations, though they are useful for addressing short-term operational goals. Futurists think about time differently, and company strategists could learn from their approach. For any given uncertainty about the future — whether that’s risk, opportunity, or growth — we tend to think in the short- and long-term simultaneously. To do this, consider using a framework that doesn’t rely on linear timelines or simply marks the passage of time as quarters or years. Instead, use a time cone that measures certainty and charts actions
Meeting strategy objectives such as shaping the direction of organizations, facilitating visioning meetings, brainstorming ideas, and addressing short-term operational goals, and long-term futuristic goals without depending on linear timelines are all important to organizational growth today. Arriving there has a lot to do with encouraging capital, smart hires, and reducing risks.
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