Creating Positive Friction
Innovative firms are not zero-friction consultancies.
In yesterday's post, I shared this interesting finding from our recent research: One of the ways boutique consulting firms are strengthening their value proposition is by making it easier for them to generate desired outcomes. But surprisingly, this does not always involve reducing friction.
One way to illustrate the different ways consultancies use friction is to divide them into three categories: the "traditional", the "modern", and the "challenger" firm.
Hiring a traditional consulting firm is anything but easy. Clients often have limited time with and struggle to contact partners, since most contact is with the consultants or managers working on the project. They also need to allocate their internal team to monitor consultants' time, expenses, and overall progress. We can say the overall friction is high.
The so-called "modern" firm mirrors lean product startups and follows the advice of B2C growth marketers. In the last decade or so, making it easy for clients became a synonym for reducing friction. These consultancies are now using technology to create a smoother client experience during the purchasing process and project delivery.
So what should we expect from the "challenger" firm? What's the next step to make it easier for clients to make decisions and change?
High friction → Reduced friction → ???
When we look at the progression above, people may be tempted to bet the next "disruption" in the consulting industry is the birth of a "zero-friction consultancy". But any professional who has advised or consulted in the real world knows this is a ludicrous idea. Change requires friction.
What we found is that challenger firms are focusing on positive friction to enhance client experience and results. It can increase alignment, drive behavior change, protect client data, and create psychological momentum.
Here are some examples of negative and positive friction partners have shared:
- Communication with partners: (Negative) Clients need to go through back-and-forth to find time and place to exchange with partners. (Positive) Insist on limited availability. The difficulty to access partners creates scarcity and increases the perceived value of the advice, making clients more likely to support change.
- Clarifying project goals and requirements: (Negative) It's difficult to bring together stakeholders and/or the executives involved. (Positive) Make these conversations a non-negotiable condition to start the engagement. They are required to build consensus and clarify goals, and by themselves unlock huge value for clients.
- Negotiating price and scope of work: (Negative) The lack of clarity around price during sales conversations creates a large expectation gap, hurting effectiveness and the relationship. (Positive) Don't display your prices on your website like a restaurant menu. Talking frequently about value, cost, and money, and provide pricing guidance during discovery conversations to build trust and give your clients options.
These are not the only friction points your clients probably go through. Managing expenses and reimbursement. Overseeing the working hours of your team for billing purposes. Gathering and sharing private and/or a large amount of information safely.
What leading consultancies are doing is not eliminating all of these friction points altogether. First, they clarify what's good and what's bad for the client. And then they focus on eliminating only negative friction, keeping the positive one in.
If you've been through this process or know a firm that has done it really well, drop me a line. We're collecting case studies for our upcoming report and this will certainly be in it.