How do buyers of consultancy services find | research consulting firms?

27 November 2017 4 min. read

Every year, businesses in the UK are estimated to spend over £8 billion on management consulting services. While the industry continues to grow, spurred on by new digital technologies, in the age of the internet, many clients still prefer the traditional approach of personal contact to find the right firm for their project. analysis of an online survey has found that speaking to consultants remains the most common tactic leveraged by clients looking for management advisory services, with nearly three quarters of respondents listing it. Despite a range of new digital platforms now making it easier to source and engage external expertise, the second most common method was also a direct approach – with 73% of those polled saying they would contact colleagues at their own firm for recommendations.

The Research Now questionnaire took in the opinions of almost 700 corporate executives in the UK, all of whom play a role in the decision to select and hire consulting firms. The projects assigned to consultants by these leaders range in importance, however this particular data presents the scores of those who spoke about important and very important assignments, exclusively.

Size of the UK management consulting market

The size of the UK management consulting market is presently estimated by the Management Consultants Association to be £8.9 billion. The British segment of the market has seen growth slow, from 7.8% between 2014 and 2015 to 4.8% by 2016 – in line with the slowing of the UK’s broader economy, which has seen disappointing growth since the shock Brexit vote of 2016. However, the expansion of the consulting sector still remains stronger than the nation’s general economic forecast, due to the ramping up of demand for digital and technological transformations among clients. That demand presently accounts for 28% of all service line demands in UK management consulting.

Despite this heightened demand for digital enhancement, the methods through which consultants are most regularly sought out are remarkably analogue. Lagging behind the top two, more traditional, techniques in third, reading the contents of consulting firms’ websites was used by 65% of professionals.

Reading the online publications of consulting firms was used by 62% of businesses. This is due to consulting firms being highly active in the role of thought leadership – however it still lags behind the more direct way in which consultants showcase this. 63% of clients viewing presentations at public conferences to weigh up which firms best suited their needs. Seeing consultants quoted in leading offline publications meanwhile retained a heavy pertinence for clients, with 60% listing it as a key method for important or very important work.

Independent websites

While the world of offline publications has had a lengthy history in order to build up prestige and trust however, the digital world has made significant progress over its comparatively short lifespan. The reporting from independent websites now carries enough weight for 57% of clients to trust them as a way to find consulting services. For the entire industry, this includes platforms such as, or if clients are seeking sector specific consultants, examples include sites like Retail Week, or Construction News. Interestingly, the print publications sent by consulting firms themselves have also fallen behind the importance of these platforms, in terms of their importance to clients, drawing 55% of responses.

Methods used by clients to find a consulting firm

Clients also use the more basic method of typing relevant key-words into search engines. 54% of business leaders questioned said they would use Google and other platforms to search terms such as ‘consulting firms’, which would deliver top options including, Forbes and Wikipedia. Alternatively, if they were to Google ‘management consultant’ Wikipedia and The Guardian are top answers. As a result, it is difficult for consulting firms themselves to rank high in a generic industry/consultancy word search, so many now advertise vis sponsored Google posts.

Posting questions in public social networking sites and posting questions in ‘microblogging sites’ were cited last by clients. While 34% used sites like LinkedIn and Facebook and 29% opted for Twitter and its variants, the platforms were far less trusted as platforms for research, due in part for their propensity to spread false information.