The consulting firms with the most differentiated offering in the market

04 April 2018 7 min. read

Thanks to numerous sustained campaigns of merger and acquisition activity by the world’s largest consultancies, the top-table of modern consulting is increasingly dominated by firms with wide-reaching portfolios, and highly differentiated offerings. According to a new benchmark, L.E.K. Consulting, PA Consulting and Roland Berger can call themselves the consulting firms with the most differentiated offering in the industry.

A new survey of over 3,000 senior end users of advisory services from around the world has determined the consulting industry members with the most differentiated offering on the market. Analysis of the clients responses – all of whom had made extensive use of consultants over the past years – determined that, despite the wide-reaching, multifaceted nature of most of the world’s largest professional services firms, it is ultimately mid-sized companies which stand out most. It is important to note that, while differentiation is a key component of building a successful consulting firm, it is not the holy grail. A firm could be totally different from the market but still be too unaligned with the demands from clients. Others are aspects such as degree to which work with clients, solidity of financials and strength of marketing and sales capabilities.

To come to measuring differentiation, the researchers from Source Global Research looked at 15 dimensions that in their view accurately portrays the ‘DNA’ of consultancies. The fifteen factors included commercial topics such as brand and reputation, account management process and prices, services portfolio (breadth of services, quality of services, innovative approach), organisational culture and quality of thought leadership. The largest chunk of factors however related to how strong a consulting firm is in delivering on its services, with aspects such as global reach, matching people to projects, ability to implement, speed of delivery, strength of methodologies, stakeholder management and responsiveness/flexibility being measured to come to a score.

Consulting firms with the most differentiated offering

Top 5

Topping the pile, L.E.K Consulting has the most differentiated organisational offering. L.E.K. was founded in 1983 by three individual partners from Bain & Company; James Lawrence, Iain Evans, and Richard Koch. Unsurprisingly, given its position at the top of this ranking, the firm utilises a generalist model across all major industries, including a large presence in defence, aviation, life sciences, healthcare, energy, entertainment, transport, retail, consumer products and financial services. The firm presently employs over 1,200 individuals across 21 offices worldwide.

Following L.E.K is fellow London-headquartered firm PA Consulting. PA is a consultancy specialising in management consulting, technology and innovation, and is considered the second most differentiated consulting firm due to its strong blend of consulting, technology and design services. Employing 2,657 workers globally, with offices in Europe, the Nordics, the United States, the Persian Gulf and Asia Pacific. PA has clients in both the private and public sector, including local and national governments and the defence sector.

With a headcount of ‎around 2,400 consultants spread across 50 offices in 36 countries, German-origin firm Roland Berger ranks third. Founded in 1967, originally under the name Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, by the firm’s namesake, the generalist strategy consultancy advises clients on management issues ranging from strategy development to performance improvement.

PwC’s subsidiary Strategy& is positioned fourth. The strategy wing of the Big Four firm boasts around 3,000 consultants, making Strategy& the globe’s sixth largest strategy consulting firm, following the ‘MBB’ trio (McKinsey, BCG, Bain), Oliver Wyman and A.T. Kearney. The firm is followed by a trio of equally matched consultancies in fifth; including parent firm PwC. The consulting firms with the most differentiated offeringAs one of the Big Four, PwC is home to a large headcount, with more than 236,000 employees in a network of firms in 158 countries, and 743 locations. Also in fifth are A.T. Kearney, founded in 1926, now boasting a staff of 3,500 (2,300 consultants), and McKinsey & Company. The global management consultancy – which is currently undergoing a period of transition as outgoing Managing Director Dominic Barton prepares to make way for Kevin Sneader in July – was also founded in 1926, and employs 27,000 people globally.

Top 15

The Boston Consulting Group and Capgemini share eighth spot. BCG is one of the 'Big Three' strategy consulting firms (MBB), and advises clients in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors around the world, including more than two-thirds of the Fortune 500. Capgemini, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, is a multinational professional services and business consulting corporation, headquartered in Paris, France. It provides IT services and is one of the world's largest IT consulting, outsourcing and professional services companies with over 200,000 employees in over 40 countries.

Rounding off the top ten are Bain & Company and Olivier Wyman. Founded in 1973 by the late William Bain Junior, the third member of MBB on the list has provided advice to public, private, and non-profit organisations, and hosts a global staff of 8,000. Founded in 1984, Oliver Wyman adopted its current form in May 2007, as Mercer Oliver Wyman joined with Mercer Management Consulting and Mercer Delta to become one broad-ranging, differentiated firm named Oliver Wyman.

EY is the second Big Four firm to appear in the list. EY’s 250,000-strong global staff provides assurance (including financial audit), tax, consulting and advisory services to companies around the world. In 13th, Accenture has spent the past 12 months sustaining an aggressive expansion campaign, spending over $1 billion on purchases aimed at expanding its new design agency, Accenture Interactive.

In 14th, IBM Global Business Services, the professional services arm of IBM Global Services, includes offerings in management and strategy consulting, systems integration, and application management services. It is possibly the only member of the list currently working to downsize its workforce. In December it was reported that almost 1,900 front line services personnel at IBM UK were at risk of redundancy, with more than 500 of those scheduled to leave the company as part of its latest cost purge.

Finally, in joint-15th, the other constituent members of the Big Four are found. Despite large multidisciplinary portfolios, Deloitte and KPMG both find themselves some distance behind their mid-market competitors, in terms of differentiations in their offerings.