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How to Choose Your Best Growth Strategy Consulting Firm

How to Choose Your Best Growth Strategy Consulting Firm

8 Selection Factors to Ensure a Good Fit and Outstanding Results

Growth strategy is a leading topic for many leaders, and growth strategy consulting is on the rise. When it’s time to choose a growth strategy consulting firm, there are eight factors that make sense to consider.  These are:

  1. Is growth strategy an important focus for the consulting firm? 
  2. Who are the people on the specific consulting team that you are paying for? Are the people on the team experienced in growth strategy?
  3. Does the proposed work approach spend more time and cost on the growth strategy areas that are most important to you?
  4. What tools, if any, do they bring to developing the growth strategy? 
  5. How good is the firm, and the specific team you will work with, at collaborating with your organization?
  6. How good is the firm, and the specific team you will work with, at getting adoption, enrolling the leadership team and getting alignment?
  7. How easy or difficult are they to work with?
  8. How geographically accessible is their team to your location?

Let’s look at each of these factors in turn, and consider why each is helpful, and how to gather the information needed to evaluate the factor.

Growth Strategy Consulting Selection Factor #1:
Business Focus

The first factor to assess is whether growth strategy is a focus for the consulting firm.  After that, it’s also important to examine if growth strategy is an area of experience for the specific consultants who will work on your project.

A greater focus means more time focused on growth strategy.  This translates to a greater ability to bring diverse experiences from a range of other companies and industries to bear on your work, if you have the right team.     

Diverse experience is more likely to lead to innovative solutions.  In comparison, a firm that exclusively focuses on just one industry may tend to reinforce existing industry thinking and duplicate the experience of your management team. 

Figuring out whether a firm focuses on growth strategy may not be as simple as it appears. Data sources for this information include data on service mix from Wimgo as well as the consulting firm’s website, thought leadership materials, other rankings and apparent focus on growth strategy approach based on their description and website. 

Beyond Google organic search and Wimgo, other online sources are broader, focusing on the best firms for consulting overall or the best firms for strategy overall, not necessarily growth strategy.

For instance, Consultancy.org doesn’t have a specific breakout for growth strategy, instead listing over 44 firms as “top” strategy consulting firms, with well-known players rising to the top.  Management Consulted provides a list of top consulting firms without designating strategy or growth strategy. Vault provides the category of best strategy consulting to work for, but not growth strategy.  Forbes also publishes a list of over 200 firms in various categories, but is no longer as searchable as in previous years.

The question is, how prominent, or not, is growth strategy? 

How to Choose Your Best Growth Strategy Consulting Firm

As we’ve examined previously for growth strategy consulting, top-tier strategy consulting firms are known as “MBB,” because their initials are known for strategy. 

The MBB firms are McKinsey, Bain, and Boston Consulting Group. They all have considerable experience in strategy.  The area where growth strategy is found in their practice varies by firm.

McKinsey and Growth Strategy Consulting

While data on the service mix was not found for McKinsey, McKinsey’s website navigation starts with 23 industries and 10 capabilities. Growth, marketing and sales is a capability where McKinsey identifies growth strategy literally in the name.  Subtopics within the growth, marketing and sales function area include:

  • Branding
  • Consumer & shopper insights
  • Customer experience
  • Customer lifecycle management
  • Digital marketing
  • Green growth
  • Insights & analytics
  • Marketing return on investment
  • NeXT Commerce
  • Organization & capabilities
  • Pricing
  • Sales & channel management   

Other capabilities where growth strategy may fall are M&A and strategy & corporate finance.  Strategic growth and innovation is a specific focus underneath strategy & corporate finance.   McKinsey features a Committed Innovator podcast for growth-focused executives.

An expert McKinsey alumnus estimates that as much as 40% of McKinsey’s work can be considered strategy.  She explains,

“McKinsey generously refers to everything they do as ‘strategy’ and focuses only on issues that are important to the c-suite – who typically are obsessed with profit and revenue growth because that’s how to increase shareholder value, i.e. the reason for being in business in the first place.  So, a claim that a huge percentage of their work is growth strategy could be justified. Also, one needs to separate out profit growth from revenue growth, and I’m guessing that organic revenue growth is what’s captured under the Capabilities tab. But I assume that they’d also include most, if not all, of the Strategy & Corporate Finance work as ‘growth strategy,’ too.  And also, a lot of the work under M&A.  Viewed from that perspective, 40% doesn’t seem too high, actually.”

Since McKinsey is very large, it’s difficult to know how many consultants and partners focus primarily on growth strategy.  McKinsey has approximately 45,000 employees, offices in 130 cities, and approximately 3,000 partners.  Based on this, it’s reasonable to assume that there are several hundred experts at McKinsey who focus on growth strategy.

Examples of McKinsey’s experts are geographical partner leaders in the Marketing and Sales practice, Greg Kelly, (practice co-lead), and Brian Gregg (practice co-lead).

Bain and Growth Strategy Consulting

With 65 offices and 19,000 employees, Bain is a leader in strategy consulting. In 2019, Bain reported that 24% of its revenue came from strategy work “measured in terms of capability.” 

Bain’s 2023 service mix was reported at 18% business strategy by Wimgo, similar to the 19% Bain self-reported in 2019.    

Cumulatively, areas related to growth total a maximum of 79% of Bain’s services (i.e., excluding other finance).  

Other Wimgo-reported Bain services related to growth strategy include market research (25%), market entry (28%) and product launches (8%).

Wimgo methodology for service mix estimate is:

“An analysis of how specialized a company appears to be in a given industry based on an analysis of projects referenced on their website, portfolio, and reviews mentioning projects.”

In the top navigation bar, Bain’s website has 20 industries (with additional sub industries) and 11 consulting services.  There are also 10 “how we help” topics. These are:

  • Agile
  • Accelerating Performance Transformation
  • Customer experience
  • Learning & development
  • Mergers & acquisitions
  • Operations
  • Sales & Marketing
  • Strategy
  • Sustainability & responsibility
  • Transformation

Bain’s featured strategy service leaders include: Dunigan O’Keeffe (global), Mikaela Boyd (Americas), Nikhil Prasad Ohja (APAC), and several others.

The sales and marketing consulting service area at Bain is further delineated into eight specializations: brand & customer strategy, marketing, product & portfolio management, pricing optimization, B2B go-to-market, consumer sales & ecosystem, customer experience, and sales management.

Sales and marketing service leaders for Bain include: Darci DarnellAndreas DullweberRichard Hatherall, Jamie Cleghorn and Priscilla Dell’Orto.

Boston Consulting Group and Growth Strategy Consulting

BCG has 25,000 employees and offices in 100+ cities, with 2022 revenues of $11.7B.

According to Wimgo, BCG’s service mix is dominated by product launches (35%) and other marketing (35%).  Business strategy and market research are each 10%, while market entry is 1%.  Excluding other finance, 90% of BCG’s service mix is related to growth strategy.

Expertise areas in 15 industries and 22 capabilities are featured on BCG’s website.  While the word “growth” is not used in the capabilities’ area titles, there are several that directly touch on growth, including:

  • Corporate finance & strategy
  • Customer insights
  • Digital, technology & data
  • Innovation strategy & delivery
  • Marketing & sales
  • Pricing & revenue management

BCG’s leaders in marketing and sales include: Jean-Manuel IzaretLara KoslovBharat Poddar,  Karen Lellouche Tordjman,  Jessica Apotheker, Bharat Poddar and Phillip Andersen.

The BCG website also provides information on its growth strategy background on other pages.

Comparison of Growth Strategy Consulting Firms

Wimgo identifies and ranks firms as growth strategy consultants on its list. This is a rough list, as several of these firms don’t appear to focus in the area, lack growth strategy landing pages or seem to be mainly focused on another topic.  These are highlighted in red in the chart below.  For instance, #7 Wimgo-ranked Computer Works has a main focus on IT services, despite having a growth strategy web page.  Another firm appears to be out of business. 

Also added are five additional firms not on the Wimgo list that are ranked in the top 10 in Google organic search for growth strategy consulting.  For example, McKinsey is not listed on the Wimgo list, despite considerable expertise.

The growth strategy consulting firms can be broadly separated into two categories by number of employees. There are 14 smaller firms (with less than 500 employees), and 11 large or mid-sized firms, including the MBB firms.  

Of these, seven smaller firms meet the first criteria of focus on growth strategy consulting.  They are Insight to Action, Mindracer (if focus is sales), Strategyn, Valen Group, Wendt Partners, Innosight, and Topline Strategy Group.  

While all these firms work broadly in the area of growth strategy, several have a primary focus on different customer groups, for instance, Wendt Partners focuses on B2B, while others focus on specific areas like innovation (Innosight) or sales (Mindracer).

Comparison Chart of Smaller Growth Strategy Consulting Firms

Wimgo Rank

(NA=not in Wimgo, but in top 10 Google Organic Search for Growth Strategy Consulting

Smaller Consulting Firm and site link

(Smaller=<500, Medium 500-999, Large=>1000 Employees)

Wimgo Description Excerpt or site info if not in Wimgo

Stated Description fits Growth Strategy Consulting

Growth strategy landing page on site

NA Wimgo

Top 10 in Organic Search

Insight to Action

“driving market research supported growth and positioning strategies for B2B and B2C clients”

Yes, supported by market research

Yes

NA Wimgo

Top 10 in Organic Search

Bottle Rocket Studios

“helps strategize, grow, design and build brand experiences … help companies grow. Digital strategy consulting services for digital first companies”

 

No- more focus on the experience delivery

Yes

NA Wimgo

Top 10 in Organic Search

Mindracer

resources and strategies that can identify the aspects of your sales process and business that aren’t working”

Yes, if the focus is sales

Yes

NA Wimgo

Top 10 in Organic Search

Cortado Group

“rapid, measurable top-line improvements for smaller, investor-backed growth companies across multiple industries”

Yes

No

1

Growth Strategy Partners

“helps small and mid-sized companies grow faster and more efficiently than they could independently”

Yes, for small and mid-sized companies

No, though the name of the firm is Growth Strategy there is no dedicated page

2

Growth Strategy Consultants

“small business consultancy focused on assisting clients in growing their businesses”

Yes, for small business

No, could not find their website

4

Strategyn

“a leading growth strategy and innovation consulting firm serving blue-chip client base, private-equity, VC firms, government agencies, and startups”

Yes. The focus is on Jobs to be Done and Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI).

Yes

5

Outthinker

“a growth strategy consulting company that collaborates with businesses to step out into the future to execute with clarity today”

Yes

No

7

Computer Works

“provides a wide range of IT services that include providing network solutions, repairing hardware and equipment…”

No, not a growth strategy consulting firm, it’s an IT firm.

Yes

8

Valen Group

“a strategy consulting company focused on growth strategy, innovation and brand licensing”

Yes

Yes

9

Wendt Partners

“B2B business growth consulting firm works exclusively with CEOs to improve sales, marketing, strategy and leadership”

Yes

Yes

10

Insivia

B2B SaaS & Tech Business to elevate conversions & fuel growth” “smart strategy and delivering bold, unique, game-changing solutions”

No, not a consulting firm. Insivia is a remote agency that does growth strategy to get to execution

No

13

Innosight

“leading expert on disruptive innovation and strategic transformation”

Yes, focus on innovation

Yes

17

Topline Strategy Group

“boutique firm specializes in market strategy, customer experience and investor diligence for B2B technology businesses and their investors”

Yes

Yes

The comparison set of larger firms includes the familiar MBB firms McKinsey, Bain and the Boston Consulting Group, along with many other established brands.  Other large firms are L.E.K. Consulting, Frost & Sullivan, PA Consulting, Simon Kucher, and Ernst & Young. There are also two firms that primarily work with outside consultants: Business Talent Group and ConsultportAccenture also made the Wimgo list, but its focus is not a good fit with growth strategy consulting (see red below).

Comparison Chart of Large or Medium Growth Strategy Consulting Firms

Wimgo Rank

(NA=not in Wimgo, but in top 10 Google Search for Growth Strategy Consulting

Medium or Large Consulting Firm and site link

(Small=<500, Medium 500-999, Large=>1000 Employees)

Wimgo Description Excerpt or site info if not in Wimgo

Stated Description fits Growth Strategy Consulting

Growth strategy landing page on site

3

L.E.K. Consulting

“a global strategy consulting firm”

Yes, focus on strategy overall with growth strategy underneath that.

Yes

6

Bain & Co

“a global consultancy that helps the world’s most ambitious change-makers define the future”

Yes, focus on being a global consultancy with growth strategy underneath that.

No 

11

Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

“diverse global teams…leading-edge management consulting and data science, technology and design, and business purpose”

Yes.  Business strategy focus includes growth strategy. Famous for the growth share matrix

No

NA Wimgo

Top 10 in Organic Search

McKinsey

“We help leaders realize meaningful growth transformations so that companies can deliver substantial value today and tomorrow”

Yes

Yes – has strategic growth and innovation page and also Growth Marketing & Sales

12

Business Talent Group

“highly curated independent consultants…best consultants at the best market prices”

Yes, includes Growth Strategy as an offering

Yes

14

Frost & Sullivan

“guiding clients toward transformational growth strategies.”

Yes

No

15

PA Consulting

“innovation consultancy firm with over 3,200 specialists”

Yes

Yes

16

Simon-Kucher

“global consultancy with clear focus on top-line growth….pricing is still core of their work”

Yes

No, but have a digital growth

19

Accenture

“embrace the power of change to create value for their clients, people and communities.”

No

No

NA

Ernst & Young (EY)

“develop and deliver strategic opportunities for clients by providing in-depth market, competitor and customer insight”

Yes

Yes, both growth strategy and growth

NA

Consultport

“Access the best management consultants and digital experts through one easy-to-use platform”

No  

Yes

In 2022, MBB firms were well-regarded for growth strategy consulting (in the top 3), and L.E.K., Ernst & Young, and Accenture were also in the top 10 for at least two sources.  Additionally, large firms Oliver Wyman, Deloitte, Strategy &/PWC, IBM Global Services, and KPMG were also in the top 10 for at least two sources.  Of these, four were identified by Forbes in 2022 for a five-star rating for Innovation & Growth.  For evaluators who want larger firm choices beyond the set of 11 above, these may provide additional options.

Growth Strategy Consulting

This first factor is an “ante”—that is, all consulting firms that you are considering must demonstrate their experience in growth strategy.  All of the MBB firms easily clear this requirement as do several small and large firms.  The next factor is more about the team.

Growth Strategy Consulting Selection Factor #2:
Consulting Team

The dominant model of leverage that the large consulting firms use means that most of the work is done by less experienced consultants and analysts.   

So, in your project, your budget is spent more on analyst and consultant time than experienced partner, principal or manager time. 

Fees in the MBB firms are around $500,000 per month for a six-person team.

To examine the leverage model, we can look at the ratio of partners to non-partners. For the purposes of this analysis, the focus is on employees, though not all employees are consultants.  Each of these firms also reports its total employees: McKinsey at 45,000, BCG at 25,000 and Bain at 19,000.

At McKinsey, the employee-to-partner ratio is around 15 to one. It’s safe to say that the other MBB firms also have high leverage models.

As one source explains:

“In terms of staffing, you’ll find that Bain is more analyst heavy than both McKinsey and BCG. On a standard McKinsey or BCG team, there may be only 1 analyst. In contrast, a team from Bain will have 2 analysts and fewer people who are more senior.

“McKinsey, not surprisingly, leads the pack on depth of experience. They’ve been around for the longest, they have the largest number of consulting staff, and their reach is the most extensive. … When they come to the table to pitch to a client, McKinsey can usually point to 10 examples where they’ve done the same job successfully before.

On the other end of the spectrum, Bain relies on its ‘we’ll work hard for you’ mentality to win clients. The firm doesn’t have the decades of experience to draw from like its competitors, but it does have a card up its sleeve. Bain gives a lot more ideas in the sales process than would McKinsey or BCG, relying heavily on its quantitative prowess and willingness to go the extra mile. A partner at Bain might give away what would normally be the first month of work to a potential client – a tactic that often sways clients in their favor.”

By comparison, the smaller growth strategy consulting firms are more likely to have a business model that includes more experienced partner or project director time.  That’s the model at Insight to Action.

In our experience, most client evaluators will focus heavily on the partner’s experience, and perhaps the project director’s experience, to assess the team.  Some will also go the next step to ask how much of that senior time will be spent on their engagement.  These are good questions to explore.

Freelancer-based firms Business Talent Group and Consultport offer a choice of experienced consultants to the client. However, these “dream” teams will typically lack shared growth strategy tools and practices, based on their different backgrounds, putting even more stress on the choice of the right team.

Preferably, the consulting team will have worked together in the past so that they can focus on the growth strategy work at hand rather than learning to work together.

If a more collaborative growth strategy development process is desired, where your management team actively contributes to the recommendations, we suggest selecting a growth strategy consulting firm with a more experienced team that can engage with your leaders.   

The more experienced team can avoid “boiling the ocean” and “reinventing the wheel.”  While a less experienced team can theoretically draw upon the resources of their firm, in practice they often fail to do so.

Growth Strategy Consulting Selection Factor #3: 
Work Approach That’s Aligned with Your Priorities

Growth Strategy Consulting Selection Factor #3:
Work Approach That’s Aligned with Your Priorities

This third factor will require more work on the part of you and your team to assess.  It will also ensure you get the most value.

It’s critical to prioritize the objectives and deliverables that you want to have coming out of the work.  If you get the answer that everything is equally important, push back and ask for “A,” “B” and “C” priorities.  

The more clarity you have around prioritized objectives and deliverables, the better fit you’re likely to get with the consulting engagement.  If a growth strategy consulting firm isn’t pushing for clarity, this is a warning sign.

Broadly speaking, a strategy consulting engagement might have four phases:

  • Phase A: Situation assessment
  • Phase B: Growth strategy alternative creation (with or without customers)
  • Phase C: Growth strategy selection
  • Phase D: Evaluation and vetting of initiatives that deliver the strategy over the next 1, 3 and 5 years.

It’s almost never the case that 25% of your budget will be spent in each phase. More often, emphasis is placed on different parts of work where more help is needed, or where previous efforts have shown an alignment breakdown.

So, looking at the total budget and timeline for a growth strategy consulting effort, should 5%, 10%, 30%, 50% or 80% of the time be spent on the first phase of situation assessment activities?  

Of course, it’s possible to do a quick Phase One situation assessment in as little as a week, and that may meet your firm’s needs. Alternatively, the market fact base may be so inadequate and the need for information so great that an investment of six months in a new customer segmentation can be essential.  Or your organization may want to build the bench by having your analyst team lead some of the situation assessment, rather than the consultants.   

Moving to the second phase, how much time will it take, and when will the growth strategy alternatives be created?  Will these activities take up 5%, 10%, 30%, 50% or 80% of the budget?  Going back to collaboration, how, if at all, will your leadership team participate in the growth strategy creation?

You can then repeat the thought process as you look at the proposed workplan and the budget that is associated with each phase.  It may be the case that there are unnecessary steps that can be eliminated, or that more time should be spent on a particular phase to ensure organizational alignment.    

As the client, it’s a good practice to ask that the consulting proposal costs be broken out by each major step (if not already provided) with deliverables at each step.

Growth Strategy Consulting Selection Factor #4: 
Proven Tools

Growth Strategy Consulting Selection Factor #4:
Proven Tools

The large MBB firms have a wealth of tools to draw upon for each consulting engagement.  A challenge is for the relatively inexperienced analyst and consulting team to find the right tools and apply them. 

As the evaluator, it’s possible to assess how integral (or not) proven tools and frameworks are in the proposed work approach.  How much of the consulting time and budget is spent to leverage proven approaches?

My experience at Booz Allen in the late 1980s and early 1990s was that we developed a custom solution for each engagement, rarely leveraging tools from prior engagements. This was inefficient and stressful, though we always came to a good solution in the end.

By comparison, my experience at The Cambridge Group was that we had the benefit of a portfolio of proven tools that worked, like Safari and Demand Segmentation.  We regularly used these tools to become proficient in them. To the chagrin of some experienced consultants, mastery of the tools took several years.  There is a big difference between following a cookbook and mastery. These tools were primary drivers of insight, and often consumed 50% of the total project budget. 

If a firm has only one approach with one tool, that can also be a warning flag.      

Growth Strategy Consulting Selection Factor #5: 
Collaboration with your Organization

Growth Strategy Consulting Selection Factor #5:
Collaboration with your Organization

A cable industry client candidly shared that they selected us because they thought we would be the best at working with them to arrive at the growth strategy and recommendations.    This “soft” criteria may require digging a bit deeper beyond the written proposal.

Two areas to consider:

  1. Are there regular points of engagement with the leadership team throughout the work?
  2. What are the cultural values of the growth strategy consulting firm, and do they align with your firm’s values?

Most likely, you and your team will have a feel for this from the face-to-face conversations that you have with the consulting firm sales team.  Another option is checking the firm’s references, asking about the success of the engagement and team enrollment. 

Another measure to consider is how easy or difficult it is to communicate changes in scope or direction during the proposal process.  If this is difficult during the proposal phase, it portends communication challenges in working together.

At times, there is no desire for collaboration and there is a need for an outside appraisal.  In that case, this factor can be omitted.  This type of “hands off” model is more common when working for outside investors or boards, rather the management team.

Growth Strategy Consulting Selection Factor #6:
Enrolling the Leadership Team, Getting Alignment and Gaining Adoption 

Getting the most tailored, top-quality growth strategy for your firm is worthless if there’s poor buy-in from leadership.  Moving into the next steps typically relies on enrollment of the leadership team and their making the answer “their own.”  For example, McKinsey is well known for vetting recommendations with the key players in advance so that there is enrollment and adoption. 

To assess this ability, the first step is to look at the work approach. For example:

  • Are stakeholders asked to provide their data and hypotheses in the early stages of the work?
  • What about senior sponsors, are their opinions and pet theories solicited to be vetted?  
  • Are there check-in points, where leaders can vet the emerging growth strategies?

Again, the consulting firms’ culture will provide clues on this factor. Note how open they are to suggestion and collaboration during the sales process.

We worked on a segmentation and positioning assignment with a client team that previously worked with another firm for one year, only to find that the previous firm’s recommendations were not accepted by the group president.  In that case, we redoubled our check-in points to prevent a repeat scenario and are pleased to share that the recommendations were adopted by all. 

It’s also possible to ask for examples of a firm’s growth strategy consulting work “in the wild.” Evidence that leadership and their teams have adopted the growth strategy will filter down into public-facing marketing campaigns, communications, new product releases, etc. It’s a good sign when you see growth strategies for other clients being put into practice.

Growth Strategy Consulting Selection Factor #7:
Ease of Working Together 

This factor will be apparent from all the interactions that you have with the growth strategy consulting firm in the sales process.   For instance:

  • Do they meet the deadlines that your process sets with quality work?
  • Do they take feedback to adapt their approach based on learning more about your organization’s needs, or do they stick with a “cookie-cutter” process?
  • Do they actively suggest ways to make it easier to work together?
  • How quickly do they respond to requests?
  • Are their communications clear and professional or confusing?

At Insight to Action, we actively strive to make working together easier for our clients.  Whether it’s tailoring the presentations to use client templates or scheduling meetings at the best time for the whole team, this principle is important.

Similar to the team engagement and enrollment, asking about this area may be helpful when checking references.  A useful measure of this comes from the percent of repeat business that the firm has. If the firm has a high repeat ratio, it suggests they are easy to work with.

Growth Strategy Consulting Selection Factor #8: 
Geographic Access of Team

Growth Strategy Consulting Selection Factor #8:
Geographic Access of Team

In a global digital world with access to the best resources available via Zoom and Microsoft Teams, this factor may be considered irrelevant.  And perhaps it is irrelevant for companies who function with global teams who almost never meet in person.

We find, however, that it is practical to have a consulting team who can meet in person with your leadership team on a regular basis during the growth strategy consulting engagement.  Post COVID, we’re also seeing a trend towards leadership teams getting together to collaborate on growth strategy in person.

For many clients, local offices and geographic access make a difference. Most likely, that’s one reason why McKinsey has offices in over 130 cities.

Post COVID,  we are also seeing increased interest surrounding in-person insights work to support growth strategy, such as ethnographies and in-person focus groups to give greater insight into the end consumer. Remote studies remain popular, especially as a method for testing the findings of in-person research.

Choosing the right growth strategy consulting firm for your organization can be just as challenging as the growth strategy project itself. But evaluating consulting firms with these eight decision factors will set your organization up for success and contribute to sustained growth.

Visit Insight to Action’s Growth Strategy Resources for more expertise and examples. Contact us to start a conversation about your organization.

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