It’s a client’s world; work out how to deal with it

Tom Smith, WSP global property director

Know what you do best, and make sure you keep doing it, is Tom Smith's advice for consultants competing in a changing world.

It’s the single most important thing to any professional services firm - clients. And yet I have seen many examples of flawed client care in my time. It’s critical that you understand your clients, how they are thinking, what their drivers are and how they are changing.

For example, clients these days are ever more demanding - they want their projects faster and cheaper.  That in itself is nothing new I admit and a challenge all industries face, but what is making the real difference in our industry is how clients go about procuring their projects. It’s these kinds of developments we need to understand and adapt to.

We see four key drivers that are changing the work winning environment.

1. Clients are becoming ever leaner so they are increasingly outsourcing their tasks and activities to consultants - it is akin to corporates outsourcing their IT requirements to the new breed of services firms like Cap Gemini, Capita and Serco.

2. Clients are increasingly dominated by powerful procurement departments who seek to reduce their supply chain partners by offering considerable work volumes at hopefully more competitive prices - this means clients are looking for firms who can offer a full range of services from project management to design to contracting to asset management.

3. Clients are multinational companies who are investing in many regions particularly emerging markets and they want firms who can provide the full range of consultancy and construction services across the world.

4. Clients are looking for a 'one stop' shop which now includes funding and delivery and it is only those firms with strong balance sheets that can accommodate this requirement.

So, with all these competing demands, I ask a simple question. Can you be all things to all people? 

I don't think you can! Many companies try to meet every one of their client’s needs, rapidly expanding their range of services so they can be that one stop shop, but sometimes this can be counter-productive.

There is no point growing for growth's sake - there has to be a strategic rational and well thought through plan as to where you can add best value.  You have to choose the markets where you can compete hardest and where clients most value your service. Once you have chosen those markets you the must build a reputation and capability second to none.

I have strong personal client ethos, and as WSP grows I am always asking myself whether we are still delivering the very best client care or whether we are just delivering. I am always comforted that we’ve got the balance right.

We are one of the world’s renowned pure play consultants in the property and buildings end market. We know this is one area where we can really deliver value over and beyond what is expected, and we have consistently focused on this as one of our ‘crown jewels’. All the while growing other service lines in the background and still being able to offer support throughout the whole project lifecycle.

Tom Smith is global property director, WSP