I’m sure you’re constantly pestered by those telemarketers who want you to a) change long-distance carriers, b) invest in a “sure” stock pick, or c) sit down for a “free” portfolio analysis.

What’s bothersome is not their persistence and ability to call at the most inopportune moments. Rather, it’s the fact that you always hear the same message—“We’re better/cheaper/faster than the others”—regardless of the product.

Drawing distinctions between competitors is part of the whole feature-benefit formulation for advertising commodity products. But commodity advertising always supplants the sexy images with a rich vein of detailed information. Even more, the advertising muscle and collateral information is then pumped at different customer segments with laser-like precision.

The consulting industry still likes to characterize itself as a white-glove profession. Yet judging by the recent efforts of some major players, the basic message for potential customers is very commodity-like: We’re better than the other firms.

Splashy print ads in prime business media dole out bromides about a firm’s ability to cut through the obfuscation of other consultants. The underlying message: We’re better.

Big Five firms, past and present, are particularly good at making pointed references to the deficiencies of other major firms. The real message: We’re better.

Too many cries of “We’re better” sound like a bleating herd of sheep. Nothing rises above the din.

Even though services are notoriously difficult to quantify, most of the firms recognize that commodity advertising demands more statistics. So the firms are making valiant efforts to quantify their claims.

But such oblique efforts merely raise the potential customer’s expectations for more information. You can compare a Lexus’ engine torque with any car in the market. Should consultants follow suit? Is it beneficial for specific Andersen SAP consultants to be profiled against counterparts at Cap Gemini?

There should be some universally accepted statistics to measure consulting quality. What about client value-creation ratios per consulting dollar expended? Partner-to-project time involvement? Those are painful to produce but extremely beneficial to know.

As it stands, revenue figures are sliced and diced and applied in such ways that high “revenue per consultant” numbers are mistakenly equated with quality consulting. Such methods may be fine for determining economic viability, but they stink for gauging “the best.”

About the author

Inside Consulting is written by Tom Rodenhauser as a free weekly supplement to The Rodenhauser Report. The report informs senior advisors and business executives of consulting trends and best practices. Subscription cost is $295 per year for 10 issues. Copyright 2001, Consulting Information Services, LLC. Reproduction is prohibited. Quotation with attribution is encouraged.