False Branding in IT Consulting
FIRST THINGS FIRST. It's not consulting. Let's get that out of the way.
It's not advisory with thought-leadership, subject matter expertise, domain knowledge, proprietary frameworks, and all that shit. It's plain goddamn staffing and placement, okay?
It's middlemanning. Brokering. Go-betweening. Distributorship. Repacking.
Middlemen add no value to the movement of goods, services, or ideas. They produce nothing, they buy nothing. They come in, make a few introductions, add a little (often a lot of) markup, then collect.
And they have even less unique value:
They approach the same hiring managers as everyone else.
They have the same roles to fill as everyone else.
They receive the same job specs as everyone else.
They source the same way as everyone else.
They write the same job adverts as everyone else.
They fetch from the same candidate pool as everyone else.
They place candidates to the same companies as everyone else.
Why the fuck is this a business?
The same reason selling water is a business. Same reason Coke is in the branded milk business. The same way an oxygen bar is a business. Or why comedy is a career:
Because capitalism is a fucking joke.
The Problem with Commodity Tech Staffing
In a brandless commodity industry (say sugar, or rice, or eggs, or undifferentiated tech staffing), the only competitive advantage is in:
- distribution [e.g. wide network, monopolized area, farm-to-table, etc.] and/or
- cheap production.
Translating to a staffing industry that has people and skills as commodities and where players are indistinguishable from one another:
- 'Competitive distribution' just means being a friend of the hiring manager or decision-maker (the buyer).
- And 'cheap production' is, well, just candidates and skills (the product) on the cheap.
See the problem?
Fake competitive distribution in IT pseudo-consulting
Decision-makers change. They switch seats. They rotate. They re-org.
And once they do, your friend and 'competitive advantage' goes away. Bye-bye value-adding business. (But seriously, there was no value being added in the first place.)
Cheap production in tech staffing
And cheap production of people and skills? Heightened competition, price inflation, tightened budgets, tougher negotiations, squeezed margins.
Or a robot apocalypse (the cheapest skills are usually the first to be automated).
Busting the IT Consulting Myth
BUT WHAT IF we go from commodity staffing to a unique kind of value-adding niche staffing?
- Go after buyers (hiring managers) that nobody else serves
- Tap sources that nobody else gets from
- Produce and deliver in ways nobody else does
- Sustain, replenish, and nurture your sources because nobody else does
How do you do that?
How to differentiate in tech staffing: some hypothetical alternatives
• Work with only a few select clients.
Only those of a certain type.
• Work with only a highly differentiated candidate pool.
Could be those with only a very specific skill and a very specific personality. Underground. Almost cult-like.
• Have a unique delivery model.
For instance, Airbnb-like, app-based, on-demand FTE-sharing. Or perhaps a platform for longer-term, retainer-type knowledge work, like Business Talent Group.
• Make only a select type of matches.
Like, "we only match left-handed Java work nomads with maverick flex-schedule, midsize incumbents in the healthcare space."
• Create a unique consultant retention and development method.
Because in commodity tech staffing, no one undertakes any activity for or by a consultant unless it is billable. Be the rare one who invests in consultant retention and development, regardless of whether you can bill it or not.
The key to everything is being unique and modestly sized.
A good sign is when you continually ask yourself if you should start doing business with a prospect who's warmer than you. Not a gut-wrenching drama everyday--just a quick, passing reflective thought and mental note.
A Red Light to IT Pseudo-Consulting
THE MYTH ABOUT IT consulting is that it's got the smarts of consulting, the wisdom of advisory.
In reality, it's an average-looking, 12-dollar streetwalker walking amongst dozen others in a red-light district.