Choosing the right consulting firm for your company can be daunting. Pierce Washington founder John Carey discusses the differences between big consulting firms and boutique firms to help you make the best choice.

Choosing a consulting partner is a major decision for any organization. One of the first things to think about as you narrow down your search is whether to go with a large consulting firm or a smaller boutique firm. Is bigger always better, or are there distinct benefits of opting for a boutique firm over a larger global player? 

We sat down with Pierce Washington founder and CEO, John Carey, to discuss some of the differences of each and how to make the best decision for your company. John has the unique perspective of having started his consulting career at one of the largest system integration and architecture consulting companies in the industry, as well as founding Pierce Washington, a small, specialized firm.

Large Consulting vs Boutique Consulting Defined 

First, it’s helpful to understand what differentiates the larger systems integrator firms from a boutique firm: 

Boutique Consulting
    • Fewer employees (generally less than 500)
    • Highly specialized in a few specific areas and industries
    • Localized, working primarily within a specific country or region 
    • Often more affordable rates than larger firms 
Large Consulting 
    • Large organizations (often over 100,000 employees worldwide) 
    • Provide a wide range of services 
    • Global organizations with offices worldwide 
    • Higher rates

Why You Should Consider a Boutique Consulting Firm  

When it comes to choosing the best option for your business, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons. “A big firm is like a superstore,” John says. “They have the ability to do what you need and the resources to deliver. But with the size, there may come other problems that may inhibit a consultant’s ability to align with a customer.”

In many ways, a boutique consulting firm can provide a better experience and more successful outcome overall. Here are a few of the major benefits that come with partnering with a smaller firm:  

Specialization and Expertise 

Perhaps the biggest benefit of a boutique consulting firm is specialization in a specific business process, technology, or industry. While a bigger firm is more generalized, a boutique firm can offer consultants who are highly skilled and capable of implementing. 

“Our biggest benefit is specialization,” John says. “For example, we have done more CPQ implementations than any firm anywhere in the world. It’s a very specific business process, with very specific technologies, and when potential clients see some of the work we’ve done with other organizations, it gives them the confidence that we can help them be successful.” 

Boutique firms can specialize in a wide range of needs. Whether the firm acts as your CPQ partner, assists with ecommerce product configuration, or advises with another specific need, the specialization also means consultants or are aware of potential limitations and outcomes and can draw on their expertise to develop the most effective solutions. 

Key Takeaway: A boutique firm that is highly specialized can help ensure the client’s needs are met by providing a level of experience and knowledge that may not be available at a larger firm. 

Healthier Company Culture 

An organization’s culture can have a major impact on your overall experience in a number of different ways. 

A smaller-sized company tends to provide a better ability to maintain a consistent culture. Larger, global consulting firms tend to have higher turnover; the average tenure in the top consulting firms, for example, is just 2.4 years. Frequent employee turnover like this can be disruptive to clients. 

“When Pierce Washington was founded, we wanted to replicate the positive aspects we that big consulting firms provide and leave behind some of the negative aspects,” John explains. “In larger firms, there’s often a culture that leads to burnout among consultants, like requiring excessive travel and encouraging long hours.” 

A boutique agency with a positive internal culture that prioritizes taking care of its employees results in less employee turnover. “We’re very mindful of our culture,” John says. “If you look at our retention numbers in our 18-year history, we have many team members who have been here for at least 10 years. I believe it’s because we do our best to take care of them.” 

Key takeaway: A smaller, boutique firm with a healthier culture and better retention results in better client services. 

Greater Efficiency 

Corporate bureaucracy in larger organizations can limit a consultant’s decision-making ability, making it difficult to make timely changes. This can take place in different ways, such as an excessive number of procedures or a lengthy approval process that threatens deadlines.   

“Places that have a lot of layers and bureaucracy can create a frustrating experience for customers,” John says.  

At boutique firms like Pierce Washington, for example, the path to a decision is much shorter and goes through fewer people. This results in greater flexibility than a big company that moves slower and is less adaptable. 

Key Takeaway: A smaller consulting firm tends to be more agile, allowing decisions to be made and put into practice much faster. 

Customer Alignment and Attention

When working with a larger consulting firm, customers can sometimes feel lost in the shuffle or feel that the firm prioritizes larger clients. They may also take a “one size fits all” approach which may not fit your specific needs. 

Boutique firms are known for providing a client-first approach. Smaller firms are also not as siloed as larger firms, which often have layered organizational structures. 

Working with a smaller team typically means a more seamless chain of communication, which leads to greater interpersonal relationships and a greater understanding of your goals and needs. 

Key Takeaway: A smaller firm is better able to align to a customer’s needs. 

Lower Risk ERP Implementation 

ERP implementations tend to have a number of issues that can cause hang-ups, particularly as it relates to master data and product modeling. A partner who is expert in defining the end-to-end business process for quote to cash, like Pierce Washington, can solve some of these issues before they become problematic, including:

    • Master data. Future state SKU, products, and bundles are defined, as well as how you will market from a pricing perspective. 
    • Product modeling. This requires an end-to-end view of the process, including a clear understanding of the impacts to downstream processes, including contracts, fulfillment, billing, invoicing, and recognizing revenue.  
    • Training and process definition. Your organization can take our training and process definition for how to implement changes to your Q2C process, then use that template in other process areas of your business.

Key Takeaway: A boutique firm like Pierce Washington can not only help define the end-to-end business process for Q2C, but also implement a lower risk ERP system implementation

Final Thoughts 

Ultimately, boutique consulting can provide a level of specialization, expertise, and attention in ways a larger consulting firm cannot—and after working at one of the biggest consulting firms in the industry, John was able to see this firsthand and sums up one of the biggest advantages of working with a boutique agency: “Ultimately, as a smaller firm, we’re able to align to a customer’s needs.”