Can a boutique firm compete against BCG, Bain and McKinsey on a major study and secure the privilege of serving the client without competing on price?

Well, we have decided to do just that and report it here.

In all of the real strategy studies we have been conducting, like LAB, we have been working on a sole-source approach. That means the client knows us and wants to work with us so we never compete against the other firms. We thought it would be interesting to take on the major firms and report the process right here, and if we are successful, present the full study as a training program.

Yet, we are going to make it a little more intriguing. Here are the twists.

  1. We are going to look at a Chinese multi-national.
  2. FC partners have no working experience in mainland China so we start from the back foot.
  3. We will target the CPG sector in dairy, where we again have no experience.

I suppose the implied news is that we are entering China in a meaningful way this year with a team on the ground.

But it gets more interesting. The BCG senior partner leading the relationship with the potential client shares the following with me:

  1. We grew up in the same small town.
  2. We went to the same university.
  3. We studied in the same department and faculty.
  4. We studied under the same lecturers.
  5. We worked in the same office.
  6. We sat next to each other in the office.
  7. We were mentored by the same partners.
  8. We sought transfers to the same country, arriving 3 years apart, but with different firms since she briefly left for McKinsey.
  9. Since I did not leave the firm or take time away to do an MBA, I made partner before her
  10. She was one of the two most capable consultants I have ever worked with – really exceptional on every measure.
  11. We specialized in roughly the same sectors.

There is an additional twist.

  1. Clients typically approach us for advice, not the other way around.
  2. We will be approaching this client, which is always a tougher approach.
  3. We will thereafter need to convince them of our model of publishing the studies in its entirety. This may seem very unusual to them.

We do however, have some benefits on our side.

  1. The chief-of-staff to the CFO is an McKinsey consultant and former FC client. He is making the introduction and he is the person who first approached us about this.
  2. So, this is not a blind effort as such.
  3. We have a very strong emerging markets capability.

Logic dictates we should not be very successful in this effort. We should actually fail quite handsomely. We probably have a 5% probability of success. I can live with those odds.

For a long time, subscribers have asked us how to write proposals to secure major studies like LAB. Well, we are going to show you by giving it our best effort here. If it fails, we still have much to report back. If it succeeds, well, then we have a major new study to publish.

You can read more about the proposed study here and subscribe for updates.

If you like this idea, please comment below. We would be keen to know your thoughts.

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15 responses to Can a boutique beat BCG, McKinsey and Bain?

  1. Thanks Amish. I will make sure to cover those points.

  2. Hi Michael,

    Truly amazing how you succeeded even when the chances were 5% . Looking forward to the study. While you cover the actual study, I would appreciate if the series also covers the steps FC followed to enter a new sector and a geography where you had no prior experience. Consultants often encounter these situations and have to convince clients that our skills acquired in other projects are applicable to their situation even when it is not a perfect match. So your guidance on this will be very helpful. I realize that some of it will be FC differentiators which cannot be shared but I am hoping there will be some lessons that we can draw.


  3. Hi Amish,

    It was successful and is one of the training program we have scheduled to release.


  4. Hi Michael,

    It’s been a while since this article was published. I am curious to know how this went.


  5. Hi Sophia,

    I think we are too small to threaten anyone. We are also not a consulting firm so we operate in a very different space.

    However, given the number of McKinsey alums who produce our material and run our studies, there is a strong link.


  6. Hi Michael,
    Thanks for the update.

    That’s very interesting about McKinsey. It must be comforting for you and FC that McKinsey is reading everything you publish; seems like they are threatened by FC. 🙂


  7. Hi Sophia,

    This push into China is a year-long effort so we will post updates throughout the year as we make this effort. It is not an initiative that will start and end in 1 or 2 months.

    We are also delaying the posts since BCG and McKinsey partners read this blog and we sometimes delay posting sensitive information especially in this case where we are working towards the same goal. We know this because the 4th largest source of traffic for this website in some months is the McKinsey internal server. Therefore, we sometimes post things after the fact.

    Thanks for the link notice. We will fix it immediately.


  8. Also Michael, when I visit the link it receive SSL errors and the page doesn’t display correctly.

  9. Hi Michael,
    Are there any updates on this? It will be very interesting to see your approach and success.


  10. Thanks Mahmoud.

  11. Yes, you and your firm can undoubtedly do it, Michael. Wish you all the best of luck in all of your future endeavors. Looking forward to hearing good news about such a new study soon. Thanks.


  12. Thanks William

  13. As a Chinese, I am very excited that Firmsconsutling is going into the China market and really look forward to the study!

  14. Thanks Aylwin,

    We will post more as we continue with the planning, proposal, negotiations etc., and finally load the full study.


  15. Nice introduction to the study. This will be interesting. Look forward to this study.

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