Traditional vs. Specialized Consulting: What’s the Difference?

Consultants are traditionally hired by a company when there is an event that surpasses the talent being retained or employed by the company. These sorts of events can run the gamut from exciting growth opportunities and manufacturing productivity to crisis management and restructuring. Regardless of what the nature of the event is, consultants are often looked to as SMEs and competent enough to provide a playbook to deal with the future.  

There are essentially two distinct types of consultancies within operations consulting: traditional consultants and specialized consultants. Unfortunately, many companies do not realize which they have hired until after the fact which can be damaging in the long run. Traditional consulting firms do have their place within consulting markets. However, when companies need specific experience for specific circumstances, the best option often lies with the specialist. 

Many consultants have earned themselves the ire of an entire company before they are even introduced. However, this is often the fault of the hiring team who lack awareness of the differences between specialized consultants and traditional consultants. This lack of information is often like hiring a hammer to do a screwdriver’s job; it is not that the hammer doesn’t work on a nail-shaped problem, it is just the wrong tool for a screw. This scenario plays itself over and over again when traditional consultants are hired to the job of a specialized consultant. When the consultant can prove they’re the right tool for the job, company sentiments can change on a dime. 

Traditional consulting

Traditional consultants are often parts of large firms that work across any number of different industries. As the name suggests, they do not specialize in any particular industry, role, or area of operations. For general problems, like HR or accounting, traditional firms may be an excellent option. Their breadth of experience can often be widely applicable to many common problems. However, when specific problems within niche industries appear, a specialist firm’s involvement may be required. 

specalized consulting

Specialized consultants, especially within manufacturing, can be an excellent option for any business that is faced with a difficult decision or a “sink-or-swim” growth opportunity. Specialized consultants have a bevy of hands-on industry experience to bring to the table. Additionally, specialized consultants often have the professional maturity to successfully navigate difficult situations. Many are frequently unwelcome when initially brought on board so having a specialized consultant who can navigate difficult situations may mean the difference between success and failure. 

Experience First, Then Advice 

One of the main things that separate specialized consultants from traditional consultants is the order in which they acquire their expertise. Within operations and manufacturing, specialized consultants will frequently have a decade or two of hands-on industry experience. Applied to manufacturing and operations consulting, many will have worked within manufacturing plants for large suppliers or OEMs and perhaps have even held roles as upper management. Essentially these professionals acquire their specialized jobs because of excellence in their previous line of work. They’ve been in difficult positions before, know how to lead, and are able to pick out problem areas from day one.   

Traditional consultants, on the other hand, often work with companies that span several different verticals. One project may be with a financial institution, and another may be with a hospital system. There are places where breadth of experience is as valuable as depth, however solving supply chain issues, relocating plants, managing crises, and more, likely requires specialized attention. 

Industry Specialization 

Specialized consultants have deep excellence within a relatively narrow corridor of competencies, roles, and operations. When a company is dealing with a specific problem like a breakdown of a supply chain, issues on the production floor, or an inventory crisis, a specialized consultant is the sure answer. It is likely that a specialized consultant has solved this sort of problem several dozen times in the past and knows exactly what questions to ask to find the right answers. Industry specialization or operational specialization is crucial when dealing with specific problems.  

Real Solutions 

Because of the industry knowledge that a specialized consultant possesses, he or she is often able to start work on day one. Industry experts know how things work, they speak the language, and can understand the difficulties or opportunities that a business is facing. Traditional consultants may need several weeks or even months before they can even start suggesting solutions. Even then, there is no guarantee that these solutions will be uniquely insightful rather than boilerplate.  

Personal Skills 

One thing that companies must consider before hiring a consultant is the “gray hair” factor. Traditional consultants are often recent college graduates looking for experience and a stable career. There is nothing wrong with this, however businesses that have millions or billions of dollars on the line should evaluate the experience of the people they will be working with. Specialized consultants, because of their professional and industry experience, have already proven themselves competent. They often have soft skills, leadership skills, and interpersonal skills that make them ideal for difficult situations. Specialized consultants know how to handle themselves, managers, and floor workers to create a cohesive team that can work towards a common goal. 

Part of a Larger Firm with A Real Playbook 

Finally, specialized consultancies often have a team of highly skilled professionals that are sub-specialized in different areas of operations. Depending on the size and scope of the project, there may be a team of consultants working on a given project to correctly analyze problems and provide actionable solutions. Specialized consultants, given their professional history, are often able to step in and fill managerial holes within a company, especially if it’s a role they previously occupied. Traditional consultants, on the other hand, may have more of a laissez faire approach where solutions are offered, but the responsibility of implementation is left to the hiring company. This can frequently be the case when their former employment experience is mismatched with the current project. 


Given the world’s current environment, many companies are experiencing novel challenges and opportunities that require specialized attention. Hiring a specialized consultant like Seraph is one of the best actions your company can take to help be successful in this new manufacturing environment. Thanks to our team of specialized operational consultants, Seraph can come alongside a new company and act as a support structure from day one. Our advisors are former management at many suppliers and OEMs and are experts at creating efficient and resilient processes. Contact us today to schedule a discovery call or see our case studies for more information.

December 6, 2022

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