Helping clients select and appoint the right consultants is a tough relationship to insert yourself into, says Mick James,’s management consultancy columnist.

Cardea is more than a database of consultants

A few weeks ago I wrote about the launch of the Institute of Consultants National Register, and the challenges involved in creating a register which will be used and valued by clients and consultants alike. This prompted a response from Dr Christoph Treichler, managing partner of Cardea who for the past year now has been engaged in a very similar project but from a radically different starting point: this database will be run as a stand-alone commercial venture, generating revenues from both consultants and clients.

Cardea describe themselves as “experts in meta-consulting” helping clients select and appoint the right consultants across a broad range of disciplines and sectors. That’s a tough relationship to insert yourself into, particularly if you are not also taking on the role of programme manager or consortium lead, so Cardea’s 12-year track is impressive, as is the 93% success rate of assignments they have been involved in.

“We’ve always had a database but kept it internal,” says Treichler. “Last year we decided to make it public, but in an extended way.”

This involved putting “a lot of brain” into displaying proven, rather than just claimed consultancy capabilities:

“Consultancies have to come to us for an audit, which takes a month,” says Treichler. “It’s a very structured process which we do on a practice y practice basis.”

There’s no charge for this, but consultancies do pay to be on the portal and Cardea have already converted 60% of their existing database into paying customers.

“We are also in a very good position with clients as we have very strong relationships with buyers of consultancy services through our traditional business and we know the right people to talk to about how interesting the new service is and how they would use it,” says Treichler. “Now we are cold calling clients that we don’t already know.”

There are a range of business models for clients--one-off use is free and there are packages for more regular users. The online portal is intended to be complementary to Cardea’s bespoke work with clients: some buyers who are comfortable with purchasing consultancy will simply use the database, some will supplement it with bespoke services, while others will still require hands-on support from the word go.

Treichler hopes the new service will attract interest from central purchasing departments, who currently make up about 30% of Cardea’s client base:

“All purchasing departments are under tremendous pressure to save money and how better to save money than to enhance the value of your consultancy assignments and generate a real return, generate real value.” he says.

As entrepreneurs Cardea naturally have complete discretion over who they allow on the database and are adopting a best-of-breed approach:

“Our philosophy for our database is we don’t want to have a large number of consultancies,” says Treichler. “We have defined the industry and service skills we want to cover and by the end of 2015 we want to have 400 consultancies, and that will be the maximum we need. We want to have every sort of consultancy, global leaders as well as niche players--sometimes a niche player will be better than any large consultancy, sometimes you need a large team.”

Cardea aren’t the first to try to create a database of consultants, for profit or otherwise: what’s interesting is not just their commercial focus, but their view that this itself will be fundamental to the success of the project: “We have observed other platforms and initiatives and they all have failed,” says Treichler.”But we are not a media company or an online platform or a web company--we have a track record in the real business--we know what people need, we know about the buying process very well and we know about the business model. This helps us to build a new product on the web which will support us in our traditional business.”

All views expressed in this article are those of Mick James and do not necessarily reflect the views of and

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