Last night saw the first episode of Inside No 9, the latest vehicle for the black but wonderful humour of Steve Pemberton and Reece Sheersmith. Most of the action, thanks to a family tradition for playing a version of hide and seek called sardines, took place in a large wardrobe which gradually filled up with the members of a fine cast. Understandably, ‘Stinky John’ was not popular.

But back to the world of consultancy. Wardrobes remind me to heed one particular aspect of clients’ deeper and extended expectations of their advisers in marketing and professional services.

Clients tend to be very focused on what’s happening in their own businesses and, by extension, in the sectors in which they operate. They can often fail to look beyond their defined market and competitive set.  But valuable learning, and sometimes game-changing insight, can come from a strategy which has been successfully executed elsewhere, off the radar screen. And, with a few modifications, this strategy can be transferred and reapplied to a new challenge which is very much on the radar screen.

Independent consultants, whether individuals or agencies, are well placed to offer external referencing and benchmarking which cross boundaries, both sectoral and geographical. Typically our work comes from a variety of sources across the commercial, public and voluntary sectors.  To provide intelligence from seemingly unrelated fields is not always an instinctive part of the offer and in larger agencies delivering this kind of consolidated learning can expose internal weaknesses in knowledge management and territorial rivalries. However, if imaginative and flexible client-centric thinking can be enabled then leveraging the breadth of our experience can both add value to clients and be a highly cost effective tool for our own business development.

Let’s be clear, though: clients want and increasingly expect this wider input. They have little time for linear thinking or the difficulties of internal communications. They value the quality and consistency of the service they receive from the team on their business but they also want to benefit from the full range of knowledge and experience within the grasp of the individual, agency or firm.

When they open the door and enter the wardrobe, they seek access to the Narnia beyond. They don’t want to crash into the back of the wardrobe.