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The Boutique Search Firm Advantage

Clients often ask search firms how they are different from others.  There are many angles from which to view a given firm’s differentiation - geographic focus, industry sector specialization, and functional focus, to name a few.  However, one of the brightest comparisons can be made between the size of the firm, and the impact size has on the level of service, quality, reach, and methodology a firm deploys on behalf of their clients.  When prospective clients try to draw comparisons between large, globally branded firms and smaller boutiques, some differences are obvious.  Other differences can be more subtle.  Below is a compilation of some of these differences between large firms and boutiques.

Benefits of using a boutique executive search firm:

  • When working with a boutique firm you can be assured the principal search partner/ consultant you engage to conduct your search will remain intimately involved in its execution and will be personally accountable for its successful completion. All too often with large firms, the execution of searches are relegated to junior members of the team, in what’s referred to in the industry as “leverage.”  Boutique firm search partners have spent a career as character assessors, and hiring a boutique firm ensures a search process that focuses the partner’s expertise on not just winning the search, but interviewing and assessing the candidates recruited for it.
  • Large firms often have an ‘off-limits’ list which contains those companies that they cannot recruit from because they are current or recent clients. Boutique firms typically have few, if any, ‘off-limits’ or client conflict situations.
  • Larger firms have far greater overhead which ultimately is translated into focusing their efforts on the assignments with the largest fees, often working less diligently on those smaller client company searches with lower fees and lower probability of repeat business.
  • In boutique firms, consultants take on less of a search load.  This often results in faster search completions. The average presentation of qualified candidates generally happens within four to eight weeks, with completion of a successful search typically 30 days faster.
  • Many boutique firms have made investments to become members of domestic and/or international executive search alliances that leverage partners’ geographic specialization, neutralizing one of the perceived competitive advantages of larger firms and the perceived “reach” those larger firms have into specific geographic pools of talent. 
  • Cost of client abandonment for boutique firms is much higher than for large firms. Boutiques don't have the big marketing engine, and rely more heavily on referrals.
  • Boutique firms focus more on original research to supplement their pre-existing database, versus larger firms that often rely heavily on their internal database for candidate targeting and outreach.  
  • More often, boutique firms have a sole focus on executive search.  Larger firms have committed to diversification of service offerings, starting up competing and often conflicting ancillary offerings (assessment, onboarding, leadership development, succession planning, etc.).
  • When a large firm’s Consultant/Partner represents that they have significant experience in a given industry and/or functional area, only a very small portion of it may have been done by that Consultant.  Almost no original research is conducted.  The in-house database is used almost exclusively for every search. The result is that the quality of their searches, in most cases, is probably not better, and often inferior, to that of the small firm.

The Nuances Can Be Staggering

We look forward to discussing the boutique advantages with you.