Management teams are selected, promoted and rewarded for running, with minimum supervision, the affairs of their company.  For most of these tasks they neither need nor want outside assistance.

Some areas are so specialised (legal) or regulated (public audit) that outside help is normally appropriate.  Other areas (IT, total quality, JiT, logistics, tax, recruiting etc.) are either specialised, or of sufficiently peaky demand to make it not worthwhile to maintain permanent in-house capability.  In addition, CEO's may feel that a particular area of their business is not performing up to a competitive standard, and outside help is needed to make that standard apply.

These are the areas of general management consultancy.  They cover the great majority of consulting project help that most firms need.  For these, in-depth experience of what other leading competitors are doing (i.e. Best Demonstrated Practice) is an invaluable guide-line; so most general management consultancy practices are organised along industry lines.

Occasionally, the whole basis of competition in an industry changes.  This may be the result of changes in technology, in customer needs, or in legislation, or of the entry or combination of new types of competitors.  When this happens, historic industry experience loses its value  -  or becomes a handicap.  The new bases of competition need to be worked out from first principles.

This is the realm of the strategy consultant.  He/she is a generalist, applying the generic laws of production, distribution and commercial competition to foresee what characteristics will be needed for competitive success. This requires a high level of training and experience in strategy, and a set of structured tools and approaches to break the analysis down into its elements, so that the issues to resolve become clearer, and a structure to deal with them emerges.

This all means that strategy is not cheap.  It implies a clear distinction between strategy and general/operational consulting.  For the problems of regular trade and competition, strategy consulting brings limited additional value and is expensive and inappropriate.  For problems of unprecedented change, it is essential.