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Self-Diagnostic to Improve the Management of Your Consulting Spend

Do you currently employ consultants on a regular basis? Perhaps you consider consultants a negligible part of your budget and overall business strategy—there for small, niche projects when you need them and gone as soon as that business is concluded. However, from our experience, consulting spend can represent millions of dollars for companies, and if not properly managed (or managed at all), you’ll miss out on the strategic opportunities a consultant can provide.

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The Consulting Procurement Process Doesn’t Stop With the Order

When does procurement turn into a partnership? The easy answer is that as soon as the order is placed, procurement is over and done with. But in reality, the procurement process doesn’t stop with the order. To be successful, it should be a long-term process that goes beyond the moment the contract is signed.
Too many companies looking to work with consultants underestimate the complex procurement system. On the surface, it seems like a straightforward process that ends with the order. But consulting is not that straightforward; simply signing a contract and assuming everything will work out exactly as specified neglects the versatility of consulting, and intellectual services in general.
Ultimately, both sides hope to develop a mutually-beneficial professional relationship. Regarding procurement, as a long-term process improves communication, better aligns the scope of the relationship, and provides the necessary insights to achieve continuous improvement and productive partnership. Consider these 5 steps to a successful procurement process:
1) After the Proposal
Don’t disengage with consultants you did not select for mutual business. Instead, explain why you choose to go in a different direction, giving honest feedback about the strengths and weaknesses of their proposal and how it could have better aligned with your expectations.
For you, this step requires only a little effort. But for the consultants you didn’t select, you provide invaluable insights about your expectations, along with their ability to compete for proposals and opportunities like yours in the future.
Consultants who are willing to listen will be able to use these lessons to better compete for similar opportunities in the future. And who knows? Perhaps you will be in need of a consultant again in the future, so nurturing relationships with a range of consultants can be beneficial for both sides.

Source Consultants

However, from our experience, consulting spend can represent millions of dollars for companies, and if not properly managed (or managed at all), you’ll miss out on the strategic opportunities a consultant can provide.
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2) Change Management
No matter how hard you try, establishing and maintaining a relationship with consultants in executing a project will not be a linear process. During the course of the project, a number of changes will take place that you didn’t account for during the proposal or contract. Some of these changes may include:

Scope changes. New tasks may be added as a need becomes clear, or deliverables that turn out to be impossible or difficult to reach may be dropped.
Staffing changes. Organizations are in constant flux, and both sides may have to account for turnover that requires adjustment and additional training.
Timeline changes. Everything before the project starts is an estimate; you may have to adjust the pace as the true duration of the project comes into view.
Unforeseen events. Budget changes, project merges, project freezes, or any other events may occur that affect the execution of the project.

Change management is necessary to ensure that these changes do not derail the project. By keeping an active log of all changes as they occur, you can adjust the commercial conditions in due time and before they become dangerous.
3) Mid-Project Assessment
As early as possible, set yourself and your consultants a benchmark toward the middle of the project. This is the perfect time to review the initial objectives and get back on track toward accomplishing them on time.

As you get into the details of any project, it’s easy to get carried away with minutia that ultimately won’t affect the overall success. A Mid-Project Assessment enables you and your team to ensure that these inevitable tangents don’t endanger the timeline and success of the larger project.
The Mid-Project Assessment should be a major event for everyone involved. Keep it separate from regular operational project reviews, which should happen in smaller circles and on a regular basis.
4) Project Closure
Once the project has drawn to an end, it’s time for a thorough evaluation. Now it’s time to compare your end results with your initial goals, which enables you to understand and begin to prepare the adjustments that are still necessary to reach your ultimate goal.
At this time, you can also evaluate the relationship with your consultants, and whether they delivered on the initial promise. Evaluate your provider using dimensions such as commercial quality, delivery quality, posture, talent & expertise, and ROI as it relates to the project.
5) Mutual Continuous Improvement
Nobody is perfect, and no project or professional relationship will be flawless. The project closure is an opportunity for you to give feedback to your project suppliers about your thoughts on the results, relationship dynamic, and any other dimensions you covered in your project closure review above.
Giving feedback enables your consultants to improve their business by gaining a clearer understanding of client expectations and identifying potential blind spots. Constructive feedback will also uncover relationship difficulties that may be improved on a future partnership with you or other clients.
You can take advantage of the same intelligence because it better enables you to understand the consultant journey through your project. As a result, you will improve supplier competitiveness, and ultimately increase the potential for positive outcomes. Improving your procurement process, you will be able to contribute to intelligence gathering about the market and its segments.
Finally, you can benefit from feedback about the project as much as your consultant. Hearing from your partner about the relationship and its successes and failures allows you to uncover what you can do better in the future, ultimately helping you work your way toward better project implementation. Simply asking for feedback will position you as being committed to good practices, openness, and transparency.
At its core, consulting should be based on a mutually beneficial partnership. If you treat procurement as a linear process that ends the moment the contract ink is dry, you probably will have trouble getting the best possible results out of that partnership. But by treating the relationship as dynamic and flexible throughout the project, you and your consultants will both benefit and improve their business practices as a result.

Connect with other Consulting Buyer to step up your game

Among many professionals, the temptation to work alone, without the support of peers, is high. Innovative business people understand the need for connections with peers, with consultants, with journalists, and with the public at large. Great professionals need to build a network of peers, learn from experience of others, reach collective critical mass, get sparring partners, cherry pick best practices, and stay current on the latest trends.
The situation of procurement professionals and particularly the one of those in charge of procuring consulting services falls into this category. Procuring consulting services is quite different from procuring goods. Consulting is a complex industry often described as a matrix of capabilities and industries. Just add a layer a hard and soft skills. A zest of fee structure. And you have got yourself in the shoes of many Consulting Procurement leaders. They need to connect with peers to be able to exchange about their daily challenges with people who can actually understand what they are facing.

Source Consultants

The easiest solution is to look into your pool of existing providers, and choose pick from them. However, the best consultant for one project is not necessary the best for the next one.

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1. Build a Network of Peers
Even though Companies can have a significant budget for Consulting Projects, most Consulting Procurement executives handle a limited number of project in relative isolation.  Many of them have been trained with core-business procurement, or indirect procurement. So, when facing consulting projects, they are very tempted to reinvent the wheel each time, or to just apply the sound principles that they have learned in their previous jobs. Just like this procurement leader, working in a railway company, who insisted in adding a 10-year guarantee clause in a consulting agreement, “because that is the company policy”.
Rather than just seeking consulting procurement information through only books and online material, find ways to connect with peers in your industry. Trade shows, a community of practice, professional organizations, and firms who specialize in networking consultants with clients are all important tools to connect with peers.
2. Learn from the experience of others
Exchanges with peers from diverse backgrounds, culture and activities give professionals the ability to discover new perspectives on consulting procurement, and learn about cases that you haven’t face yet. Increasing your surface of exchange will increase your exposure to the variety of situations faced by your peers.

And who knows. Someone in your network may have faced the same challenge…
This increased surface area multiplies the opportunities for growing as procurement leader by learning from practical cases, sharing challenges and identifying best practices. You can learn from peers, academics, journalists, as well as consultants. This community of learning empowers you to not only increase learning, but facilitates the reach of critical mass.
3. Reach Critical Mass Collectively
Many rare skills, such as consulting procurement, are acquired and maintained on the field through facing again and again the same issues. As a business professional, your services are limited by your ability to access enough information to identify trends and best practices in your field. It is hard to reach that critical mass of information to allows you to master your skill.
With more peers around the table, you accelerate the building process and guarantee that you are able to reach that critical mass collectively. Through your peers, you each gain momentum and reach the critical mass necessary to succeed faster.
4. Get Yourself Sparring Partners
Not only does collaboration increase learning about specific situations and projects, it helps you improve your internal processes at a faster rate as well. Two heads are better than one, and two sets of hands go faster. Although it feels risky for business leaders to open themselves up to even one peer, let alone a network of peers, the open source revolution in software and computing shows the power of collaboration in a field which was driven by secrets and control for many years.
Sharing about Consulting Procurement does not mean you risk to lose your competitive advantage or breach confidentiality, because you can just decide what you share. Good networking merely takes others’ work and integrates it with your own business so that everyone is empowered to grow more. Networking defines relationships based upon the level of connectedness you have with your peers: the more connected you become, the more meaningful the interactions become.
5. Cherry Pick best practices
A key part of building a network of peers and increasing your collaborative processes is to be able to identify the best practices as a group. Before integrating in your own processes, think about how it would fit with your strategy, your organization and your existing policies and what impact it would have on other processes.
Let’s say you have heard that Wenowatwedoo, a leader in your industry, is using independent consultants for their needs for marketing excellence. You immediately think you should do the same. But what you don’t know is that Wenowatwedoo has a dedicated team in charge of Marketing Excellence made of former consultants. So for that specific needs, they merely need arms and legs to complement their team, where your company would need the whole team of marketing excellence. Excellent best practice, but not for you.
Cherry picking on what consulting other companies have used might be the most difficult exercise as it requires a fit with your context and strategy but there are many other process elements that can garner tremendous value without presenting the same challenge. But on managing confidentiality, scoping projects, sourcing, selecting consultants, negotiating fees, using creative fee structures or measuring consultants’ performance, there are many levers that can help you to professionalize your own practices.
6. Stay current on the latest trends
Your needs for consulting are changing every year to adapt to new strategic context, to new opportunities opened by new technologies, etc. You have to stay current on the latest trend and be connected with academics and thought leaders. This will give you the ability to spots threats and opportunities early on, and anticipate the impact on your field.
Besides, keeping up-to-date with your industry is key for building expert power and earn the trust and respect of the other executives in your company.
Connecting with peers is part of your development as a professional, it will help you in getting better at your job, become the go-to partner for the executives of your company, and provide you with sparring partners to call when you are facing a tough challenge. It will give you the keys to enable deliver quality procurement services for your business, to get more value of your consulting spend and to create more value for your company. On a personal level, you will have the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with your peers.
So now the question is … what are you waiting for?

Activate the right levers to meet your financial targets

You made your resolutions for 2018 on REBITDA and Cash, but here’s Q2 and your leadership team is starting to look at their mid-year commitments with furrowed brow. It might feel like déjà vu but the fact is they’re approaching the task with a limited set of tools. Sure, focus on innovation and increasing your customer base, and address short-term targets with new value sources that won’t compromise on the future. At the same time, you can use a few more levers in your tool belt, such as these ideas to get back on track to meet target:

Manage your Consulting Spend

Procuring consulting services is quite different from procuring goods. Consulting is a complex industry often described as a matrix of capabilities and industries.

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Buy Better on Direct Costs
When you optimize procurement costs, you have a fast lever to impact your PNL and Cash lines. Evaluate supply and demand on each category and break down the spend by SKUs. Identify some quick wins and assess your bargaining power. Choose the negotiations you’re confident in winning. There must be a few that were not on your plate already

Renegotiate contracts based on the supply and demand balance and market volatility (when your supply is greater than the demand, you don’t necessarily want to lock yourself in with a long-term contract unless you get extremely competitive conditions).
Renegotiate the tail spend – those contracts you almost never renegotiate.
Bring in second-source suppliers to reduce your risk, increase your bargaining power, and keep your incumbent reasonable.

Example: In the chemical industry, even long-term contracts often include a “meet or release” clause that allows a company to use different suppliers if the offer isn’t competitive. Time to check and see how competitive that old contract is today.
Leverage Pricing
Pricing is usually your second-fastest lever. Simple math shows pricing is often the biggest profit driver in the Price-Cost-Volume equation. If you have to choose one of these three, go for pricing whenever you can as long as you’ve got low margins. With high margins, go for volume.

Differentiated Products: You’ve got the bargaining power – assess the willingness to pay to capture the value you bring to your customers without pushing them to find alternatives or alienating them.
Commodities: Depending on supply and demand, your bargaining power can evolve considerably – and pricing must follow. Devise a smart price-volume pricing strategy and you can maximize your profits while optimizing your assets at the same time.
Services: Are you pricing for the level of service you provide? Do you have advanced inventory? 24/7 reactivity and customer support? Auto-refill leveraging the internet of things? Teams on site supporting the operations? …. maybe there are services you could monetize by implementing a differentiated service offering.

For example, you can create a simple chart to analyze the level of unit margin and yearly volumes of each product-customer couple. This will help you identify outliers benefiting from much better conditions than other customers for historical reasons. Those customers are good candidates for a price or volume adjustment.
Buy Better on Indirect Costs
Optimizing indirect costs is an evergreen topic. Many companies have already regrouped their indirect procurement to better manage expenses. Typical levers are:

Regroup and manage decentralized expenses such as insurance, travel, consulting as a category
Freeze external expenses for items that can be delayed or produced in-house.
Implement more stringent validation rules for travel to ensure you leverage all of those conferencing and video conferencing tools you already own.
Bring in niche experts to optimize overlooked categories like office supplies, printer leases, car rentals, etc.

Here’s a great example: Recently while meeting with a large bank with almost $200M in consulting expenses per year, we learned that Procurement wasn’t involved in their purchasing process. Imagine for a moment what that would mean. How much difference would it make in terms of regrouping expenses, strategizing the procurement, and negotiating with the different providers in competition for key projects? Just a 20% savings could represent 0.2% directly on gross margin. That’s $40M to this company. Are you interested in saving $40M? Most companies would say yes.
Play on Cash
Is cash king? Of course it is. Cash is also fuel – without it your company can only go so far. Here are tips for handling your cash better:

Delay payments for big investments – CAPEX first.
Delay hiring for a few months. This can make a big difference in your year.
Play on payment terms with your supplies. This means renegotiating longer payment terms or supplier financing programs with banks.
Chase down customer payments. You might even pull in a company that specializes in recovering aged receivables.

A perfect example: Following the pressure from retailers, CPG Companies negotiate longer payment terms with their suppliers every year. One fragrance company saw its working capital shoot through the roof, increasing by more than 30% by doing this. The next logical step was to negotiate the same conditions with their own suppliers but it took them two years to react.
Optimize Assets
Traditionally, companies apply the principle of Economics of Scale (produce more for new markets and give discounts for additional marginal volumes), and Scope (diversify your assets’ production and markets) to optimize their assets and generate efficiencies. Take moment to look outside the box and beyond your own back door. Some strategic partnerships can prove to be extremely interesting:

Optimize your asset utilization by partnering with companies that are evolving in the same market. Propose more competitive costs than their own (economies of scale with a competitor).
Develop common platforms on non-strategic parts to reduce your engineering costs and those of your suppliers.
Optimize your asset utilization by partnering with companies that are evolving into different markets (economies of scope with another company)

For example, a defense company partnered with an automotive company to fill up their production pipeline during low-activity periods. By producing parts for the automotive company, the defense company covered their fixed costs. This helped the automotive company increase production without investing in new assets. They also benefited from higher-quality work since defense quality management is extremely rigorous. Nor did they have to share their opportunities and knowledge with potential competitors.
Get Back on Track
Whether you want to recover from a low first quarter or create a buffer for future headwinds, there are some excellent levers here for you to activate. Remember that time is of the essence – don’t hold off on action until Q3 rolls around. To maximize the impact on the current year, dedicate internal resources now and considering bringing in external resources or consultants.

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Leverage Management Consulting to boost the Performance of your Business

The world of consulting has been seen as out of reach for small to midsize businesses for far too long. In the past, only large corporations had the resources to find, vet, and pay for consultants, giving them a distinct competitive edge over smaller companies in their industry.
However, with advancements in technology and communication changing the way we all work, the consulting industry has suddenly opened up to businesses of all sizes and stages of development. Large players in search of growth pockets have turned to SMEs, while spin-offs focus on medium-sized businesses.
Companies and nonprofit organizations that would never have been able to find or afford the right consultants in the past, now have the opportunity to get world-class consulting services for an affordable price.

Use Consulting Strategically

Nothing says brilliant execution like a Request for Proposals (RFP) that sings to its potential suppliers or partners.
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Naturally, when new opportunities and tools become available, there’s a learning curve that goes along with that.
I was recently speaking with the CFO of a small business from the Food Manufacturing Industry. He confessed he had never used management consultants, and asked for some more information about what they could bring to the table.
So, how do you find the right consultant? How do you know if they can actually do what they say they can? What are the real benefits of using a consultant?
This is a very common conversation that we, at Consulting Quest, have with friends, colleagues, and clients every single day. So, we thought we’d answer some of the most common questions we hear and provide you with the “why,” “where,” and “how” of leveraging consultants to enhance your business’s performance.
Why
There’s a famous story of a manager in the Toyota corporation briefing an executive on how well the company is doing. Profits are up, customer satisfaction is up, production is up, sales are up, and costs are down. From the manager’s perspective, nothing could be better.
After the manager’s gleaming report on the state of the company, the executive asked: “where are the problems?” Shocked, the manager replied, “There are no problems.” The executive simply shook his head and said, “No problems is a problem.”

Sometimes, you can’t read the label when you’re inside the jar. Meaning, it can be hard to be unbiased and objective about your business, while also being emotionally and financially invested in the company.
Hiring a consultant allows your business to get objective, unbiased, third-party expertise that can not only offer solutions to problems you know exist, but also root out and solve problems that you didn’t even know you had. A consultant can act as a sparring partner, of sorts, who can bounce ideas back and forth with you and help you identify areas where you can improve.
Consultants also fill the skill and knowledge gaps that may exist in your current workforce, diagnose the problems in your organization others can miss, and help you get through special projects and periods of increased demand with ease. They can play the “bad guy” in tough situations where you’d prefer not to involve your regular staff, help you brand your business, or articulate and convey important messages. Essentially, a consultant can be there to support your business in whatever way necessary.
The role of a consultant is simple: help your business achieve a goal as effectively and efficiently as possible, while helping you, if necessary, with your management or shareholders in the process.
Where
The beauty of using consultants is that you can bring someone on board that has the exact expertise you need, at the exact moment you need it.
Because of this, consultants can be used in any area of your business that needs help or attention (or they can be used to locate which areas of your business need help and attention).
Consultants can be particularly useful in the top levels of organizations, when executives may be looking for guidance on strategic planning, resource allocation, culture, leadership development, or other areas that have widespread impact throughout the organization. In these kinds of situations, consultants can be seen as coaches or advisers that help businesses make big decisions and implement those decisions afterwards.
Similarly, consultants can be a great source of guidance during special projects or demands that your business’s core staff doesn’t have the experience or manpower to handle. These could be anything from ensuring compliance with new regulations, handling a special request from a top client, or deploying new technologies throughout your organization.
Consultants can also be assets to your company’s top line, helping to drive sales and profits through new strategies. For example, if you have a major marketing campaign on the horizon and want to be sure you have the best possible team assigned to the task, hiring a consultant may give you that additional competitive edge you need. With an outside perspective, a consultant can bring fresh ideas to the table that can increase marketing reach, improve audience engagement, and drive greater sales.
If inefficiency and soaring costs are plaguing your business, a consultant can come in to help you streamline those parts of your business. A consultant can provide expertise that allows them to better see areas within your business that could be made more efficient, or identify expenditures that could be reduced or eliminated altogether. Whether it be a breakdown in your production process, a lack of communication and cooperation between your team members, or a product or service that is eating away at your operating budget, a consultant will help you pinpoint, and then fix, those problem areas, in order to reduce costs and maximize efficiency.
Regardless of what your business’s needs are, the size of your organization, or the challenges that your face, there’s a consultant out there who can help.
How
So, you’re ready to get a consultant to come in and help you re-vamp your business. Now, where do you go to find the consultants, evaluate their skills and expertise, research their past performance, and negotiate their rates?
Those are great questions. In the past, you would have had to know someone who knew someone who used a consultant that could give you their contact information, or you had to put out a call for a consultant and hope that someone with the right skills responded.
However, in an age where you can look up reviews and shop online for anything from boats to goats, houses to airplanes, it only makes sense that you should be able to go online to find the right consultant for your needs.
Ultimately, justifying the hire of a new consultant can be difficult if you don’t know what exactly it is they can offer your business. But, with the right tools and the right people behind you, leveraging consultants to improve your business’s performance can be a seamless experience. Many companies have already dared to take the leap. Why not you?

Leverage consulting to accelerate the execution of your Strategy

Having emerged in the 1930s and grown rapidly since the 1960s, strategy consulting has progressively shifted its focus from defining strategy to executing it.  As a result, strategy consulting has become increasingly specialized at the crossroads of function and industry.
Companies, constrained by limited operations budgets (where consulting expenses are allocated), must carefully prioritize and efficiently organize their projects, which may include external consulting services.  As they do so, successful companies apply a sound financial management principle: hiring external consultants has to bring more value than leading the project internally.

Use Consulting Strategically

Attention executives: if you are considering outsourcing a project to a consulting firm, (…), we have great news—there’s a new way to view the value of the right consultant.

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Considerations when hiring consultants:

Assigning an independent external task force can bring focus, speed, and pressure to the table, which is sometimes enough for the success of a project. Moreover, because the leaders of internal projects are often high-potentials on the leadership fast track they often find it difficult to push boundaries and confront the more established leaders and influencers who hold the key to their careers.
External consultants also offer other advantages.  Because they are familiar with the problem they can often solve it more efficiently and at less cost than internal resources. They can also make up for a lack of internal resources and for a lack of flexibility that prevents internal personnel from being diverted from their regular jobs.
Companies may also want to use consultants for larger purposes than the project itself.  These could include training of executives on new skills, introducing external change agents, learning best practices in the industry or in a capability, exposing the organization to a fresh perspective, or relying on the stamp of a recognized consulting brand to reassure board members or investors.

But even under those conditions, hiring external consultants is not always the best solution. For example, consulting services that meet your needs may not be available in your industry or your country. 

Confidentiality can also act as a restraint on looking for external help who may ask for sensitive operating or other data for purposes of benchmarking your company’s performance
On the other hand, leading an internal project can be tricky. The internal team may be unaware of the latest trends in the industry or capability.  They may waste time reinventing already well established improvement methodologies, resulting in longer projects and greater overall costs. Again, the fact that the team members are part of the company can make it difficult to disrupt the established order.
How to crack the make or buy dilemma?
Most companies and their procurement function work to optimize their external spend and their pool of suppliers in order to better support the overall strategy. They have developed methods for answering a variety of difficult questions:  What are the key activities that can be outsourced?  What does the pool of potential suppliers look like?  How mature is the market for suppliers?  What providers are appropriate for us?  Is it worth it to outsource a particular activity for the long term?
The same questions apply to consulting procurement.  Unfortunately, most companies have neither the experience nor the methods for answering them.  Yet, today, all leaders throughout an organization, from the head of procurement to senior executives responsible for signing off on major consulting projects, are expected to align their activities with the overall strategy of the enterprise.  But when it comes to making decisions about consultants, they fall back on word of mouth, on perceptions of the reputations of various providers, and on the sometimes outsized claims of the consultants themselves.  Or they take the line of least resistance and simply hire the consultants they have used in the past, regardless of whether those consultants are the most appropriate for a particular project or for furthering the larger strategy of the company.  These leaders have no reliable way to determine whether a particular consultant precisely meets the company’s needs, no way to gauge a consultant’s likely level of performance, and no benchmarks against which to compare providers.  And until they avail themselves of an independent, credible means of assessing providers and matching them to their company’s needs, they are likely to lag their competitors who have.
Some companies have responded to what is essentially a ‘make-or-buy’ dilemma by centralizing consulting procurement.  The aim is to have a more global vision of consulting efforts, better understanding of the costs, and more powerful levers for negotiating volume discounts and creating synergies across functions and business units. Recognizing that consulting is an accelerator of change, these companies make consulting management the responsibility of the head of strategy or a transformation leader. But they still struggle with a stubborn fact.  The increasing need for highly specialized consulting makes it far more difficult for buyers to have experienced the volume of consulting projects that would enable them to develop portfolios of reliable and high-performing consulting providers. By working with companies specialized in this field, those companies will be able to analyze their consulting spend, refresh their make or buy strategy, identify robust suppliers and areas where new blood is needed. In a way they will be able to develop a consulting strategy for their strategy consulting.

How to choose between Generalist or Specialist Consultants?

Executives often wonder how to approach the decision to hire a consultant who specializes in one aspect of their industry, or a consultant who has proven results in most areas, but who doesn’t have any specific niche experience. After all, the population of consultants has exponentially increased in response to corporate belt-tightening in the area of permanent staffing.
If you’re looking for the right consultant, there are several factors that will help you decide whether a specialist or a generalist is right for your needs. First of those considerations are the pros of both types. But there are also some important decisions you’ll need to make before you start searching.

Source Consultants

So, if you’re wondering how to find a consultant who can provide the outcome you’re looking for, here are a few tips
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Strategic Considerations
Before you begin your search for the consultant who best fits your needs and your company’s needs, there are two important things you must do:

Be clear about the problem you are trying to solve by hiring a consultant.

The more clearly you understand the problem you’re facing, and the better you can articulate it, the better equipped you’ll be to make the decision between a generalist and a specialist.

Balance your resource allocation.

You want to procure the right consultant to create new solutions—not to create new financial problems. And obviously, correctly identifying the problem helps balance your resource allocation. Misidentifying your problem can be costly: remember that old saying, “We cut it three times and it’s still too short?”
Consultants—whether generalists or specialists—essentially have one strategic function: optimizing your ROI or expanding your customer base. The consultant you select must understand that she is fulfilling that function, and bring to the table the skillset and experience that will address one of those strategic functions.
Which projects are generalists best for? Which projects are specialists right for? Here’s a rundown of the pros and cons of each:

The Generalist
Generalists, broadly speaking, tend to work in smaller, boutique consulting firms, but also play strong roles in large, global consulting firms. They may be new to consulting or new to the business world, but not necessarily. Typically they have broad-based knowledge and a willingness to adapt flexibly to an enterprise’s needs. Here are the main characteristics of generalist consultants:

They work well in teams, especially with other generalists, as they tend to have strengths in seeing both the forest and the trees, and the interrelationships between the two. In other words, they can connect the dots between the problem you are trying to solve and how potential solutions may affect the rest of your enterprise.

They tend to be a good fit for broader, larger-scale consulting projects for that reason: their types of experiences lead directly to their ability to connect all the dots and offer the most fitting solution.

Generalists excel at analysis, whether the presented problem is the “real” one to be solved or whether it is masking an underlying issue that needs to be solved first.

On the solutions side, generalists may have experience with a range of types of solutions. They tend not to offer cookie-cutter fixes. Instead, they custom tailor a solution for your enterprise. As a bonus, they may be able to draw upon former experience and apply it to current your problem in a way that is innovative.

Generalists may want to solve by themselves issues that could be better addressed by specialist consultants, and thus lack the right knowledge and/or expertise.
They might prove to be a costly solution if their contribution is limited to managing other consultants on your behalf

To sum up, generalists are effective in teams and ideal at tailoring solutions, especially for management-level issues or larger-scale, complex projects. Note, too, that if you think a longer-term partnership with a consultant is on the horizon, go with a generalist who can always find a specialist when needed.
The Specialist
Specialists typically have chosen to concentrate their efforts and abilities in a more narrow arena such as energy, IT, or finance, or in a particular industry, such as healthcare or pharmaceuticals. Many specialists have jumped from years of employment in their field of expertise to the world of consulting.
Major consulting firms usually have a range of specialists who are highly trained and deeply experienced in their chosen fields, but boutique firms also may specialize in a given industry or knowledge field. Here are some of the key benefits that specialists can bring to the table:

Specialists are passionate about their field or industry. They keep current on new findings and industry news. They understand the competitive pressures within their specialized industry.

They also provide solutions for enterprises. With their high levels of training and experience, specialists may be able to zoom in on and implement solutions quickly, which may conserve resources for the company.
Specialists love to transfer their knowledge, and will immediately be recognized by your teams on a dimension they comprehend.
They can see all problems through their area of expertise. As popularized by Abraham Maslow, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.
Specialists will bring to you the state of the industry but might reuse at least for statistic purposes some of your data. That is the unsaid rule of the game.

The key to successfully using a specialist is the executive’s ability to correctly identify and articulate the problem that needs a resolution. If the scope of the problem is limited to the rapid advancement of IT changes, for instance, a specialist is the natural place to turn. If the problem at hand is limited to circuit board assembly supply chains, turning to an industry specialist makes great sense in terms of both outcomes and resources.
Ultimately, there is a role for both generalists and specialists in the world of consulting. Each type of consultant successfully helps executives find solutions, given the right situation.
Take heart if you find yourself at a crossroads and need to turn to a consultant. There is great news: a consulting brokerage firm has already done all the heavy lifting of assessing a wide range of high-quality consulting firms globally to fit every type of enterprise, budget, and project. They can be a savior in assisting you to select the right type of consulting firm.
Executives who initially turn to a global consulting brokerage company may find they assistance they need to identify which type of consultant will be most likely to optimize ROI or expand their customer base.
Consulting Quest specializes in identifying consulting solutions that boost your competitive edge. Let us know how we can assist you.

How to find the right Consultants for your Project?

Finding the right consultant for your business can be a tricky process. It’s not just about knowing where to look, but knowing what to look for. Just like hiring a new employee, you want to be sure your new consultant is someone who will actively support and help you achieve your business goals. So, where do you begin?
Before you start your search for a consultant, clarify exactly what you types of results you are looking for. You know for sure your primary objective: increase sales, update marketing efforts, overhaul your HR department… But are you clear on the scope? Do you want a benchmark of best practices, a diagnostic of your current performance or support in the implementation? Besides have you identified how you will measure success? The clearer your goals, the easier it will be to home in on the right consultant for the job.
Whether you’ve received a referral from a friend or you’ve been exploring your options on the internet, it is important to keep these needs in mind while looking for a consultant. Someone might blow you away with her ideas and proposals, but if she’s not going to give you the results you need, there’s not much point in hiring her. However, by taking your time, doing your research, and considering all the facts, you will be able to find a consultant who’s the right fit for your company.
So, if you’re wondering how to find a consultant who can provide the outcome you’re looking for, here are a few tips:

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Hiring a consultant who has successfully worked for many other companies helps you and your team gain a different perspective.

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1. Ask questions.
Finding a consultant online is not just about putting in your requirements to a system and waiting. You need to ask the right questions. One great way to do this is by reading a consultant’s past reviews. Has she worked on projects similar to yours? Has she been able to produce results? Has she effectively increased the bottom line of the companies she has worked with?comfortable. You should be able to communicate with her easily.
2. Ask whom she has worked with.
According to this article from Huffington Post, you should find out if the consultant has worked with businesses of the same size as yours. If she has generally worked with small businesses, she may not have the right skills to work with large ones, and vice versa. Try to get a feel for the businesses that are rating the consultant. If you find that businesses of the same size and focus as your own are rating a consultant well, then there’s a good chance that she will be a good fit for you, as well.
3.Do you feel comfortable with her?
This article from Huffington Post is about bridal consultants, which is probably not the type of consultant that you’re looking for.

Interestingly, however, many of the things that people are looking for in a business consultant are the same things that they’re looking for in a bridal consultant. For example, you know that the consultant is not right for you when “you feel pressured to make a quick decision,” “you feel like she’s not listening to you,” “you feel judged” and “you feel neglected.” Even when you’re making business decisions, it’s important that the consultant with whom you decide to work makes you feel
4. Communicate.
Before you even ask for a proposal or presentation, you should communicate clearly with your potential consultant about what you are looking for. Make it clear that you expect workable results and not just theoretical ideas. Tell her about your goals and your current strategies for how to achieve those goals. Familiarize her with the structure of your business and the types of products or services you provide. The more you can tell the consultant about yourself and your business, the better she will be able to serve you. The consultant who pays attention, asks questions, and works your ideas into her proposal, is one who likely deserves your business.
5. Read proposals and listen to presentations.
Most consultants will be delighted to write a proposal tailored to your business. You might feel like you’re asking the consultant to do a lot of work. However, most good consultants will be happy to have the chance to show you what they can do, in as much detail as possible. If a consultant feels like your business is not worth putting in that extra effort for, then you know that she’d likely not be a good fit for the job. When you’re given a proposal, don’t just skim over it. Be respectful of the time and effort this consultant has put into preparing it, and make sure that you give it your full attention. The same goes for the presentation. Be attentive, and if you have any questions for the consultant, now’s the time to bring them up.
By setting clear goals, doing the proper research, and knowing what to expect from the right candidate, you will be able to move forward with confidence and find a consultant who can get the job done.

Prepare your teams for when the Consultant leaves

You have decided to pivot to a consultant to bridge your company’s skills gaps, better optimize your profits, or boost your marketing and sales effectiveness. As an experienced executive, you completely get that you need a discrete plan—with its clear timelines and goals—and a winning RFP to attract the right partners in the first place.
What may get overlooked, however, is the critical point where the rubber will meet the road: how to follow up the work of the consultant.
After all, procuring a consultant is an investment and the return on that investment comes through the follow-up. Here are the seven most helpful tips for optimizing the return on your consulting procurement.
1. Aim beyond the project.
Envision what success will look like. No, not at the end of the project—longer-term.
Picture someone about to break a block of wood or concrete with a karate chop. If he aims for the block, he instinctually will start to draw back a bit just as he is about to make contact with the block. Now picture him focusing a foot past the block as he aims, then chops. Crack!
Aim past the project. That will help begin to mark the right follow-up path.

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(…) the procurement process doesn’t stop with the order. To be successful, it should be a long-term process that goes beyond the moment the contract is signed.

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2. Plan the transition from the RFP.
Remember, the RFP is all about procuring solutions, not just making a purchase. With that in mind, think long-term and include the ways to determine whether project goals were met and additional consulting support is needed once the consultant leaves.

Keep in touch. Executives and consultants should keep in touch to ensure that the consultant’s recommended systems and ideas work to resolve the original issue.

Yes, we’re talking about data collection—evidence that the new knowledge and systems work, fail, or result in zero changes that are meaningful. Build in the collecting of data points during the project for three to six months, or even a year afterward.

The data points need to measure the extent to which the solution you were aiming for does exist. You or the consultant can analyze these data as a way to determine project success, failure, or status quo, as well as the next steps to take
Include a compliance check within the RFP. Once the original project ends, the consultant should schedule a return visit to determine to what extent your team absorbed new lessons and how well new systems are being incorporated as intended.
The last deliverable could actually be the proposed way forward.

3. Decision time: figure out which recommendations to keep.
Just because you paid a consultant to address a gap and offer a solution does not mean that your company needs to jump in blindly.
The company’s senior executives can sift through the consultant’s suggestions and cherry-pick the ones that are most likely to solve the issue at hand.
Once that sifting occurs, meet with the consultant for feedback on what your team has chosen as the wheat and what’s the chaff. After all, the consultant may have experience with what result can occur (positive or negative) if recommendation A is kept but recommendation B is tossed.
4. Know the what, the how and the who before the consultant exits.
Clarity with regard to the next steps is key. Knowing what to do but not how to do it is a roadblock to success.
Before the consultant departs, take the time to make sure that everyone affected knows what to do next, and how to do it and that the appropriate resources will be allocated.

The combination of the what to do and the how to do it makes the difference between a return on the consulting investment or a loss. It’s not enough that employees just understand. The rubber won’t meet the road if they can’t also implement what they know they need to do.

Plan ahead to build in ways to manage implementation and potential failures.

Who will be accountable for implementing the plan? How will the activity be steered?
Who will be responsible for correcting implementation issues? How often and by what method will that person be accessible?

5. Plan to retain learned knowledge and skills.
Whether it’s staff turnover or vacation time, new skills can get lost in life’s shuffle. You need a plan to keep that new information at the forefront of employees’ work.

Is transferring knowledge explicitly part of the mandate?
Will you offer annual refresher courses? Online manuals? Access to the consultant via email or web forum? All of the above?

Will there be a mentoring relationship for an extended timeframe once the project ends? Mentoring often makes the difference between long-term ROI or loss on consulting investments. Just be sure to structure the arrangement with a timeline and clear data points for ending the mentorship.

6. Keep the door open to transformational ideas.
You know what often happens when you focus for a time on a project and then step away. New, perhaps even transformational ideas may pop up unexpectedly.

Depending on how your company is structured, novel ideas can float up to your senior team or through your project team. Or perhaps the consultant experiences a couple of brainstorms once the project has ended.

You will want access to these raw new ideas. Coming on the heels of intense project focus, they may contain just the right germ of an idea that, when shaped and cultivated, can provide an unforeseen breakthrough that boosts your competitive edge.

Explicitly create the potential for following up with the consultant on promising innovative ideas and approaches after the initial project ends.

7. Build in check-ins as a forcing function.
Finally, assuming that you found the consulting team helpful, build in check-ins at the frequency that matches your business tempo to take a fresh look at what was accomplished and perhaps what needs to be tweaked now to continue to optimize the original investment. These build-in check-ins as forcing function will also prevent business as usual from taking over.
Procuring the consultant and working through the project aren’t the goals. Sustainable solutions that boost your competitive edge are the goals.
Meeting those goals requires you to lead the company through a follow-up phase once the consulting team leaves to ensure the highest return on your consulting investment.

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Self-Diagnostic to Improve the Management of Your Consulting Spend

Do you currently employ consultants on a regular basis? Perhaps you consider consultants a negligible part of your budget and overall business strategy—there for small, niche projects when you need them and gone as soon as that business is concluded. However, from our experience, consulting spend can represent millions of dollars for companies, and if not properly managed (or managed at all), you’ll miss out on the strategic opportunities a consultant can provide.

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