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A new way to look at top consulting firms?

Attention executives: if you are considering outsourcing a project to a consulting firm, whether or not you have hired consultants before, we have great news—there’s a new way to view the value of the right consultant.
Did you know that executives who pay close attention, beginning with the procurement of the consultant through the completion of the project (including debriefing and follow-up), have a bonus waiting for them? It is that partnering with the right top consulting firm on a project offers unexpected key business lessons.
First, let’s look at what we mean by a “top consulting firm.”
You have heard the saying, “you can’t eat prestige.” Prestige has its place, but let’s face it: you can procure high-quality consulting services at a cost that fits into the budget of any enterprise. Creating a company budget crisis by opting for a global-brand consultant simply makes no practical sense. That consulting firm may offer one solution while putting a large enough dent in your budget, so that other projects suffer.
So where does that leave your consulting procurement? Actually in a better place! Here’s why.
A top consulting firm is one that has the skills and experience to meet your current project needs as well as complement your company’s culture and budget. The right firm may be a smaller boutique firm that specializes in just the type of project you have at hand, or a larger firm with the sub-specialty that you seek.
A top firm, then, has a track record of being in the right place for the right project, solid working relationships, flexibility, adaptable solutions, and great follow-up.
Happily, this leads us directly to lesson number one.

Source Consultants

Optimizing indirect costs is an evergreen topic. Many companies have already regrouped their indirect procurement to better manage expenses.

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Balancing resources.
You have made the decision to pivot to a consultant as a way to solve a problem and, at the same time, manage your overhead. Why then jeopardize that balancing act with a consultant out of your price range?
Instead, opt for a consulting services advisor with a depth of experience in matching enterprises with high-quality consulting services at the right price point. As an added bonus, your procurement team will save time, since a highly efficient advisor will have accessed, reviewed, and rated a broad range of consulting services for you in advance.
Implied in balancing resources, of course, is the idea of adequate resources. Before you choose a consultant, prepare thoroughly the scoping and the phasing of the project, and the necessary associated resources. You may realize that you don’t need the same resources for the different phases, and thus, decide to buy the phases separately. When you have chosen a consulting team, observe it during both the planning phase and the implementation phase of the project with a focus on balancing resources.
The planning phase is a strategic mapping session that identifies objectives, stakeholders, participants, and steps to success. Negotiating what constitutes adequate project resources (beyond procuring the consultant) is a key part of this phase.

Balancing resources in this phase often means applying some creativity in optimizing internal company resources at hand. Let’s say the consultant suggests that a person with a specific skill is needed for the project. Is there a person elsewhere in your company who has the right skill, perhaps from a prior workplace or career, and who is able to participate?
Now for implementation. Notice how the consulting team balances the utilization of people available to them on the project—and also within their own consulting team. That’s an example of project team leadership which manages to avoid burnout and staff turnover while getting the job done on time and within (a balanced) budget.
Notice, too, how the consultant encourages your team to share and conserve resources, and to be creative to resolve resource issues.
Marrying current knowledge plus experience
Lesson number two is about the value of taking a range of experiences and marrying them to the latest knowledge in the field.
Experience alone does not always optimize results. Do you want your child to be taught by a teacher who has taught for twenty years and who has “always done it this way”? Better to have a teacher with half the experience who stays current with the latest field-test results on pedagogical approaches.
Top consulting firms tend to have systems in place to ensure that team members share both knowledge and experiences.

They actively access—or contribute to—emerging thought leadership.

They debrief past projects internally (maintaining client confidentiality) to cull lessons.

Then they connect the dots from those experiences and ideas to your project.

Watch how your consultant draws on both her experience and her access to current intelligence in the field to fashion a solution that fits your needs perfectly. It looks something like this:
At a specific crossroad in the project, the consultant might say, Oh yes, I’ve seen this issue before. Company A handled it this way last year, but I just read where Company B solved it in a much more integrated way which would work well here, too.
Other examples will emerge as you debrief your consultant. It’s all about retaining knowledge, sharing it, and then connecting the dots to apply it appropriately.
Now it’s your turn: what is your takeaway lesson on marrying current knowledge and experience, and how will you apply that lesson across your enterprise?
The unforeseen significance of debriefing
Stifle that yawn.
Debriefing a project with a top consultant sometimes yields unforeseen golden nuggets if you know how to uncover them. For example:

Working on the project may have revealed talents among your employees that you had not been aware they possessed. Perhaps an employee’s leadership skills emerged.

Maybe a new way to reach potential customers or interface with current customers bubbled to the surface. How do you get that information to the marketing and sales teams?

Possibly the data provided to the project team also revealed tangential information that may be helpful to your company in another arena.

There is a simple way to ensure your access to these golden nuggets: insert into the consulting contract a paragraph requesting that the consultant document these types of data, even though they may be ancillary to the goals of the consulting project, and highlight them in her debriefing.
Working with a top consultant is an efficient way to meet your company’s current needs but it can offer a much richer value for the observant executive: new ways to think about balancing resources, marrying experience and ideas, and identifying new information during debriefings which, although ancillary to the specific project completed, may be significant to the company as a whole.
We now have reached bonus lesson number four:
Procuring the right consultant matters in more ways than it seemed before.
Competition among consulting teams currently is tighter than ever, but Consulting Quest has braved those choppy waters and stands ready to identify the perfect fit for your project and your company.

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.
Today, we are going to look at a self-diagnostic to improve the way you manage your consulting spending. We will look at four key areas in which to assess your current management approaches: scope, panel management, performance management, and sourcing.
1. Scope
When considering the scope of consultants in your day-to-day and annual business, ask yourself these questions.

Do you know the amount your company is spending on consulting on a yearly basis

The first step toward improving the management of your consulting spend is to be sure you know just how much you are spending, on average, each year. Knowing this number will put in perspective for you the part consultants play in your business and allow you to better evaluate whether or not you’re seeing a strong return on your current investments.

What special skills do the consultants you employ possess?

More importantly, what skills do your consultants provide that add value to your business and to various projects? Look at the areas in which you are seeking the help of a consultant. What activities could be done in house? What about out of house? Are you hiring consultants that fill important skill gaps in your current personnel? Consultants should fulfill a specific need within your company, whether that be a new perspective, a special expertise, or a greater authority. Understanding this will help establish the scope of consultants you are currently working with.

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How does the work of your consultants align with your key strategic needs?

What are your needs this year, and from year-to-year? In order to manage your consulting spend, you need to understand how your consultants’ skills align with your business’s needs. When looking at your consulting spend with through a strategic lens, does your resource allocation align with your strategic intent? Are there areas where you could reduce costs? Areas where you should invest further? Too many companies tend to allocate their consulting budget in the same way every year, when a dynamic resource allocation would be better suited.

What is the rationale for using consultants?

There are many valid reasons for hiring and maintaining ongoing relationships with consultants. Be sure you understand your own. Maintain clear perspective and encourage (or even demand) that departments keep you apprised of their rationale behind hiring a new consultant. You should always be able to answer these two questions before bringing a consultant on board: “do we need this person?” and “why?”
2. Panel Management
When evaluating consultant panels and their usefulness, ask yourself these key questions.

Do you know how to qualify a supplier to a specific project?

Ideally, you should have a process in mind to evaluate a prospective supplier for each project. Less than ideal, perhaps, you have a list of prospective consultant suppliers and tend to go to one or two of your favorites, without weighing specific specialties and strengths, but simply trusting their reliability. Be sure you understand what each of your potential suppliers is bringing to the table and how that might complement a specific project.

Are you using a panel of qualified suppliers?

Do you have a ready-made panel of suppliers who you know to be experts in fields you need for your business? Perhaps you do not. Check in with your departments and find out how they access qualified services, and make sure that they have a predictable, responsible source of talent. Vet your suppliers to ensure that you are getting reliable and highly qualified consultants.

Do you easily find the expertise you need?

When the need for a consultant arises, are you able to quickly and easily find the best consultant or consultants for the job? Ideally, for any highly technical requirements, you should have a trusted advisor you can turn to for guidance that will have a selection of candidates on hand. With the right partner, it should be simple to access qualified consultants with the expertise you need.

Are your usual vendors always available to provide necessary expertise?

Consider this question carefully. Review past projects and times you needed third-party expertise from your trusted vendors. How did it go? Were your suppliers there when you needed them? If things did not go well, then that is a sign that you need to look at panel management and revise your approach, perhaps your panel list, and almost definitely, your process for soliciting the expertise you need when you need it.
3. Performance Management
Once you have the consultants you want, doing the work you need, you still need to monitor their performance. Here are some questions to ask regarding the performance management process.

Do you manage the performance of your suppliers?

Ideally, you should be, but the reality is that such performance management may be slack, especially in long-term business relationships. If you are not managing performance, or if that management is ill-defined, here is where you need to start. Set up benchmarks for the performance of your suppliers and be sure that they are meeting those expectations.

Do you know how to qualify a supplier to a specific project?

Ideally, you should have a process in mind to evaluate a prospective supplier for each project. Less than ideal, perhaps, you have a list of prospective consultant suppliers and tend to go to one or two of your favorites, without weighing specific specialties and strengths, but simply trusting their reliability. Be sure you understand what each of your potential suppliers is bringing to the table and how that might complement a specific project.

Are you using a panel of qualified suppliers?

Do you have a ready-made panel of suppliers who you know to be experts in fields you need for your business? Perhaps you do not. Check in with your departments and find out how they access qualified services, and make sure that they have a predictable, responsible source of talent. Vet your suppliers to ensure that you are getting reliable and highly qualified consultants.

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Are you usually satisfied with the ROI of assignments?

Another key indicator of a good or bad business relationship is whether or not your are seeing a strong return on your investment. If you are keeping an eye on costs and scope, here is where you can follow up, by making sure that your consultants are justifying their cost. If you are not consistently satisfied with the ROI of consulting assignments (and how can you know unless you are monitoring), then you are not properly managing your consulting spend.

Have you benchmarked consulting costs with your peers?

Once you know the costs of your consultants, and what you are getting for your investment, it is important to make sure that you are still running lean and staying competitive. As with any expenditure you make, compare your spending to that of your peers. If you are spending more than others in your industry on consulting services, take a look at your process and see where it might be improved. Also, if you buy large amounts from the same vendors, are you getting the rebates you should?

Do you provide detailed feedback to your consultants?

Communication works best both ways. Whether for good or for bad, a reputable consultant will appreciate honest feedback. Clear communication allows you to improve your business’s bottom line and the overall business-consultant relationship. It may be easier to provide a list of requirements and say nothing until the work is done, but detailed, regular feedback can go a long way toward ensuring the project gets done right, the first time around.

Do you discuss feedback to improve your relationship with your consultants?

Once you have provided feedback, to maximize the effect, consider setting aside time to discuss what you have found. Give time for the consultant to ask his or her own questions. Again, good communication goes both ways. With solid metrics and a plan in mind, you have what you need to improve your relationship for this project, and for future projects to come.
4. Sourcing Process
The last area of concern, with respect to your consultants, is how you are managing the sourcing process. To diagnose the effectiveness of your current sourcing process, ask yourself these questions.

Do you have a process to acquire consulting services?

Having a clear plan in place for how you acquire consultants is imperative to improving your consulting spend. This process should be in writing and followed by all departments involved with the hiring of consultants. If you have gone through all of the above self-diagnostic questions, consider formalizing your process in writing, if you have not already. Also, make sure a professional buyer is involved in the process.

Do you have frame contracts set up with your major suppliers?

Once you have everything else in place, you should have general frame contracts with consultant suppliers with whom you do regular business. In this way, you can set up general fees with understood benchmarks, generate volume and loyalty based rebates,  and minimize your procurement time later.

Do you include performance in your criteria of choice?

When discussing with your suppliers the criteria you have for consultants, be sure that they are taking performance on past projects into account. A good supplier should be thoroughly vetting their candidates and checking references from previous employers to ensure that their consultants have the experience and positive track record they say they do. Don’t let performance abilities be pushed aside by other, seemingly more important criteria.

Do you systematically use Confidentiality Agreements when discussing your needs with consultants?

Even before you hire a consultant, in the course of discussing your needs, you may need to divulge privileged proprietary information. Make sure that your sourcing process includes a confidentiality clause, so that your competitors – and others – will not know what you are doing and why.
If you have answered “yes” to most of the questions in this self-assessment, congratulations! You are among the 7 percent of buyers who consider themselves fully equipped to manage their consulting spend. However, more likely, you have probably just realized that you now have a blueprint to improve your performance, generate tremendous savings, and get more value from your consultants.
At Consulting Quest, we aim to improve the overall performance of the consulting industry by carefully vetting our consultants and working closely with both consultants and businesses to facilitate more positive working relationships. We understand that there are many moving parts to effectively managing your consulting spend. If you found this self-diagnostic useful, please let us know how it helped and what you have done with it.

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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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.

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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?

6 steps to evaluate the quality of Consulting Proposals

Your winning RFP process has attracted a score of proposals. Once the elation of that bounty fades, you come face to face with the daunting task of selecting the winning proposal.
Don’t just dive right in. Never lose track of the notion that it’s not about just making a purchase—it’s about solving a problem for your company. That’s why this task cries out for employing a sure-fire process that marries alignment with inspiration.
In this post, we’ll look at how to evaluate the quality of a proposal with an eye towards identifying the highest-quality solution for your company’s needs.
Warning: this information may run afoul of the herd approach to RFP evaluation.
Funnel down to potential winners, setting aside the rest.
Think of the process as a funnel into which you pour all the proposals.

At the narrow end will settle just those proposals that, even at a first glance, make your heart skip a beat. At the least, they meet every one of your RFP’s criteria. Plus they landed in your inbox on time, are well-organized, and seem promising.

A bit higher up the funnel are the proposals that are slightly off-track but still workable. Maybe they came in late with a good rationale or missed an inconsequential step, but some look promising. You want to avoid eliminating a potential gem too early in the process.

At this point, your impulse will be to shred the rest. Stifle that impulse.
Yes, anything high up in the funnel should be set aside for now as an unlikely fit, but keep these two key cautionary notes in mind:

Don’t overlook or toss aside too quickly a proposal from an upstart entrepreneur with a great idea but less than desirable proposal-writing skills. There may be a way to have that idea become all or part of your business solution.

Be careful not to burn bridges when you send your response to vendors with rejected proposals, regardless of how you view their current proposal. Here’s why:  In an environment of rapid change, these vendors may evolve into great partners or suppliers. Moreover, your company’s needs can evolve to the point where you might realize that one of these rejected proposals now would be a good fit.

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Gather a team of proposal evaluators.
Okay—you now have the proposals in hand that, at first glance, meet your eligibility requirements and your other basic criteria. It’s time to get serious and pick your evaluation team.
Who might be among your team of reviewers? Procurement professionals, to be sure. Perhaps a senior executive or two, depending on the type of solution you are seeking.

Consider including end users where appropriate. One hallmark of innovative companies is that they view end users or customers as partners rather than consumers of a new product or service.

Seeking input from a range of stakeholders helps ensure that the evaluation process is perceived as fair and is more likely to result in selecting the best proposal for your company’s needs. Both of those are vital to successfully implement the new idea or project.

If your team lacks deep experience in the area of procurement processes, consider including a qualified and experienced consultant on the team to help build a process designed to procure the best solution for your company.
Review all the criteria: the forest and the trees.
Keep in mind that some people on your review team will be attuned to seeing the big picture—the forest—while others will focus on details—the trees. Having both types on your team is an advantage.

Start with these reminders:

Your project’s objectives which any winning proposal needs to fit.

Your corporate culture and the type of partner or supplier that might complement that culture and be the right fit.

The approach selected reinforce and support the overall purpose of the project, as such, depending on the context :

Look for an entrepreneurial approach and an idea that may act like a company spark plug.

Look for an approach that is innovative, original, breakthrough or transformational, and a concept your company can leverage.

Be on the lookout for a particularly intelligent solution using advanced technologies and outside-the-box thinking.

… Or look for a proven and reliable approach

Ask the team to review the proposed solutions along the lines of problem resolution, clarity, internal consistency, and ease of implementation, as well as outside-the-box approaches.
Next, jump to the standards:

Eligibility

Ethics and any potential conflicts of interest

Transparency in the content of the proposal

The proposal meets or exceeds all or nearly all the criteria in the RFP

Ease of implementation and future buy-in

How thoroughly did the vendor research your company’s needs?

Quality and expertise of the team that will deliver the job

How does the proposal price align with your budget?

The fun begins: scoring/weighting/ranking.
In the initial round, go for individual scores based on a matrix. Embed a weight to each scoring criterion.
Since we are limiting our discussion to the quality of the proposal, weighting may look like this, depending on your current needs:

meets functional requirements – 30%

aligns well with corporate culture / fit – 15%

inspirational, breakthrough thinking; originality – 15%

team expertise – 10%

quality of written proposal and clarity of deliverables – 10%

Price 20%

Next, gather the team back together to build a consensus score. Why? Procurement is one of the backbones of your company’s path to increasing its ROI and keeping its competitive edge. The procurement process is simply too important to be left to a flat averaging of reviewers’ scores.
What can you gain form a consensus score?

You get beneath an outlier number to identify whether that evaluator, for example, has had a past experience that has informed the scoring. A key learning experience!

On the other hand, perhaps a reviewer uses the scoring to put a personal agenda into play—a move that can be revealed in building consensus.

Finally, a consensus score is more likely to be perceived as fair on the part of potential partners and suppliers, as well as your employees and end users.

This all sounds as if it is more work than a simple matrix of X criteria and Y responses—and it is. But the outcome will be worth it: a workable solution that will help keep your company’s competitive edge.
Last, if none of the proposals fits either your requirements or your budget, do not hesitate to go have a second round of discussions with the short listed companines. The better consultants understand your needs, the better they will be able to tailor the solution (scope, timing, team size) to accomodate your requirements.
If you need assistance with meshing your procurement process with your company’s strategic priorities and market needs, Consulting Quest stands ready to support you with a global perspective and a tailored solution.

Why Put Consultants In Competition?

As an executive, you’re probably used to making quick decisions. Given the amount of work that you have to do, you can’t afford to dither. This means that you may not always have the luxury of time to get a variety of perspectives before making each decision. When you’re hiring a consultant, however, it might be a good idea to take your time.
When you are clear on your priorities and on the reasons why you need to hire a consultant, then you can start looking for the best fit for your specific project and your organization. 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. Besides, you may want to introduce some competition.
Comparing Skill Sets
Of course It’s necessary to find a consultant who has solid experience, creative problem-solving skills, and great interpersonal skills. But how are you going to know the extent to which someone has these skills unless you have someone else to compare them to?
Let’s say you meet one consultant who impresses you with his impromptu pitch. You might be tempted to choose him, just so that you don’t have to meet with a number of different consultants, listen to their pitches, too, and read their proposals.  After all, this will mean a lot of work for you.

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However, if you do all this work, you may find that different consultants have different strengths.  One might have great interpersonal skills, while another might have many more years of experience. One might be endlessly creative and great with design, while another might be a lot more blunt and honest about what’s really needed for your organization. A good way of identifying strength and weaknesses is also to check references on prior similar assignments.
At this point, you’ll be better able to decide what’s more important to you. For some executives, experience might be most impressive, while others might value creativity above all else.  For those who have a hard time making people understand exactly what they need, interpersonal skills might be paramount.  When you put consultants in competition, you’re more likely to find one with the exact qualities you’re looking for.
Getting New Ideas
When executives outsource certain tasks, they might already have certain ideas about how those tasks should be done. But when you describe your functional needs and live room to creativity in the solutions proposed you get a variety of perspectives, you’re bound to come across some ideas you hadn’t thought of before. In fact, this is the reason why people emphasize diversity in the workplace, which you can read about in this article from Forbes.  When people from different backgrounds work together, they all tend to be more creative and come up with new ideas.

Let’s assume, for example, that you’re trying to change your company culture and make your business one of the best places to work for employees. One consultant might suggest that you offer employees small perks such as tickets to sports events. Another consultant might suggest that you change your interiors so that they are more conducive to productivity. A third might suggest that you dismantle the hierarchical structure of your organization.
When you put consultants in competition, you’re likely to get more ideas which you had never thought of before. These might shed a new light on the tasks that you’re trying to outsource and how they should be done. Even if you don’t end up adopting all the ideas you come across, it can help you to at least take them into consideration.
Looking for the right fit
Many people in business believe that they should set their personal feelings aside and work purely from a logical, rational place. However, this is your business and it’s sure to reflect who you are as a person. So when you hire people to join your business, you want them to understand you and work with you towards a common goal. This will be most harmoniously done if their values align with yours.
There are a number of consultants out there and it’s quite likely that they’re all good ones.  However, this doesn’t mean that they’re going to be right for you.  This article from Huffington Post emphasizes that, in order to have a good working relationship with a consultant, his advice has to feel right to you.  And you need to feel like the consultant you’re working with gets you.  You ought to feel like he’s treating you as a partner, and not just trying to impress you with everything he can do.
You’ll get similar advice in this article from Inc. which praises consultants who don’t hesitate to say “I don’t know.” In this dog-eat-dog world, honesty is important. And if you can find a consultant who can tell it like it is, you’ve found a rare creature whom you should hold on to!
Getting more for your money
Last but not least, there is a price advantage to put consultants in competition. If the consultants know that you will examine other offers, they will give their best efforts to design and price their proposal.
Of course, you could always argue that you will take the best for the job regardless of the price, but we all know what pressure on expenses the executives have to live with, especially operating expenses. And therefore the better the cost for value trade off will be, the easier it will be to convince your boss or your board that this consultant is the right choice.
How to get started ?
Organizing a healthy competition is not as complex as one could think.

Identify the scope and the budget of your project
Formalize the elements in a Request for Proposal
Identify, short-list and brief the potential providers
Review the proposals and organize face-to-face meetings for the most promising ones
Select your preferred provider using a balanced set of criteria

It’s a good idea to evaluate a number of consultants by putting them in competition. This will enable you to take an informed choice on what consultant is right for you on many levels such as skills, fit, and price. Along the way, you may even go for ideas that are completely out the the box you had yourself designed in your request for proposal.

Is it better to work with familiar consultants?

When you have a new project, you might wonder whether you should return to the consultants you’ve used in the past or start over again with a new set of proposals. There are a number of factors to consider, with good reasons for doing either. Whether you work with someone you already have a relationship with, or you take a chance and start from scratch, there are some key questions and considerations to keep in mind.
Do you want a consultant who is familiar with your business and your style?
A consultant with whom you’ve worked in the past has already done the necessary research to understand your company. She will understand your values, your core beliefs, and the fundamental information that shapes your company. This means that she will already have a solid understanding of how all of those things will shape the project that you want done, which makes her more likely to be successful the first time. She also will have existing relationships with the members of your company, which will make working with them easier.

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Working with the same consultants on a regular basis will improve your ability to effectively communicate what you want from them. The individual relationship with each consultant isn’t cultivated overnight. In fact, you’ll start working on this relationship when you hire a consultant for the first time. If you like a consultant’s style, you can cultivate her into a fully informed and regular consultant for your business with a minimum of effort.
On the other hand, a consultant who is familiar with your business and your style won’t necessarily bring the fresh new ideas to the table that you’re looking for. After all, taking a chance on a different consultant will give you the opportunity to interact with someone new and benefit from the talent that she brings to the table.
What is the consultant’s area of expertise?
As with any other profession, there will be consultants who are more skilled in some areas than others. When you work closely with a consultant, you’ll learn quickly where her specific skills lie. Over time, you will learn when it’s best to call in a particular consultant who has the skills necessary for the task at hand and when it’s better to look to a different consultant.
You should always choose the consultant with the best skills for the job, rather than allowing yourself to stay with the old and familiar, simply to avoid needing to go through the proposal process.

A returning consultant will need less input from you, but a new consultant will be more likely to come back to you for feedback.
After the job has been outlined, a returning consultant will be able to get down to it. This means that your time is freed to deal with other issues, while the consultant takes care of the job that you hired her for. There might be less frequent communication as you hire the same consultant more often, which can be both good and bad.
As you develop a relationship with a consultant, you’ll learn what information she needs to work, without quite as much supervision.
On the other hand, this does mean that she is more likely to assume that she knows what you want, right up until the final product is handed over. If you’re not satisfied, it may mean that you have a delay while you wait to see the changes.
Is your business becoming too dependent on a particular consultant?
You don’t want to feel as though your business can’t function without the input of a familiar consultant, especially one who could become aware of that dependency. You always want to be able to enter into a new relationship with a new consultant if prices change or you start to see a decline in the quality of your consultant’s work.
New consultants offer new ideas and new skills.
You’re always looking for fresh new material, and bringing in new consultants is one of the best ways to get it. Your familiar consultants will bring their usual ideas and experience to the table, but a new consultant will have a different perspective to offer.
Ideally, you should always ask for a quote from at least a couple of different consultants before diving in with a single one. This will help ensure that you receive the best possible price. There’s a balance to be struck in knowing the right time to use familiar consultants and when to bring in new ones. Choosing the best option will ensures your company the greatest success.

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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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