Nothing says brilliant execution like a Request for Proposals (RFP) that sings to its potential...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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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