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Your winning RFP process has attracted a score of consulting proposals, and now comes the crucial task of conducting a consulting proposal assessment to select the winning bid.
Once the elation of that bounty fades, you come face to face with the daunting task of choosing the proposal that aligns best with your company’s needs and solves the problem at hand.
Don’t just dive right into evaluating the proposals. Never lose track of the notion that it’s not about merely making a purchase; it’s about finding a solution that effectively addresses your company’s challenges.
This is where the process of consulting proposal assessment becomes vital—a process that requires a structured approach to marry strategic alignment with creative inspiration.
Let’s delve into how to effectively assess these consulting proposals, keeping in mind the goal of identifying the highest-quality solution for your company’s specific needs.
Don’t Rush into the Evaluation
Before you start comparing and grading the different proposals, consider the following pre-requisites.
Focus On the Most Promising Consulting Proposals.
When conducting a consulting proposal assessment for an extensive project, your short-list might still be significant. So, if you want to spend enough time on each consulting proposal assessment, funnel down to potential winners, and set aside the rest.
Think of the process as a funnel into which you pour all the proposals. At the narrow end, you will have the most promising proposals. At the least, they meet every one of your RFP’s criteria.
The proposals are convincing, and you have a clear picture of how the project would unfold. The number of proposals is adequate considering the strategic importance and the budget of the project.
A bit higher up the funnel are the consulting proposals that are slightly off-track but still workable. Maybe they have a good rationale but have missed an inconsequential step.
You want to avoid eliminating a potential gem too early in the consulting proposal assessment process. At the very top of the funnel are the consulting proposals that are off-topic or too generic.
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 three vital cautionary notes in mind when conducting your consulting proposal assessment. The process is not over until you have signed a contract with your preferred consulting provider.
Don’t rush into rejecting the second-runner. You’d be surprised to learn how many first-runners were disqualified during the negotiation process.
Don’t overlook or toss aside too quickly a proposal from an upstart consulting provider with a great idea but less than desirable proposal-writing/presenting 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 potential consulting suppliers with rejected proposals, regardless of how you view their current bid.
Here’s why: In an environment of rapid change, these consultants may evolve into great partners or suppliers. Moreover, your company’s needs can develop to the point where you might realize that one of these rejected proposals now would be a good fit.
Gather a Team of Proposal Evaluators.
Okay—you now have the consulting proposal assessments 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 for the consulting proposal assessment.
Who might be among your team of reviewers? Procurement professionals, to be sure, and the person in charge of the consulting budget, if any. You should also include the main stakeholders such as the project sponsor and representatives of the functions directly impacted in the consulting proposal assessment.
Perhaps a senior executive or two, with experience in consulting, should be part of the team for the consulting proposal assessment. In an ideal process, the team of reviewers should be the team that worked on the RFP.
Seeking input from a range of stakeholders helps ensure that the evaluation process is perceived as fair and is more likely to select the best proposal for your company’s needs.
Both of those are vital to implementing the new idea or project successfully. If your team lacks deep experience in 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.
Remember 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.
Set Ground Rules for the Consulting Proposal Assessment.
It is essential to make sure that all your evaluators agree on a few basic principles:
- The winning proposal must answer your project’s objectives.
- The chosen approach will reinforce and support the overall purpose of the project.
- The consultants must have the right competencies.
- The selected consulting suppliers must be a good fit for your corporate culture.
Agree on the type of approach that would be best considering the context of the project and your culture. Maybe you are looking for an innovative, original, breakthrough or transformational approach that your company can leverage to accelerate your strategy.
Alternatively, you may want a proven and reliable approach. Keep an open mind to a particularly intelligent solution using advanced methodologies or technologies and outside-the-box thinking.
Ask the team to review the proposed solutions along the lines of problem resolution, clarity, internal consistency, ease of implementation, and outside-the-box approaches.
Next, Check the Obvious.
Even before you start looking at your proposal on the content, they are some pre-requisite to work with your company. Making a preliminary check can disqualify a consulting provider right away and therefore save you some time.
Is the consulting firm eligible?
Many companies have a strict registration process that includes lengthy verifications. Make sure that your consulting firm is already registered, or your project eligible for an exceptional procedure.
Is the proposal compliant?
It might sound bureaucratic, but it will give you a sense of the commitment of the consultants and their ability to answer your needs.
A consultant that remits a proposal late, incomplete or not compliant to the format has either not understood your needs or doesn’t want to adapt to your ways.
In both cases, you have a problem. That is, if your demands were reasonable.
Is the consulting firm aligned with your ethical values?
Working with the wrong consulting firm can hurt your reputation internally and externally. Make sure that your supplier’s values are aligned with yours.
Do they have any potential conflicts of interest?
Some internal consulting groups are providing consulting to external clients. Working with the main competitors from their parent company would clearly be a conflict of interest.
Are the employees authorized to work on your premises?
With the globalization of the consulting project, more and more clients are looking for providers outside their usual market. It is not unusual for a European company to win a project with a US company, and vice versa.
When you are working with a company that will fly their consultants to your premises, make sure they are authorized to work in the country and your industry.
For instance, in the US, only Green Card holders and American citizens can have access to premises in the Defense sector.
Your team is ready and aligned to start the review. Now, you can start analyzing your proposals to make sure they answer your needs.
Does the Consulting Proposal Assessment Answer Your Needs?
The objective of this step is to identify the most promising proposals. You will want to explore further with these consulting firms and invite them to present your consulting proposal assessment.
But what is exactly a promising proposal? It is a proposal that answers the following key questions.
Has the Consultant Understood Our Objectives?
Obviously, you are bringing the consulting provider to help you achieve a certain goal. You want them to understand your goals and help you identify and/or implement a solution.
Has the consultant research properly your company’s context?
A bid with limited details about your needs usually shouts for a limited understanding of your business, a rushed or a generic proposal, or all of the above. Be uncompromising on that point.
Did the consultant reformulate your needs and put them in context?
You want to make sure that the Consultant answers your question and adds some value, rather than just copy-pasting your own RFP.
Is the proposal introducing elements that don’t seem related?
Several reasons can explain this phenomenon. The first option, you are facing a “cookie-cutter” syndrome. The Consultant is copy-pasting a previous proposal for your project.
The second option, they have seen an objective that you had missed in your RFP. In both cases, you want to challenge the Consultant to make sure the deliverables are right for your company. You need to be buying what you need and only what you need.
Do the Deliverables Answer Our Questions?
Once you made sure that the consultants have understood what you were trying to do, you want to check if the deliverables they have included in the proposals will indeed answer your questions.
Are the expected deliverables clearly listed?
The experience shows that, even with the same detailed RFP, Consulting Firms will propose a different organization of the deliverables, based on their internal methodologies and expertise.
It is essential to make sure that they have answered all the key points of the scope and compare with the core of the proposals. Go back to your RFP. Identify all the expected deliverables, and check one by one if they are included in the proposal.
Get a sense of what in the bid is outside the scope. Sometimes the consultants take the initiative to reorganize the deliverables and regroup them. Make sure all your initial deliverables are still there.
Are there additional deliverables relevant to your needs?
In some cases, the consultants add deliverables that were not listed in the RFP. Have a close look at how they relate to your main objectives.
It can be an interesting addition or just a way for the Consultant to increase the scope (and the price). If the deliverable is relevant, ask yourself if it is a must-have or a nice-to-have.
Do you believe those deliverables will help you achieve your objective?
Ultimately, whatever list of deliverables the consultants are suggesting, they need to bring you the right support to achieve your objectives. If you have a doubt, don’t hesitate to open the discussion with the consultants and hear their thoughts.
Are the deliverables clear enough?
Do you understand what you will get at the end of the project? The deliverables must be clearly stated, and ideally, the consultants should show you what it would look like.
Do We Trust the Approach the Consulting Provider Proposes?
Does the proposed approach support your objectives?
Evaluate the approach proposed by the Consulting Provider. Is it what you had in mind? Does it make sense? Is it adapted to your needs?
What are the potential limitations of the approach that the Consultant is suggesting? Will this approach support a proper buy-in?
Is the timeline proposed by the Consultant in line with your expectations?
Does the timeline match your internal objectives.? If not, is it a major issue? Have the consultants explained why they changed the timeline?
Is the phasing consistent with the one you had included in your RFP?
Have a close look at the phasing proposed by the Consulting Firm. Is it consistent with the one you had included in your RFP (if any)? Consultants love to cut a project into multiple phases.
When you compare the different proposals, make sure that each phase contains the same work and the same deliverables. It is not uncommon to see a Consulting Firm descope or underprice the first phase to win the project and generate more substantial costs in further phases.
We recommend including phasing and commit only to the first phase in the first RFP for very large projects. The further phases will be handled through another RFP. It will force the winner of the first project to do a good job, and remit competitive pricing at each phase of the project.
You can also ask for a “consulting proposal assessment” of the next phases and more, including the price and the description of the work. It will give you a sense of the potential overall cost of your project.
Is the governance of the project defined and adapted to what you had in mind?
Don’t overlook the governance of the project. Sometimes the difference in price for two proposals comes from the difference of responsibilities (and thus workload) of the consultants vs. your teams.
How will the governance of the project be organized? How is the project managed at the steering level? At the working level? What support from your teams is expected at each step of the project?
Is the proposal clear and complete?
Make sure that the content of the proposal is clear and transparent. It might seem obvious, but you need to understand the details of what work will be done, who will do the job and how.
We have seen Consulting Firms send a one-page proposal with no more than three lines to detail how the project will be led. Couple that with a price way under the rest of the proposals, and you have an excellent fools trap.
Is the project resourced properly?
Considering the workload associated with the project, does the staffing seem sufficient? On the contrary, does the team seem oversized?
Will you have enough bandwidth to contribute?
Consultants often provide an estimation of the workload expected for the client. Will you and your team have enough availability to support the project?
Is the balance on site – off site aligned with your expectations?
Are you expecting the consultants to be on site or to work remotely? Is the proposal matching what you had in mind?
What about the Other Elements of the Proposal
When you have evaluated the quality of the consulting proposal assessment, you can start looking at the human components. Beyond the technical proposal, which presents the approach, the deliverables, and the timeline, the team’s experience and their ability to mesh with your teams are also key success factors for a consulting project.
This step is particularly important if it is your first time working with consultants or if you are inviting new consulting firms to the RFP process. However, don’t go too easy on your incumbents. You still want the best team for your project.
Does the Team Have the Required Experience?
Does the Consultant understand your business and your market?
A bid with limited details about your needs usually shouts for a limited understanding of your business, a rushed or a generic proposal, or all of the above. Be uncompromising on that point.
Are the references in the proposal relevant to your project?
Look at the companies cited in the proposal and the case studies. It will tell you if the Consultant has done similar projects regarding scope, industry, region, complexity, etc. Ask if the references are recent and if you can contact them.
Is the project team senior enough? Will they be credible with your teams?
What is the level of seniority of the partner in charge? Is he taking the responsibility of the project or delegating to someone more junior? What is the level of experience of the project team? Will this work with your teams?
Is This Consultant the Right Fit for You?
Are you confident that this Consultant will work well with your teams?
Looking at the interactions you have had and the composition of the team, do you consider that this Consultant will work well with you and your teams?
Will you get the future buy-in of your teams?
Assess the easiness of implementation. Some approaches can be extremely attractive on paper, but not adapted to your context and your culture.
Some consulting firms can be extremely performant but will not mesh well with your teams. “Fit” is the keyword for consulting sourcing.
Do you need a Consulting Brand for the project?
Besides delivering a great project, you sometimes need to convince other stakeholders that the job was done seriously. To that end, some executives like to leverage the consulting firms’ brand and credentials having performed the work.
Are you looking for a doer or a gatherer?
For some projects, you need a “doer” to get the project done when you have a sensitive implementation project, for instance. Or a PMO with ambitious synergies.
Now you should have a good idea on how the project will unfold, you can have a close look at the price.
Does the Budget Fit with the Value We Expect?
What value do you expect from the project?
Looking at the project is always a good practice to step back and understand what value the project will bring and what kind of ROI you will be looking at.
Will it be a technical added value that will impact directly your bottom line or a Political added value that will enable other projects?
What are the value boundaries of the project?
What is the value if the project is successful? Are we talking about significant benefits to your bottom line and what will be the investments required? Conversely, what are the risks if it doesn’t work? Could your company stand to take a major hit?
What budget do you have in mind for the project?
If you have done similar projects previously, you have already a basis to define an estimated budget for your project.
However, be aware that the complexity, the depth of expertise, the expected duration and the location of the project can have a significant impact on the price. Also, you might be working with a budget envelope not to be exceeded.
Do you understand how much you will be paying at the end?
Is the budget construct easy to understand? Are there some potential hidden costs?
How does the proposal price align with your budget?
The most exciting proposal that is 50% over the budget is probably not the right proposal for you. Likewise, a shallow proposal within your budget is not always the best option.
Identify the Most Promising Proposals
The step is almost non-existent for small projects where you invite an already short-list of consulting providers to bid.
However, if you are working on a larger project or a longer list of potential providers, you’ll benefit from focusing on the most promising proposals at first. You will always have the possibility to go down your list if necessary.
Rank the Proposals
Independent of how many companies you are discussing with, you should already start to form a first “podium” of the best consulting proposals. It is sometimes difficult to get the whole picture on a potential project before you get to talk to the consulting providers.
Nevertheless, you can already identify the strengths and weaknesses of the written proposals through a comprehensive consulting proposal assessment. Rank the proposals on a limited number of criteria to simplify the process. The consulting proposal assessment can be an excellent basis for the ranking.
When you go through the different bids, you will quickly realize that some consultants have perfectly answered the different questions while others have left some issues unanswered.
At the end of the assessment, you will be able to rate the different proposals on a set of dimensions. You can, for instance, use the above questions and organize them in 6 major themes: objectives, deliverables, approach, experience, fit and budget.
You can adopt a simple grading system such as a 5-star system to make it easier for both grade and read. The goal is to have an overview of the quality of the proposals and start organizing the meetings with the consultants in the order of relevance.
Articulate and Share the Elements You Want to Clarify
In the process of assessing the proposals, you have identified the weaknesses of the different proposals. Write down these points and think about what questions could help you clarify the real positioning of the consulting provider on those dimensions.
If you have concerns about the costs, ask for clarifications on the cost structure or for trade-offs to fit in your budget. This list of questions will be the basis for your meetings with the consultants.
You will be able to clarify their proposals and make sure you get an accurate picture of their ability to support you in achieving your goals.
We recommend sending these questions before the meeting, so the consulting firms can prepare and come with answers.
5 Key Takeaways for Busy Managers
- Don’t zip through the consulting proposal assessment – Assessing the proposals is the first step to selecting your consultant for the project. Take the time to review all the proposals, grade them and identify the most promising.
- Check that the consultants have the ability to solve your problem – Ultimately, you are not looking for the most brilliant or the cheapest consulting proposal assessment, but rather the one that will bring you answers to your needs.
- Make sure that they have the skills – Consultants have made an art of grasping the challenges for a given business or industry quickly. Dig beneath the surface to make sure their knowledge and skills are at the level you expect in the consulting proposal assessment.
- Assess the fit with your teams – Most consulting projects require collaboration between your teams and the consulting team. Try to picture how the project could unfold. You can’t? Maybe this Consulting Firm is not right for you.
- Verify that you can afford their services – Last but not least, you want to make sure that the price of the consulting proposal assessment fits your budget. Start with the benefits you expect from the project, and look how much you are ready to pay to reap that value.