How to Manage Tail Spend in Consulting?

October 6, 2023

For many corporations, the consulting category presents a conundrum. On one side of the scale lies the pressing need to trim expenses, while on the other, a palpable resistance emerges at the mere mention of cutting back on projects deemed ‘vital’ and ‘strategic’. But as we peel back the layers, the question arises: are all these initiatives genuinely as strategic as they are portrayed to be?

Yet, the focal point of our discussion is not on demand management, but rather the often overlooked area of managing tail spend in consulting — a domain characterized by a high volume of miscellaneous expenses that, though individually small, can accumulate to a significant sum.

In the intricate landscape of consulting, the tail often casts a daunting shadow. Buying behaviors, compounded by fragmented spending, commonly spread out across various departments, leaving procurement in the dark until the eleventh hour — merely when they’re beckoned to finalize a Purchase Order (PO).

The reality is, managing tail spend in consulting isn’t just another line item; it’s unique. With its distinctive challenges and intricacies, addressing it demands bespoke strategies. But here’s the silver lining: mitigating this tail spend doesn’t necessitate usurping the autonomy of business units.

So, the million-dollar question stands — how can we navigate this delicate balance and chart a course that harmonizes cost efficiencies with departmental prerogatives? Join us as we delve into this intricate landscape, exploring tactics and strategies tailored for this unique challenge.

Understanding and Defining Tail Spend in Consulting

Tail Spend in consulting, often disregarded due to its fragmented nature, holds potential savings and efficiencies that organizations can no longer afford to ignore. By recognizing its significance and the inherent challenges, businesses can take the first step towards better managing tail spend in consulting, this crucial segment of their expenditure.

Grasping the Essence of Tail Spend

If you’ve ever skimmed through your personal bank statements, focusing mainly on the large, glaring expenses and brushing aside those minute ones, you’ve inadvertently encountered the concept of tail spend. Those seemingly inconsequential expenses, when accumulated, present a figure that’s impossible to ignore.

This very idea extrapolates to corporate expenses, especially in the domain of consulting. Managing tail spend in consulting in this realm refers to the bottom 20% of your expenditure, encompassing smaller transaction values distributed across a myriad of suppliers.

Surprisingly, despite its subdued presence, it often lacks the rigorous management and attention that other expenses get. And when we’re talking about corporate figures, even this 20% can translate into a significant sum.

The Ripple Effect of Unmanaged Tail Spend

By offering business units the autonomy to engage consultants for projects below a certain budgetary threshold, companies aim to foster flexibility and rapid decision-making. But herein lies the dilemma.

This very autonomy can lead to an oversight, where these minor consulting projects go unchecked. And if you aggregate these costs at an organizational level, you might be looking at a whopping 25% of the total consulting expenditure. With tightening fiscal belts and an emphasis on cost-efficiency, such numbers might even pique the interest of the vigilant CFO.

The Challenges of Managing Tail Spend in Consulting

Tail Spend, by its nature, presents specific challenges that hinder its optimization:

Diverse Supplier Base: A wide range of suppliers usually characterize tail spend. This scattering makes it hard to standardize processes or exert control.

Decentralized Purchasing Behavior: When individual departments or teams have the liberty to engage consultants without looping in the procurement team, it creates a decentralized purchasing pattern, making oversight difficult.

Minimal Supplier Vetting: With the focus on larger expenditures, smaller consulting projects might not go through a rigorous supplier qualification process, leading to potential risks.

Lack of Performance Metrics: Smaller projects might evade performance assessments, making it hard to measure value for money or ROI.

Absence of Category Management: Tail Spend, especially in consulting, often lacks category management due to the variety of projects and the significance of interpersonal dynamics in consulting relationships.

To cap it off, the nature of consulting, with its inherent diversity in projects and the pivotal role of interpersonal connections, amplifies these challenges. Comparing projects becomes an ordeal, and the lack of standardized metrics makes the task of managing tail spend in consulting a complex endeavor.

Take Control of the Tail Spend

Analyzing Your Spend

In the intricate maze of corporate expenses, managing tail spend in consulting often remains an enigma. While its presence is acknowledged, its components and potential impact might be nebulous. Conducting a comprehensive spend analysis can unravel this mystery and shed light on how to manage tail spend in consulting effectively.

Gathering Data on Previous Projects

Understanding how to manage tail spend in consulting begins by recognizing its constituents. It’s imperative to identify the myriad projects within this segment and classify them into coherent sub-categories. This task can be especially challenging in decentralized organizations, where autonomy often leads to diverse and fragmented data pools.

To bring clarity to this chaos and effectively manage tail spend in consulting, collaboration across departments becomes essential, ensuring that the data is not just abundant but also accurate. If your organization has never embarked on this analytical journey, perhaps it’s the opportune moment to initiate a spend analysis focused on tail spend in consulting.

Action Tip: Collaborate with different organizational units, ensuring the data you gather is holistic and accurate.

Assessing Provider Performance

While numbers are critical, the story behind them is equally, if not more, vital in the context of managing tail spend in consulting. Delve deeper into the performance metrics of your consultants within the tail spend category.

Understanding where they’ve added value and where they’ve faltered provides a comprehensive picture of how to manage tail spend effectively. Engaging with project sponsors and leaders can furnish insights that might not be evident in the raw data. Such conversations can offer feedback on each consultant’s efficacy in tail spend management, enabling informed decisions in the future.

Action Tip: Engage in discussions with project stakeholders to gain insights beyond numerical data.

Evaluating the Size of the Prize

Once you’ve painted a clear picture of your tail spend, the next step is to assess its potential for effective management. Is it worth the effort and resources to optimize tail spend in consulting? Determining the ‘size of the prize’ involves juxtaposing potential savings against the efforts required.

By gathering comprehensive data on different projects within the tail spend category, you can construct an overarching view of your consulting expenses. The potential savings from managing tail spend in consulting can vary widely, from 5% to 40%, depending on your organization’s procurement maturity. When the potential gains outweigh the resources invested, it’s a clear green signal to proceed with the optimization of tail spend in consulting.

Action Tip: Leverage advanced analytics tools to evaluate potential savings and determine the feasibility of tail spend optimization.

Spend analysis is more than a mere audit of expenses; it’s a strategic approach to uncover hidden opportunities within the tail spend. By understanding its composition, assessing the performance of providers, and evaluating the potential benefits, organizations can navigate the path of tail spend optimization with clarity and confidence.

Unraveling the ‘False Tail’

When it comes to managing tail spend in consulting, one of the most elusive challenges involves distinguishing genuine small expenses from the ‘false tail.’ This ‘false tail’ camouflages more significant expenses that might otherwise undergo more scrutiny, making it crucial to implement effective strategies for managing these expenses. In the world of consulting, this phenomenon manifests in a variety of ways.

One-time Projects: These represent the quintessence of tail spend. These projects, often characterized by a distinct scope and a definitive endpoint, rarely extend beyond their initial frame. Examples include specialized workshops or diagnostic sessions.

Duplicate Projects: A classic representation of organizational silos, duplicate projects arise when different departments or business units commission similar tasks. These tasks can either be handled by a single consultancy or multiple entities, leading to resource redundancy and potential inefficiencies. To manage tail spend in consulting effectively, it’s essential to encourage cross-departmental communication and reviews to prevent such overlaps.

Action Tip: Encourage cross-departmental communication and reviews to prevent such overlaps.

Recurring Projects: These projects have a repetitive model, executed periodically. Examples encompass pulse surveys, voice-of-the-customer assessments, or regular benchmarking sessions.

Never-ending Sequels: Hidden beneath the garb of fragmented initiatives, these never-ending sequels are essentially large tasks broken into smaller units, typically to circumvent stricter oversight. Projects that move beyond phase 4 or initiatives targeting individual units of a larger entity, like individual plant diagnoses, fall under this category. An effective management of tail spend in consulting requires a close examination of such projects to identify opportunities for cost reduction and efficiency improvement.

Externalized Workforce: On occasions, consultants are brought on board not only for their specific expertise but also as a workaround for rigid HR policies or to fill short-term expertise gaps. Properly managing tail spend  involves evaluating the necessity of externalizing the workforce in such cases and exploring alternative solutions to minimize expenses.

Tail and False Tail Spend

Unmasking the Deception

To manage tail spend in consulting efficiently while addressing the ‘false tail’, you must:

Regroup What’s Fragmented: Recurring and duplicate projects should not be relegated to the tail. Instead, consider a holistic strategy, like a unified contract for recurring tasks or cross-departmental RFPs for larger initiatives, such as digital transformations.

Fine-tune the Rules: To effectively manage tail spend in consulting, establish agile workflows and checks to ensure that the genuine tail remains manageable. Consistently review and refine the processes to identify and rectify any emerging false tail.

Action Tip: Implement a centralized system that tracks and categorizes consulting projects. This will help identify patterns, repetitions, and overlaps, allowing for strategic consolidation and optimization.

While tail spend is a nuanced aspect of expenditure management, the ‘false tail’ adds another layer of complexity. Effective identification and management of this deceptive segment can lead to more streamlined processes, reduced redundancies, and significant cost savings.

Recognizing the ‘false tail’ and taking proactive measures to manage it can bring about impactful transformations in how an organization handles its consulting expenses.

Strategic Management of Small Projects

After uncovering the intricacies of the tail spend, it’s essential to pivot towards a robust strategy to manage these expenses. Smaller consulting projects, while potentially less impactful in isolation, can cumulatively lead to significant costs. Therefore, establishing a proactive strategy to manage tail spend in consulting is crucial. Here’s a two-pronged approach:

Demand Management with Dedicated Envelope

One effective way to regulate and oversee smaller projects is through a dedicated budget envelope. This approach involves:

Budget Allocation: Set aside specific financial resources for small projects. This predetermined envelope ensures that departments remain within defined limits, preventing cost overruns.

Empowering Discretion: Grant departments or teams the discretion to spend within this envelope without undergoing rigorous procurement protocols or extensive demand management for minuscule projects. Such a measure fosters agility and empowers teams, all while ensuring cost control.

Action Tip: Regularly review the allocated envelope amounts, adjusting based on historical spend and forecasted needs. Engage with department heads to gather feedback and ensure the envelope amount remains relevant.

Guided Sourcing with Preferred Suppliers

For many organizations, the sheer volume of suppliers can become unwieldy. A strategic response is to curate a list of preferred vendors, leading to a slew of benefits:

Streamlined Process: By maintaining a vetted list of suppliers, the procurement process becomes significantly more straightforward and less time-consuming.

Volume-based Discounts: A limited list allows for more significant business with each supplier, often translating to better rates.

Assured Quality: These suppliers are pre-qualified, ensuring consistent quality and reduced risk.

Stakeholder Empowerment: Allow your stakeholders the autonomy to source on their own, but with the backing of suggested best practices and clear guidelines. Instead of stringent rules that may be perceived as bureaucratic, offer guidance that enhances their sourcing decisions.

Action Tip: Regularly review and update the list of preferred suppliers, considering feedback from various departments and past project outcomes.

Balancing Control with Flexibility in Managing Tail Spend in Consulting

When it comes to tail spend management in consulting, balancing control with flexibility emerges as a pivotal theme. It’s essential to approach the matter with a consciousness that strict control mechanisms, while designed to streamline processes, might inadvertently birth unproductive workarounds.

The underlining goal of managing tail spend in consulting should be not to stifle initiative but to foster a channel through which it can be executed efficiently and responsibly in the context of

Resistance to rigid systems is often less about non-compliance and more about professionals navigating towards the most straightforward and efficient pathway to launch a project and address a pressing issue in the realm of managing tail spend in consulting.

Parallelly, a considerable lever consulting tail spend management pivots on the strategic reduction in the number of suppliers, a methodology that has been applied even at a broader category level in the context of managing tail spend in consulting.

This strategy requires the careful qualification of suppliers for designated categories, with a limit on the number of suppliers permitted per category, specifically tailored for managing tail spend in consulting.

While the onset of this strategy bears promises of order and efficiency, it houses a latent risk of failure, predominantly when the inherent specificity of the consulting category is overlooked in the context of managing tail spend in consulting.

A not-so-granular delineation of sub-categories could inadvertently result in a restricted circle of large, one-stop-shop suppliers, triggering a mechanical surge in prices and thereby nullifying the savings initially envisaged through the tail spend optimization.

To steer clear of such pitfalls, organizations must craft policies that harbor a deep understanding of the nuances in consulting categories, promoting a harmonious balance between control and flexibility.

This entails creating a framework that stands not as an impediment but as a guiding beacon, aiding in the fruitful initiation and execution of projects without fostering a ground for inefficiencies.

Therefore, the art lies in striking the right chord, one that harmonizes initiative with responsibility, creativity with boundaries, granting professionals the room to maneuver skillfully within defined, intelligent confines, thereby nurturing a fertile ground for both cost-efficiency and innovation in managing tail spend in consulting.

Consulting Tail Spend

The Road Ahead

In the consulting world, the journey to effectively manage tail spend is iterative and perennial. It’s not about merely setting a strategy and hoping it works forever. Instead, it’s about consistent refining, open dialogue for feedback, and proactive adjustments in line with the ever-changing organizational landscape.

Embrace Digital Platforms

As the world becomes more interconnected and digital, the advantages of incorporating digital platforms are paramount. Such platforms can seamlessly combine various facets of tail spend management, offering a consolidated solution that streamlines the process and makes it more efficient.

Foster Knowledge of the Local Consulting Market

Understanding your surroundings gives you an edge. Dive into the local consulting market. Not only will this offer insights into potential suppliers, but it also allows the nurturing of vital relationships.

This proactive approach ensures that when a need arises, you have a curated list of competent providers at your fingertips, enhancing reactivity and ensuring that projects are launched without delay.

Secure Managerial Buy-in

The success of any strategic change is contingent upon its acceptance by key stakeholders. Hence, it’s crucial to instill a sense of urgency among managers. A compelling narrative, rooted in data and the promise of tangible benefits, can be persuasive.

Highlight the size of the prize. Emphasize how optimized consulting spend can aid in meeting annual fiscal objectives. Every manager grapples with the challenge of managing OPEX; demonstrating potential savings can resonate with their operational challenges and gain their commitment.

Chart Your Path Forward

Before embarking on this transformative journey to manage tail spend in consulting, it’s essential to meticulously design a blueprint for change. Begin with a robust business case that captures the essence of why this change is needed, especially when it comes to managing tail spend in consulting.

And while it’s tempting to aim for the stars from the outset, it’s often wise to start small in this realm. Small, early wins in tail spend management can set the tone, serving as evidence for the naysayers and garnering wider organizational buy-in for your approach to managing tail spend in consulting.

Over time, even these minor savings in tail spend management can aggregate into substantial gains, ultimately benefiting your consulting endeavors. As the age-old adage goes, “small streams make big rivers.” By demonstrating that collective, albeit modest, efforts can culminate in significant savings in managing tail spend in consulting, you’re better positioned to motivate everyone towards a shared vision.

In essence, as we navigate the intricacies of tail spend management in consulting, it’s about harmonizing precision with adaptability, vision with pragmatism. Small, consistent strides in managing tail spend in consulting can indeed lead to transformative change, ensuring that consulting spend is not just an expense but an investment yielding rich dividends.

Conclusion – How to Manage Tail Spend in Consulting

While tail spend in consulting might initially appear as ‘small change’ in the grand scheme of procurement, its strategic and meticulous management can unlock avenues for substantial savings and foster smoother operational workflows. It nudges organizations to delve deeper, to not just comprehend its intricacies but to debunk the ‘false tail’ — a nuanced understanding that steers away from viewing it as a problem to finding proactive solutions.

In the corporate arena, we often emphasize resolving issues through corrective actions; however, preventive measures hold equal, if not more, weight. The emphasis should shift from merely finding problems to solving them pragmatically. It’s about preemptively orchestrating strategies that keep the tail spend under control without engendering new issues or agitating internal stakeholders.

The road to efficiency is paved with collaborative solutions. Providing teams with adept tools that facilitate straightforward sourcing of consulting avenues can convert them into allies in your quest for efficiencies. Leveraging digital tools stands out as a viable pathway here, offering a marriage of convenience and efficiency that can fundamentally transform the procurement landscape.

As we forge ahead, let’s remember that every penny indeed counts, especially when managing tail spend in consulting. Beyond focusing on the large expenditures, there lies an untapped reservoir of potential in managing the smaller spends adeptly. It is a continual journey of refining strategies with a preventive lens, embracing digital solutions, and fostering partnerships grounded in mutual understanding and cooperation, all while managing tail spend in consulting.

So, as we stand at the cusp of potential change, it is incumbent upon us to not just focus on the big bucks but to give the ‘pennies’ their due diligence. Because, when managed right, those ‘pennies’ can indeed contribute to a reservoir of savings, facilitating a journey where every dollar spent is not just an expenditure but a step towards greater efficacy and strategic foresight.

PS: To delve deeper into effective tail spend management in consulting and avoid common mistakes, I recommend further reading of this article, “5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Managing the Tail Spend in Consulting”. Also watch this episode, “Tackle The Tail Spend in Consulting” from our highly acclaimed podcast series, “How to buy Consulting Like a Pro.” These pieces can provide valuable insights to help you make the most of your tail spend management efforts.

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Helene Laffitte

Hélène Laffitte is the CEO of Consulting Quest, a Global Performance-Driven Consulting Platform. With a blend of experience in Procurement and Consulting, Hélène is passionate about helping Companies create more value through Consulting. To find out more, visit the blog or contact her directly.

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