Hello and welcome to episode 12 of our podcast, smart consulting sourcing.
The podcast about consulting procurement my name is Helene and I’ll be your host today.
Each week I’ll give you the keys to better use manage and source consulting services. In this episode, I’ll go over the main pitfalls when writing an RFP for consulting services.
Many companies rush the RFP process making it either too vague or too precise. In both cases, they are decreasing their chances to maximize the outcome of the project.
When you run an RFP, you want to be able to choose the best fit for you and that means getting solid proposals from your shortlisted providers.
So, you have to convey your needs in a short document very efficiently.
So, let’s have a look at some of the common mistakes when writing RFPs for a consulting project.
Don’t skip the RFP for consulting
The first mistake is to not have an RFP. So, of course, you need to know what you want to do but when that’s clear in your head you have to write down those expectations in terms of double balls, timelines, staffing and budget.
And you do that even if you work with consultants you know and even if you work only with one consultant. There’s only one way to make sure that the consultants deliver to your expectations, is to clarify your expectation and agree on them with the chosen consultant.
But rushing into the RFP is also a mistake; it’s not the right solution when you don’t know yet what you’re looking for. You need to be clear on what the problem that you want to solve is and what type of approach you’re looking for in order to formalize those expectations.
Know what you are looking for
So, how do you do that? So, you can organize a small workshop internally with the main stakeholders. But you will miss the external insights that a consultant can bring.
You can also use either RFI (request for information) for that preliminary phase and work with the consultant to co-build the RFP.
But be careful because some companies abuse the system and are seen as brain pickers. At some point, the consulting firm won’t be willing to play along anymore.
Get the right team
Another mistake is working with the wrong team when writing your RFP. It’s important to have people on board that can understand both the business objectives and the procurement imperatives of the RFP process.
For large projects, you may also need to involve the strategy and the finance departments. You want to make sure that that project is aligned with both the strategy and the budget allocation for the consulting category for the year.
And you know getting the buy-in of the teams is really an overlooked key success factor for a consulting project. And that RFP phase is a great opportunity to really start putting people together and make sure they agree on both the purpose and the approach that you want to take for that project and clear expectations.
It may be the most important element of the RFP writing, you know, clarifying the expectations and very often botched.
Be brief and simple
The goal is to describe your needs in a limited number of words. So what question do you want to answer? What is the issue you’re trying to solve? What are your deadlines? And what are the results you’re expecting? That’s it.
If you’re able to answer those questions in a limited number of words, then you get clear expectations. Sometimes RFPs are worded in a very fancy way. Some clients even are a little bit lyrical when they’re writing but the problem is that it’s not a book you are writing, right.
It’s something about making sure that the provider will understand what you try to achieve. And in that specific case clarity often works hand in hand with simplicity. I know there’s a quote about John Meda that, I think is right on point is like, “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful”.
You really want to get right to the point with simple words in order to make sure that both your teams and your potential provider are really clear on what are the expectations.
And there’s another thing, you know, that we can think about, is not all consultants are native speakers in your language.
Really, I’m not a native English speaker, and sometimes even me, I consider myself as a proficient speaker, I can struggle with a complicated structure or fancy vocabulary.
And the problem is not being a native speaker doesn’t make me less of a good consultant or a good candidate for a given project. So this is important when you open your bids to foreign companies or companies that are not native speakers in your language, think about that.
And always remember that you will have the opportunity to go into more detail during the briefing of the shortlisted providers. So you don’t need to write a novel about your project. You just need to give them enough information so they can prepare a proposal or at least know where that’s going.
And then during that conversation with them, in particular, if the project is complex, you can go in more depth about what the project is about, the expectations, the context, and so on.
Make sure your expectations are realistic
The RFP, is also about defining your goals for that project and those goals have to be realistic of course you want to be ambitious.
But you also want your supplier to be able to make it happen for you and I always you know remind my clients about the smart objectives.
And you know in smart objectives, the ‘A’ stands for achievable. That’s what it’s about. If you’re not sure about what is achievable, don’t hesitate to initiate the first round of discussion with providers through an RFI for instance.
Avoid too much detail
And last but not least, don’t detail the deliverable too much. It’s kind of the other extreme, you know, you’re re-describing to the comma what to do? How to do it? And when to do it?
But deliverables in RFP are mostly an indicator of what it could look like, or what are kind of the mandatory parts of the project that you want to see. You have to give the consultant some space to surprise you. After all, they are the expert in that field and they might have, deliverables or organization or even a timeline that is more efficient.
Let me give you an example. Two years ago, I sourced a project for an organization rollout. And the client wanted a company really present the organization to the team to make sure everyone was on board. So it was a change management project, with a pinch of organization.
And the consultants, the consultants that won, came up with a game for the team.
They created a game to get them to accept the changes and understand how they will work with the other groups. And that was absolutely not required by the client in the RFP.
So, that’s an example of where the consultant can really bring something completely unexpected but that can bring value to the client.
Because, at the end of the day, the RFP has two purposes.
The first one is to make sure that you find the consultants that clearly understand the issue you’re trying to tackle, that are able to tackle this issue, and that you can work with.
And the second goal is to define a clear framework for the project so you can manage your project and measure the impact.
Well that’s it for today. Next week I will explain how to find new consulting providers for your projects.
In the meantime if you have any questions or want to learn more about what we do at consulting quest, just send me an email at Helene.email@example.com
Bye and see you next week Au revoir!