Clients vs Consultants – there is two sides to this “see-saw” and the competitive tension between client and consultant is normal and necessary as part of delivering great projects. However, which side dominates is often driven by the market forces at the time, and can occasionally overly skew the balance of power, resulting in potential pitfalls commercially on both sides.

Right now (Q1 2016), the market forces have been dictating that consultants are currently reducing their rates and accepting more “challenging” contract terms to win work in a competitive marketplace. As part of the process of trying to win work based on price (not a desirable situation if it is price alone), consultants are also providing proposals based explicitly on what the client has asked for and absolutely nothing else. This can be dangerous territory for both consultant and client, specifically if either is not aware or experienced around the potential risks, qualifiers and assumptions that are a healthy part of a proposal process to ensure alignment of both parties.

Danger to clients:

Selection based on price alone, can force consultants to abandon value added options and innovation and not voluntarily advising of any flaws, key risks and exclusions in a clients scope or specification. All options are stripped out by the consultant and a bare bones submission is submitted. Following a successful proposal and award, the consultant will effectively “work to the letter” and detail and detail multiple variations that are critical to the completion of the project – all of which were evident to the consultant at the time of bid but not communicated to the client.

Danger to consultants:

Keeping their powder dry for downstream variations can be a risky process for consultants. One of the most obvious dangers is the relationship damage, as clients can feel deceived and develop a lack of trust due to the consultant not being open and transparent at the proposal stage. From here future work from this client can be difficult to secure and in a market where work is difficult to come by this can be dangerous territory. Another potential problem with this bid strategy can be an expectation of the client (despite a seemingly prescriptive scope of works) of disclosure, and subsequent rejection of variation orders.

Regardless of the side of the fence we sit on, the ultimate loser can be the project. It can be a difficult see-saw to balance, and can be thrown out of balance by either side. The best approach from either a consultant or client side is a sound awareness of the commercials that each party faces, open and honest discussions from the start of the proposal process right through to delivery of the project and an intent to keep the balance as best you can from your side with the objective of developing strong and sustainable relationships.