I have been in consulting in various forms for over 20 years. This has ranged from working in Big 4 accounting firms to engineering infrastructure advisory organisations and my own infrastructure advisory firm. In this time, I have worked with many clients on different types of work. This has ranged from one off engagements through to long term projects including secondments and ongoing support and implementation roles. Consulting has always been enjoyable with a strong focus on learning and growing along the journey.
When being initially engaged by clients to provide a proposal on what we can offer, this is normally undertaken through various channels. You have the more formal process of tenders, select tenders, panels and other formal procurement methods. The other manner is through being sole sourced or part of a select source opportunity with a number of other providers. The method of procurement is important as it impacts on your go/no go assessment as to whether you wish to work with the client, whether the service you are offering fits their requirements and whether you have the time and capacity to undertake the work successfully.
If the go/no go is positive, we start the process of writing a proposal. When preparing to write a proposal, a client can either make it easy or hard for the consultant to understand what they are looking to achieve from the engagement. Long, convoluted documents are hard to interpret in writing effective proposals. No information at all is even more challenging as you need to assume things that may not be right or you are unclear on the outcomes the client is looking for. This can waste a lot of time, money and effort for a consultant. They tend to be writing with the shotgun rather than the rifle when preparing the proposal hoping to hit the mark rather than writing with a clear purpose and understanding of what is expected.
I find that clients that take the time to write an effective and succinct brief on what they are looking for will get the best outcomes from the consulting engagement. Taking this small step to think this through and provide it to your intended selection of consultants and service providers goes a long way to receiving proposals that meet your expectations and allow the consultant to demonstrate the value they can provide to you and your organisation. It is refreshing to receive it and gives you energy to start writing a proposal which is not the most enjoyable aspect of the consulting game.
To support the points above, I have recently received a brief from a client who are looking for culture development services for their organisation. They had taken the time to write an excellent brief and forwarded it on to me as one of three consultants looking to provide a proposal to them. In addition, they followed it up with a phone call ensuring I had received it and looking to answer any questions I may have. Further, they have allowed time for me to meet face to face with them prior to submitting our proposal which is fantastic. Sometimes the written word can be interpreted literally or we may need clarification. The face to face meeting allows for questions, clarification and alignment on the intended outcomes they are looking to see from the engagement. I encourage all clients to give their service providers the opportunity to meet face to face.
So what does an effective consultant engagement brief look like for a project? I have used the skeleton of my client brief’s to structure this and added a number of additional points based on my experience. The key elements include the following:
- Background and context. A couple of paragraphs around the project, what you are looking for and why this is important.
- Your perspective on the problems you are facing and/or the opportunity you see from this engagement. This is important for understanding and alignment with your consultant so that assumptions are not made.
- Outputs and deliverables you are seeing from the engagement. This allows the consultant to be very clear on what needs to be delivered which assists with focus areas, scope and the commercial offering.
- What outcomes and deliverables you are not seeking? This allows us to be clear on what we don’t need to provide. The client gets the Commodore rather than the Rolls Royce.
- What you would like to see in the proposal response. This allows the consultant to be brief and succinct in the proposal response and you get what you need rather than lots of waffle and information that is not useful.
- Key dates and timeframes. This is important for planning resourcing and understanding whether we can deliver the outcomes in a timely manner.
- What resources or skills do you bring to the engagement or would like utilised as part of the engagement? This allows the consultant to understand who the key people are that we need to engage with and their roles. It also assists commercially in understanding what the client will be doing and what is expected to be undertaken by the consultant.
These elements allow you to receive proposals back from consultants that hit the mark and really ensure they understand what you are looking for. It assists consultants greatly as one of the biggest costs in running a consulting firm is bid and tendering costs. They are significant and take time and effort. Set up your consultant for success. It will ensure you get the responses you want and also ensures the consultant is excited by the opportunity to work with you.