Buying professional services – the Consultancy Buyers Forum develop best practice

Last Thursday we looked at buying strategic consultancy in the context of the recent Consultancy Buyers Forum where this was discussed. The other major topic at that session was work going on to develop good practice guidance, with working groups consisting of both consultancy buyers and staff from provider firms contributing .

That seems an excellent approach. It’s clear that there are many areas where better practice would benefit both parties to the consulting transaction. For instance, more effective and efficient supplier selection processes save time and money for both buyers and sellers, and would lead to better results as well.  Or an effective process for assessing and communicating consultant performance would be of great benefit again to all parties. So work with buy and sell sides of the industry collaborating should be really beneficial.

The Forum has identified four areas to consider within the programme, and has a team working on each of:

  • needs definition;
  • supplier selection & contracting;
  • delivering outcomes; and
  • evaluating performance.


In each area, a framework is being developed. That includes identifying “focal points” and then “key questions”,  which the delegates at the recent meeting were invited to comment on.  (Those questions are at the moment framing the guidance to be developed rather than providing solutions, it’s worth stressing).

So for example, under “supplier selection and contracting” we have three “focal points”; frequently asked questions, qualification and commercial models, and contract terms.  Then, drilling down (as an example), under “contract terms”, key questions include:

  • How may different “variants” might be required?
  • What terms and conditions are always organisational / project specific?
  • How much contractual / commercial flexibility should be allowed / planned for


Now I’d like to think Fiona Czerniawska and I tried to address some good practice issues in our book (“Buying Professional Services”, published in 2010 by the Economist Books). But the Forum has come up with some appropriate and perceptive questions and issues here. And the recent session provided an opportunity to both present the work to date, and get participants inputs to answering those questions.

When participants were asked how useful they would find the outputs from each of the four areas under consideration, the last – evaluating performance – was by some way the highest score. That bears out my view that the issue of understanding and assessing what “good consulting” looks like is absolutely core to getting better value from this whole spend category.

One final point. The Forum event attracted around 60 people – a good turn-out, but buyers were slightly outnumbered by people from  consulting firms. It would be good to see more procurement specialists involved in this, and I have no doubt that any Professional Services category manager would get something out of their involvement, without a huge time commitment. There’s more information here anyway if you want to follow that up, or indeed just see the work that is going on around good practice in more detail.

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  1. Paul Vincent:

    Hi Peter. Here are a few additional points of information for your readership. We currently have c140 procurement professionals belonging to the Forum, many from FTSE 100/250 organisations. Membership is free. We will be holding two theme based events each year (of the scale you attended recently) and a range of webinars/smaller focus groups in between. Our core focus as you say is to identify and share the good consultancy buying practice that all three points in the triangle clients, firms and procurement professionals will find helpful in maximising value delivered. Finally it is worth highlighting that we are not starting from ground zero we are embracing any pre-existing material that supports this agenda. The book that you wrote with Fiona definitely fits that description. If any of your readership would like to know more then happy to be contacted directly.

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