How to Manage the Procurement Consultant/Client Relationship

We are delighted to bring you this advisory post looking at how organisations can achieve the best outcomes from a consultant and client relationship, from Jane McAuliffe, advisory principal at Optimum Procurement Group.

The internal procurement function has changed and has moved way beyond simple cost containment. Procurement has become increasingly strategic, linking and aligning the external supply base with increasingly demanding internal stakeholders as well as challenging organisational objectives and managing increased risk and complexity in order to do so.

This changing environment has led to more and more organisations looking to bring in external support; and just as the internal procurement function has changed, so too has the procurement consulting landscape.

In addition to generalist consultancies that provide procurement solutions as one of their many business streams, the market is now seeing increasing demand for pure-play procurement specialists. There are also outsourcing firms that focus on transactional processes, service providers that provide specialist category and market expertise and providers that develop procurement capability, operating models and strategies targeted at specific initiatives for in-house teams.

All in all, the market is intensively competitive, so there is plenty of opportunity to find and evaluate the right solution and provider, as well as establish clear, workable terms of engagement from the outset.

Based on my experiences as a procurement consultant, here are my top tips for ensuring the client/consultant relationship achieves optimum results:

  1. Client managers need to establish from the outset what the project benefits should be and how these should be measured. This clarity should apply to both quantitative as well as qualitative objectives; even for something as simple as savings delivery. Lack of detailed methodology upfront can lead to compensation disagreements further down the line.
  2. It is important to identify clearly the pathway between project objectives to be taken on by the consulting team and the organisational strategy. No two businesses are the same and the inherent differences in culture, structure, ways of working, opportunities and strategies mean that where project objectives are clearly aligned to business strategy, a unique solution designed to support this will inherently have a better chance of reducing any potential internal resistance and implementation success.
  3. Success in client-consultancy projects depends largely on the quality of the relationship – trust and collaboration are two key attributes here, as is the ability for consultants to roll up their sleeves and deliver.
  4. Those client managers who have put thought into the best way to contract with consultants and use lessons learned from previous delivery models will usually receive better eventual outcomes. Such considerations include whether to contract on an output or defined specification basis, as well as selecting the best pricing model. Both of these can make a significant difference to how the project is conducted.
  5. In terms of project governance, client managers who approach project milestones as proper decision points, help ensure, together with their consulting teams, that not only schedules and budgets are maintained, but also that external projects don’t promise things they simply can’t deliver.
  6. Don’t just show the consultants where the coffee machine is, take the time to have a coffee and open doors to important stakeholders within the business. For consultants as well as internal staff, getting traction in a complex business is always a challenge and often a coffee provides a great opportunity to better understand the people who make up a business and build credibility with key stakeholders.

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First Voice

  1. RJ:

    Good post, I just wonder why this is labelled as getting the most out of Procurement Consultants – the messages apply equally well to any client/consultant relationship

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