Consulting Industry Today

The 6 Surefire Steps in Building Your Preliminary List of Providers

by Hélène Laffitte | Apr 17, 2020 | Clients, Defining the Needs & Finding Consultants

System-wide changes rely on a critical mass of interested parties, all willing to enter into deep partnerships and collaborations, founded on new levels of trust and a commitment to action, not debate.” – Paul Polman

The success of the project hugely depends on choosing the right partners to work with, and there are some surefire steps in the process of getting there.

Your first step is to build a preliminary list of providers. The size of your project will impact the length of your list. For instance, if you have to source a mid-sized project and you are aiming to compare three potential providers, you should include roughly fifteen to twenty companies in your first search.

1. Start with the ideal Consulting “DNA profile” –

You should define your search criteria based on the ideal Consulting DNA Profile.

If you realize you have way too many answers to process, you will have to increase the granularity of your criteria. If the length of your preliminary list of providers is consistent with your goal, you can start digging into the specifics.

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2. Dig into the specifics – What to look at?

You have a draft for your preliminary list of providers at hand, and now you need to confirm that list, look closer at their characteristics to make sure they have the right profile.

Even though a lot of Consulting firms claim they have expertise in all capabilities and industries, their track record says otherwise. Most of them, in particular, small boutiques, have one capability or one sector where they get most of their work. Have a close look at the case studies or the past projects posted on the website. Screen also the past clients: Who are they, what do they do? The background of the founders is also an excellent indicator of the primary focus of the company, especially for small players. Look at the leadership team.

Most Consulting firms will detail their mission or their approach in their brochures or on their website. You will learn about who they are and how they do their job. Are they focusing on high-level strategy or more on implementation consulting? Are they working more on hard or soft aspects? Are they long-life consultants or former executives?

3. Which one is the best partner?

Don’t just contact anybody on the Consulting firm, especially larger ones. Every Partner has a different range of skills and experience, and it will have an impact on your project.

Most Consulting firms are organized by practices based on either Industry Experience or Capability (when not both). They might even display the leadership team on their website with their contact information. If not, you can probably use LinkedIn to spot the partners and look at their profiles.

Another extremely powerful tool is thought leadership. Search articles or white papers on the topic of your project. Most Consulting firms give the names of the authors and often their contact information in the documents. Check their present position on LinkedIn to make sure you have the right company. The turnover in Consulting is vertiginous; you might be one firm behind. You will probably end up adding a few consulting firms to your list after that step.

You should now have a preliminary list of providers that have, at least on paper, the right people with the right skills in the right place. Your next step is to connect with them to check their interest and capabilities in person.

4. Talk to the prospective partners-

Communication is essential, and there are three elements that can only be verified in a one-to-one conversation: interest, availability, and fit. Once you have your list of potential consulting providers, connect with the partners that you have identified to set up a call or a meeting.

Here are a few pointers that you can use for these calls:

  • Listen to them. They will explain what they do and how they do it. You will learn more about their culture, their approach, and their range of expertise.
  • Go through your list of criteria and check if they are indeed a good fit.
  • Don’t share too much about the project. It is still an exploratory call, not a briefing, and you haven’t signed an NDA yet. You can describe the expertise and the past experience that you are looking for and give a few details about the team in charge of the project.
  • Give them visibility on the likeliness of the project and the timeline.
  • Give them an idea of the budget. You don’t have to give a specific number, but you can tell if you have a small budget, or on the contrary, if it is a strategic project for your company.

These exploratory calls are the right time to make sure they are interested in the project you want to launch. It is also the right moment to verify if they will be available for the project and have the bandwidth.

5. Check their references –

Once you have shortlisted a few consulting firms and started the RFP process, your last step is to check the references. Don’t be fooled by the list of logos in the presentations or the anonymous case studies on the website and the proposal. Ask for at least two references for the project.

Take the time to call the references and ask the right questions. You can start listing the elements that matter to you, such as the ability to transfer knowledge, the way they interact with teams, the impact on the business, for instance. Ask the same questions to all the references and all the Consulting firms. You can add a few customized questions that will help you remove uncertainties.

Make sure the reference is relevant –

First, it has to be a real reference. We have seen consulting firms sending as references the names of their former colleagues. Check the name, the position, and the background of the reference to make sure they are real persons and have held relevant positions.

Second, it has to be on a project having similarities with your project. It can be a project with a similar context, approach, location, industry. You want to make sure the consulting provider will know how to deliver your project.

Third, the reference has to be fresh—the more recent, the better. Put yourself a limit (no more than five years is reasonable). The pace of change has accelerated in all industries and functions. A project successfully led fifteen years ago doesn’t say much about what could happen today.

Last but not least, you want excellent references where the consultants have had a positive impact on the company. It will also give you some information on their performance on the different dimensions that will be important in your selection process.

If you have identified cultural fit as a key element of choice for your project, ask questions about how the consultants interacted with their teams, how they adapted to the potential cultural differences.

Don’t compromise on the references. If the consulting provider is using confidentiality as an excuse to retain references, call a third-party player, such as Consulting Quest, to check the references for you.

6. Use a personalized approach –

We mentioned before that consulting has a high turnover rate between 15% and 20% a year. Partners and consultants move from one consulting firm to the next, get hired by clients, or start their own consulting business. Over 4 to 5 years, entire teams leave replaced by new talent.

Who is leading your project and who are the experts involved is an important factor of success for a consulting project. Ask for references for the main individuals in the team. They need to have had an active role in the projects referred to.

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Hélène Laffitte is the CEO of Consulting Quest, a Global Performance-Driven Consulting Platform and author of “Smart Consulting Sourcing”, a step by step guide to getting the best ROI from your consulting. With a blend of experience in Procurement and Consulting, Hélène is passionate about helping Companies create more value through Consulting.

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