When you buy consulting services, you usually want to buy value. This article will teach you how to buy consulting services and ensure that they are worth what it costs.
There are many advantages and compelling reasons why you should hire a consultant for your next project. In today’s fast-paced, ever-changing environment, your company must do everything possible to gain every competitive advantage, increase income, and position the brand to stand out even more among the competition.
Finding and selecting the best Consultant suited to your specific needs is half the battle in successfully completing your project. The most prominent benefit consultants can provide to your company is temporary expertise on a per-project basis usually. Hence, there is no further obligation to you, as the client, unless you like to use their services on a repeat basis.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the advantages of working with consultants:
- When you hire a consultant just for a project, the cost is less than employing a full-time employee.
- When you hire a subcontractor, you can extend the project as needed.
- You have access to high-level expertise and prior professional experience
- The consultants bring an unbiased and objective view on the issues
- The services are simple to cancel if they aren’t required any longer.
1. When should you buy consulting services?
Working with consultants can help businesses produce value more successfully and quickly in a variety of areas. In addition, a Consultant is frequently better positioned to detect issues that stakeholders or individuals too involved in your organization might miss.
You’re considering several strategic possibilities.
Our economic conditions and business environment are set at a fast-changing pace today. Many organizations find it motivating and exciting to explore new opportunities. Yet, they often struggle with a lack of technical expertise in this new industry. A properly selected Consulting firm can be the needed support your organization seeks.
Many organizations looking to expand into new territory can find high interest in new and emerging markets. As a new player and regardless of the size of your company, you will strongly benefit from working with individuals with experience in that geographic region. In addition, they will bring you precious insights into the legislation, the infrastructure, and of course, the local culture.
You already know that when revenues stagnate or when a more powerful competitor threatens your market share and affects your sales and profitability, the most viable solution is to power up growth and expand. Again, consulting firms that specialize in these areas will be your best bet.
One of the strategic approaches for an organization can be to merge with or acquire a competitor. Consultants, who boast a wealth of experience in that capacity, can ease the process and provide invaluable advice.
It is handy to have an independent party examine the choices and validate the approach when embarking on a new course of action.
You need to increase your competitiveness..
Product quality is a central concern for Companies. Consultants can help you break down your process into specific stages and identify potential product improvements.
Cost reduction is a major area of concern for all organizations today. As a result, clients often work with consulting firms to reduce costs and boost revenue and profitability by applying Lean Management, Lean Thinking, and Lean Processes.
Some non-strategic areas of operations that do not deliver expected results and are problematic are better off outsourced to other vendors.
You want to develop your organization and retain your talent.
Top performers and most skilled employees are commonly driven to achieve new goals. Unfortunately, they are also the ablest to find new positions and more attractive compensation offered by other companies. Thus, it is difficult to understand, motivate, and inspire top employees to stay with the company if they see opportunities elsewhere.
In the same way that a surgeon would have difficulties operating on himself, most companies rely on external consultants to help them design and implement a new organization.
You need specific expertise or resources you don’t have in-house.
As Consultants acquire years of specialization in a narrow field, they can offer a wealth of knowledge in an area no other team member can provide. It is one of the most common reasons why businesses buy consulting services.
Consultants commonly have solid experience in project management. And many organizations prefer to use outside experts to tackle important projects. Detailed planning, task management, adherence to deadlines, and many more aspects of a project, need an expert’s overseeing.
A fundamental part of each problem your business faces is to define it correctly. As a very experienced professional, a Consultant will be able to see and describe the issue better. And it’s imperative to make sure the problem is truthfully identified before you start searching for solutions.
Often hiring a Consultant is the most feasible option for a specific job. When there is extra work for a short period to be done, and your organization lacks the proper resources, the Consulting firm can bring in much-needed support.
2. What impact can you expect from working with consultants?
Too many companies are thinking about consulting as additional resources or through the lens of their current project. Very few executives have indeed a clear view of the value they provide. Indeed, the added value brought by consultants can be classified into two categories: Technical and Political. Most projects will have benefits for both families.
What Technical Added Value can Consultants create for you?
Technical added value best corresponds with know-how in specialized professional fields. A seasoned expert in their area has decades of experience and can undoubtedly provide great benefits by working for your organization. First, let’s look at the parameters of technical added-value.
Providing Outside Knowledge
Derived from the wealth of their professional experience, Consultants possess rich information on customers, products, markets, and competitors. They can perform surveys, reach out to experts, and leverage their analytical power in ways inaccessible to clients.
Indeed, the more consultants are specialized, the higher the chances they have faced similar issues or worked on adjacent problems. The drawback is that if they are valuable to you because they have worked with your competition, they will probably be valuable to your competition in the future.
When it comes to capabilities, specialized consulting firms have gathered tons of data relative to methodologies, processes, tools. They know what works and where the potholes are on the road. They provide benchmarks, state of the art elements, and perform maturity assessments.
Accurately Diagnosing a Problem and its Solution
Often the problem an organization faces is how they ‘see’ the problem. Misdiagnosed or misinterpreted problems will further complicate the business and will lead the team in the wrong direction. In addition, they are often making it time-consuming and more expensive to find the optimal solution.
The ability to frame and analyze an issue leads to structured problem solving and accurate and effective recommendations. A Consultant will normally gather, analyze a treasure trove of information, and present it to enable Executives to make effective and optimal decisions for the company.
Assist in the implementation of the solution
Consultants can successfully help facilitate the generation of a capability improvement roadmap and Securing/Accelerating the execution – Projects Management; Additional dedicated resources; Increased expertise level are all elements of the implementation, which is the crucial stage to achieve the expected impact.
Last, Consultants can also Audit management practices – these include: Analyzing performance, adherence to processes and policies, providing an independent assessment.
What about the political added value?
It is no secret that political moves are at play within any more significant or even smaller organization. And it often gets tricky to navigate complex terrain, even for an Executive, especially for an Executive. Consultants, however, can effectively contribute to smoother processes, introduction, and facilitation of new measures, and much more.
Providing legitimacy for decisions … or be the scapegoat
You can play with this aspect in different ways. Companies, for instance, will be tempted to use large and famous consultancies to analyze and, in many cases, rubber stamp tough decisions. Especially when they have to be presented at a higher level (think Board or Executive Committee)
An Executive can justify a decision and blame the Consultant if something goes wrong. It provides relief for the Management team and mimics the famous crime drama plot with the Consultant taking the ‘bad cop role’ to execute painful decisions.
Facilitating the convergence between stakeholders on a variety of issues and decisions
For instance: by facilitating alignment and improving relations among key stakeholders, analyzing a situation, interviewing stakeholders, and facilitating better decision-making within the entire organization. As the CEO of a huge US Bank put it about his trusted advisor. “Nobody really knows what he does … but we work better when he is there.”
Acting as a sounding board/Trusted Advisor
Playing a sounding board role to bounce ideas when CEOs can’t exchange with their teams is valuable. Things are lonely at the top, and CEOs cannot discuss everything with their Leadership team. Besides, the Trusted advisor will not have an agenda and can provide an unbiased second opinion.
Enforcing unpopular changes
Think about cost-cutting projects or restructuring. Those can, of course, be led internally, but it can be difficult to find volunteers to be the executioner of tough decisions or to be the one recommending cutting this or that part of the workforce. Not everyone can be as comfortable as George Clooney as a corporate downsizer in “Up in the Air.”
The Capabilities are the Services offered by consultants. They usually mirror the business functions that client organizations need to perform. This dimension is crucial to describe the work in consulting. Most Consulting Firms will have at least this information on their company presentations.
A little bit like a process map, you can organize the Capabilities in 7 High-Level Categories. Then, the market size corresponding to those capabilities is linked to the difference in size and budgets of the associated client functions and the associated value created.
We’ve created our own categorization in the absence of a standard breakdown of consulting services.
Strategy & Management
Strategy is about building a competitive advantage among the competition and make profits. As a result, the capability is geared toward high-level corporate decisions. It helps leaders define “where to play” and “how to win.” A significant share of high-level Consulting engagements falls in this category.
For a long time, Strategy was the most important capability. However, its relative share in the consulting market has decreased while implementation and excellence projects were flourishing. Today this category represents about 10% of the global market.
This category includes capabilities such as Corporate Strategy, Business Unit Strategy, Organization Architecture, Management Model, Corporate Governance, Innovation Strategy, M&A, Strategic Communication, as well as Economic or Government Policy.
Sales & Marketing
Sales & Marketing is focused on top-line activities to help companies drive profitable growth. Sales & marketing consultants support clients to deliver above-market growth by developing their marketing capabilities or improving their sales effectiveness.
This capability is striving in the consulting market as its impact on P&L is usually direct and measurable. The category represents close to 10% of the management consulting market.
This category includes Branding, Revenue Management, Market Entry Strategy, Omni Channel Marketing, Sales Effectiveness, or Customer Experience.
Operations are one of the largest lines of services. It regroups most of the activities where products and services are usually built or delivered. Even though Operations can be a source of innovation and a differentiator, most of the time, the focus is on reducing costs and increasing throughput.
Operations consultants use Lean, Six Sigma, or Quality Management concepts to help their clients streamline and improve operational efficiency. It represents about 25% of the market for management consulting.
The category includes Manufacturing, Procurement, Supply chain, Quality Management, and Compliance, G&A Optimization, Lean or Knowledge Management.
Finance & Risk
Consulting firms specialized in financial advisory services work with finance and risk management executives (such as CFO’s). They help them make decisions, develop customized strategies, and deliver superior results by analyzing their companies’ financial and economic risks and uncertainties.
The category represents close to 20% of the management consulting industry. However, its size is often difficult to assess given the overlap of the activities with legal firms, auditors, and M&A boutiques.
The category includes corporate finance, Actuarial, Restructuring and Crisis Management, Tax Advisory, or Risk Management.
Human Capital consulting focuses on maximizing the value created by Human Resources, or employees, in an organization. The offering is quite wide from Organization and Leadership Development to Improving the Effectiveness of the HR function.
Since the capability has low barriers to entry and many consultants set up their own businesses. As a result, the market is highly fragmented. The top four companies in the industry generate just over 20.0% of the industry’s revenue. The category represents about 10% of the overall consulting market.
The category includes talent management, Organization Development, HR Effectiveness, Social Relations, or Compensations & Benefits.
Research and Development
Research & Development Consulting is helping companies to optimize the way they are developing Products and Services. Companies aim to find the right balance between a strong focus on customer needs and delivering cost-effective returns. In a time of constant change and when innovation cycles are accelerating, the research and development activities have become a key differentiator.
The consulting offering ranges from identifying where technologies and skills will be required to how products and services are developed. With about 5%, it represents a small but precious portion of the consulting market.
The category includes R&D Strategy, R&D Effectiveness, Product Development, Manufacturing Engineering, Open Innovation.
Technology & Digital
Technology Consulting might also be referred to as IT consulting. However, the rise of Digital, Fintech, and all the Tech Startups activities is changing the rules of the game. As a result, the capability has been rejuvenated as most companies have elevated technology to the highest level in their agenda.
Technology consultants offer services helping companies embrace new technologies, digitize their processes, and modernize their legacy systems. In short, leverage technology as a source of competitive advantage.
The scope for this activity overlaps with Strategy and functional areas for Strategy, media, and specific systems and with IT services for the low-end/recurring activities. Depending on definitions, the category can represent up to one-third of the global consulting market.
The category includes capabilities such as Digital Strategy, Digital Architecture, Systems Integration (CRM, ERP, …), Data Management and Analytics, Cyber Security, or IT related services.
We can usually map all the previous capabilities to functions within a given corporation. However, several capabilities are more difficult to link to an existing function since they can have cross-functional or company-wide impacts. Moreover, those services can be offered either by large consultancies or by very focused ones.
The other category includes disruptive innovation, Branding, Post Merger Integration, Sustainability, and Corporate Responsibility or Value Transformation.
4. Define the “consulting DNA” profile you need
You probably have heard the famous saying by Warren Buffett that “Price is what you pay, Value is what you get.” Of course, we all understand the concept of “value,” but in our experience, this sound principle is not always followed when purchasing Consulting services.
You want consultants who have the necessary expertise and who understand your organization to maximize the success of your initiative. You should pay attention to what your teams have to say and be ready to delve into issues that you consider most pressing.
In an ideal world, you’d want them to have the necessary skills, geographical reach, and availability to fulfill your project’s requirements. To put it another way, seek consulting firms with the right “consulting DNA” profile.
Every project is unique, and so is each RFP. However, there are certain components of a consultant profile that you must always verify, regardless of the situation. The greatest method is to go through your RFP, containing the bulk of the information, and talk with your coworkers about their needs. What are the key characteristics or markers that they want?
To remain relevant, you must return to the basics of consulting. So, of course, the obvious capabilities and industry dimensions are first on your list.
Understanding which capabilities will be required to complete the project is critical. Aside from the truth, Consulting Firms frequently talk about their services in a way that isn’t consistent with how their clients would describe them. They’re more likely to talk about what they do rather than the issues they address. They may also utilize technical jargon that their clients aren’t familiar with. You must act as a translator for them.
A business, for example, will have its capabilities outlined on its website in the form of a strategy, operations, and organization. For an experienced consulting user, this description may be sufficient to grasp what services this firm provides. However, it isn’t very helpful for the average executive.
Furthermore, these three skills might be quite extensive. However, on the surface, we may classify this firm as managing projects from high-level Strategy to operational excellence. So it’s quite a program.
Let’s assume that a few weeks later, you go back to the same consultancy’s website. The management has now decided to update their website and expand on their capabilities further.
- Supply Chain Strategy
- Supply Chain Organization
- Distribution Strategy
- Asset & working capital optimization
Now you understand that the Consulting Firm focuses on the strategic, organizational, and operational aspects of the Supply Chain. So it’s now much easier to grasp.
Defining the type of expertise you require is simple. However, be careful to include all the situation’s specifics and desired results to precisely describe what breadth and depth of knowledge you need.
For example, suppose you’re interested in the Oil & Gas sector. In that case, you might be interested in the industry as a whole, or your project might be about Upstream Operations, Exploration / Production, and Well Stimulation more specifically.
Geography & Footprint
You could be looking for an international firm or one with offices in a certain country. Consider the locations where the consultancy will need to operate, the languages it will have to speak, and the cultures it must comprehend. Consider also where and how the consulting team should communicate with project leaders.
Let’s consider a High Tech firm with factories in Korea and the United States-based in Germany. You could want to look for a firm with offices and consultants in both locations. Imagine a German guy walking through a Texas factory (Which works well with the Seoul factory as well, actually) to explain how to organize the work.
Consider the cost of travel when assessing whether you should hire a consulting firm. Extra costs can reach 25-30% of your project’s original budget when the consultants come from a great distance. Do you truly require onsite consultants? Is it possible to use modern communication tools to your advantage?
What are your policies for small businesses or independent consultants? What is the timetable for your project, and how many locations do you have? For example, if you have a limited amount of time and need to service numerous regions, you might wish to look into hiring a bigger firm with a worldwide presence. On the other hand, if you only require assistance in one single place and your timeline is looser, you might be able to work with a smaller company.
Knowing your budget is critical in identifying the best consultants for you. But, unfortunately, consulting costs vary by a factor of up to five from one company to the next. So it’s no surprise that bigger consulting firms charge more than smaller ones.
The size of a consulting firm is a decent proxy of cost. If you have a limited budget, you’ll choose boutique stores in your region. If your funds are more plentiful, you may evaluate several sizes of consulting firms to see what works best for you.
This will also help you understand the trade-off between content and cost, as well as the differences in size among businesses.
Brand thought leadership and partner profile are three primary methods through which credibility is established.
Sometimes, you WILL need a brand for your project. For example, when your project has a board exposure or the value expected is largely political, you want to work with the large players. They will have the credibility at the highest level of the company and with your investors and the shoulders large enough to roll with the punches if you need a scapegoat.
Companies with relevant thought leadership can bring you insights at the right level of expertise and in niche fields.
Let’s say that you are looking for deep expertise in multimodal transportation for process industries, for instance. Your teams are reluctant to work with consultants because they “know nothing.” So now you bring a consultant who wrote a book, or several white papers, about network distribution optimization and multimodal transportation. There is a good chance that your teams will welcome this Consultant.
Another way to get the buy-in of your teams and your major stakeholders is to bring in consultants with the right profile.
For instance, if you build an intrapreneurial program to boost your innovation, you might look at innovation consulting firms with partners who mix entrepreneurial and corporate experience. When you want to optimize your tail spend without many resources on your hands, working with consultants with a past in corporate procurement can be very efficient.
Last but not least, you need to think about how you want to collaborate with your consultants. Do you want them to help you diagnose the problem or design your Strategy? Or do you want them to support the implementation of your decisions? Consulting Firms rarely excel at both. Besides, implementation consultants are usually less expensive than strategy consultants.
Another dimension to take into account is the hard vs. soft approach. For example, let’s imagine that you want to reorganize your procurement team and redesign the processes. First, ask yourself what your priority is: Is it to get the buy-in of your existing teams? Are you looking for a collaborative approach?
In that case, you need to look for a consultant with a high sensibility to change. But if your main priority is to get the work done, you will need a consultant more focused on the hard aspects of the project.
Finally, how senior do you need your consultants to be? If you want to professionalize your teams, you will need consultants that transfer knowledge. Hence, you want to work with senior consultants that have on-field experience. On the other hand, if you are mainly interested in the results of the project, then you could work with younger consultants supervised by a more senior colleague.
Companies are more and more global. Their teams are more ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse than ever. Beyond language, many elements of business life are different from one country to the next: management culture, business etiquette, communication preferences, etc.
Which Northern European hasn’t patted her fingers on the table with a tiny bit of exasperation while waiting for her late French, Italian or Spanish colleagues for a meeting? And conversely, what Southern European hasn’t grumbled about the lack of flexibility of their Germain or Dutch colleagues? You find the same differences in every single part of the world.
When you have a highly sensitive project in Asia, you might want to find consultants that understand the local culture and speak the language. Part of the consultants’ job is to establish trust with their clients’ teams. When 50% of the message is lost in translation, the exercise can become high-level aerobatics.
Contrary to French people who love to air their dirty laundry in public, Chinese executives will feel embarrassed to disagree openly. While Silence gives consent in most Western Countries, it is quite the opposite in Asia.
There is no such thing as the perfect one-size-fits-all solution for all projects. As a result, identifying appropriate criteria to look for in a potential match is critical. It’s also an excellent way to get everybody on board with the project.
5. Where to find consultants
Once you have defined your markers, you can start positioning your ideal company on different dimensions. Depending on the context of your project and the expected results, you can define where on the dimensions your potential needs to be.
For instance, a small IT company based in Tunisia wants to enter a new market: Fintech. They are curious about understanding the value chain and identifying opportunities for their company.
They have identified six markers for your potential suppliers:
- Capability: The consulting provider needs to have experience in market entry and growth strategy.
- Industry Experience: The consulting provider they need has a broad knowledge of the Fintech industry and its major international and regional trends.
- Footprint: They are looking at a company based either in North Africa or Europe to limit the additional expenses and access high-level expertise.
- Budget: The Company has a small budget for the diagnosis part. They are looking at an independent consultant or a tiny boutique.
- Delivery Model: The Company is building a new structure. They want a high-level strategic approach integrating the internal and external political aspects. They also want their team to learn more about Fintech in the process.
- Culture: They are looking for consultants who speak either Arabic or French and have experience working in North Africa.
Let’s be very clear: you will very rarely find a perfect match to this ideal “Consulting DNA.” However, it is the best starting point to search for the next best match for a project.
Now comes the time of prioritization. The project sponsor and the project manager probably have an idea of what is more important to them. Is it skill over industry knowledge? Or Culture over Footprint? Budget over skills?
Understanding the priority for each dimension will help you narrow down your list of potential providers. With both the markers, the ideal position on each marker, and the level of priority for each dimension, you will be able to draw an “ideal Consulting DNA” profile for your project.
Search the matches
When you know what you are looking for, you can start searching for the right fit.
Pause for a moment and consider your internal resources.
It can be tempting to source external consultants directly. But we wouldn’t be doing our job right if we didn’t encourage you to perform a short make-or-buy assessment of your project.
Can your project be done in-house? Do you have the right resources? Do you need external knowledge? Is there some confidential IP involved? Can the project be partially outsourced?
These questions are particularly relevant if you have internal consulting or improvement/excellence teams.
Find out where to get the information you need.
There are several tools you can use to start your search.
Let’s start with the resources from the procurement team, such as a list of Preferred Providers, an internal database of Consultants, or a list of consultants in your field. You may also have a database of evaluation reports or prior bids where you can discover some interesting data.
Next, you could request recommendations (or cautions) from your network/colleagues who have worked with Consultants in the past.
The interest of internal sources is that you often have a direct evaluation or connection with the consulting firm. However, bear in mind our motto: “The Expert you know may not be the Expert you require.”
On top of your internal sources, don’t hesitate to use external sources to grow your list. External sources are very helpful when you don’t have internal resources available for your project.
You can use a marketplace or directory of consulting firms. However, keep in mind that many consulting companies buy a membership to these directories, which makes them appear more credible than they actually are. Try to find platforms that include detailed performance reviews, such as Conavigo.
You may also connect with professional organizations in your field or the skills you are looking for to connect with specialized consultants or ask for recommendations from your peers.
Another option is to look for articles and books written on the subject you are passionate about. Often management professors or authors are working as consultants as well.
And don’t forget to evaluate each firm based on your criteria, whether you’ve worked with them previously or not.
Build a preliminary list of players
The first stage is to put up a list of potential players. The size of your project will determine the length of your list.
Consider including around fifteen to twenty firms in your first search if you need to find a mid-sized project and compare three prospective suppliers.
Consider 30% of the firms that don’t have a suitable “Consulting DNA Profile” and 30% that aren’t interested or available for the project as a baseline.
Define your search criteria according to the desired “Consulting DNA Profile.”
If you look at our previous example (a FinTech project in Tunisia), you will most likely begin combing wide to obtain a feel for the market:
- Small consulting firm under 50 employees
- Capability: Strategy
- Industry: Financial Services or FinTech
- Location: Europe or North Africa
If you have too many answers to work through, you’ll need to make your criteria more granular. For example, start looking into the details of the length of your list that is in line with your objective.
Get down to business.
You have your first list at hand, and you need now to confirm that look closer at their characteristics to make sure they have the right profile.
Even though numerous consultancy firms claim to have competence in all capabilities in every sector, their track record shows it’s not true. Most of them, tiny boutiques, specialize in just one capability or sector where they obtain most of their business. So, examine the case studies or previous projects listed on the firm’s website carefully.
Look also at the company’s previous clients: Who are they, and what do they do?
The background of the company’s founders is another valuable clue to the company’s primary objective, especially for tiny firms. But, first, take a look at the management team.
In their brochures or websites, most Consulting Firms will state their purpose or methodology. You’ll learn about who they are and how they operate. Are they focusing on high-level Strategy rather than implementation consulting? Are they working more on hard or soft aspects? Are they long-term consultants or former executives with prior corporate experience?
These elements will provide you with an understanding of who these consulting firms are and how they would interact with your organization.
Find the right partners.
Don’t just call any consultant, especially if the consulting firm is rather large. Each Partner comes with a unique set of talents and expertise, which will influence your project.
Consulting organizations are generally divided into industry experience or capabilities (when not both). They may also list the leadership team on their website with their contact information. If not, you should be able to find partners and check out their profiles using LinkedIn.
Thought leadership is also a handy tool. Check for papers or white papers on the subject of your project. The names of the authors and their contact information are often included in the materials.
Make sure they are working for the right firm by checking their present position on LinkedIn. The turnover in consulting is breathtaking; you may be one company behind. After that, you’ll probably add a few consulting firms to your list.
You should now have a list of consulting businesses that appear to have the proper people with the appropriate skills in the right locations. Your next move is to contact them and check their interest and availability face-to-face.
Make contact with them.
Three factors must be discussed in person: interest, availability, and compatibility. Next, connect with the consulting partners you’ve identified to schedule a call or a meeting after you’ve finished your list.
Here are a few pointers that you can use for these calls:
- Listen to them. They’ll describe what they do and how they accomplish it. You’ll discover more about their culture, methodologies, and area of specialty.
- Examine your list of criteria to verify whether they are a suitable match.
- Avoid giving out too much information about the project. It’s still an exploratory call rather than a briefing, and you haven’t signed an NDA yet. However, you may describe the skills and previous work experience you’re searching for, as well as some information regarding the team in charge of the project.
- Give them insight into the project’s likeliness to be launched and timeframe.
- Give them a general sense of the budget. You don’t have to give a precise number, but you may let them know if you only have a small amount of money or if it’s a major project for your firm.
It is also critical to test your hypotheses and make sure they are interested in the project you want to start. It’s also a good time to see whether they’ll be able to commit and have the bandwidth for the endeavor.
Once you’ve completed that stage, talk with the project’s sponsor and leader to pick which of these businesses you want to include in your RFP.
Check for references when you buy consulting services.
After you’ve chosen a handful of consulting companies and begun the RFP process, the final stage is to verify their references. Don’t be fooled by the big display of logos in the presentations or the case studies on the website, which are both anonymous. Request at least two referrals for the project.
Take the time to contact the references and ask the appropriate questions. You may begin by listing the qualities that are most important to you, such as knowledge transfer, team collaboration, or company impact, for example. Make sure you ask all of your references and consulting firms the same questions. You can add a few customized questions to clarify some grey areas.
Make it personal
Consultants have a high turnover rate, with studies showing that it ranges from 15% to 20%. Partners and consultants move from one consulting firm to the next, get hired by clients, or start their own consultancy. Whole teams are replaced every 4 to 5 years by new talent.
A cutting-edge organization practice gathered brilliant people from all over the world in a top 10 Consulting Firm in 2012. Unfortunately, all the consultants had departed five years later, but the firm maintained the white papers and references in their presentations.
The leadership of your project and the experts involved are crucial aspects of success for a consulting engagement. Request references for the key team members. They must have been actively involved in the projects mentioned.
Make sure the reference is relevant
What is a relevant reference?
It must be a genuine reference. Don’t “duh” too quickly; we’ve seen consulting firms send the names of their former employees as references. To verify that they are actual persons and have held relevant jobs, check the reference’s name, position, and background.
Second, it must be on a project with similarities to yours. It may be a project with a comparable context, methodology, or industry. You want to make sure the consultancy firm understands how to execute your project.
Third, the reference has to be current—the more recent, the better. Set a time limit (no more than five years is reasonable). The rate of progress in every sector and area has accelerated over the years. A project successfully led fifteen years ago may not tell us much about what would happen today.
Ask only for the best
You’ll want excellent references from the experts that they’ve made a significant contribution to their client’s company. It will also provide you with some data on their performance on the various dimensions crucial in your decision.
If you’ve chosen cultural fit as an important element of your project’s selection criteria, investigate how the consultants interacted with their teams and how they adapted to potential cultural differences.
Don’t accept compromises on the references. If the consulting firm is using confidentiality as a pretext to keep references, call Consulting Quest, a third-party expert, to verify the credentials for you.
6. How to hire a consultant
Once you have identified that you have an issue, your first decision is whether you need consulting services or not. Once again, buy (and sell) per your company values to avoid any mistake on this critical step. The second decision is to launch the procurement process. How does sourcing look like for consulting services?
Define your needs
The scope of your project is one of the first steps in the RFP process. And you must build a team comprised of key stakeholders and agree on the anticipated outcomes, timeline, and budget for the project.
Although you consider bringing in external resources to take charge of the project, sound project management principles apply. First, determine the actual problem you’re trying to address as well as the project’s goals. Many consulting projects fail because the scope is defined too broadly.
Pique the attention of your partners
If you choose to buy consulting services, it’s because you want to take advantage of their excellent communication skills, knowledge, or analytical abilities. Don’t let their talent (and your money) go to waste on menial work. They’re better utilized on complex projects where they can perform their magic.
Another issue is that they may not be interested in working on small projects. So, your project could fall off their agenda due to a lack of interest or time. And that could become a quality and experience issue.
If you’re looking for a second set of hands or data crunching, consider freelancing platforms like Catalent, TalMix, or even networks like Eden McCallum. You’ll come across intelligent individuals who are eager to undertake tiny tasks or fill in for the time being.
Take your time (when you have the opportunity)
It is sometimes tough to translate the company’s problems and needs into a project. You might not know whether or they will be completed or even have a clear scope in mind.
The RFI (Request for Information) is a useful instrument to gather and exploit knowledge. It will help you in refining your approach to addressing the problem and achieving consensus among your staff. It can also be an effective method of whittling down applicants before starting the RFP process.
Make sure to give each consulting firm you included in your RFI an equal opportunity so that you are not perceived as a brain picker.
When the scope is clear, you may make an educated guess about how many consultants you’ll need for the job. The value of the project should also be considered. This can assist you in determining a ballpark figure for how much you’re prepared to spend on that initiative.
Set the components in a Request for Proposal (RFP) into stone
Many consulting RFPs are generated hastily. The specifics or the context may be insufficient for the consultants to grasp the problem you’re facing. Perhaps some key standards are lacking, or the language is unclear.
You may also have skipped the expected pricing structure or given the candidate consultants insufficient time to respond to RFI/RFP. The end result is always the same: it’s tough for Consulting Firms to submit a strong proposal, particularly newcomers.
The RFP will serve as the reference document for the consultants you bring to the race. Remember to include details on the RFP process, such as timing, selection criteria, and requirements. It will assist the prospects in being laser-focused on your needs.
Find the appropriate Consultants.
You may get started finding potential candidates once you’ve completed your RFP.
Adapt the length of your shortlist to the project
Examine the scope of the project, the budget, and internal procurement procedures to determine your selection criteria for the shortlist. Keep in mind that time is of the essence, and adjust the size of your shortlist according to the project’s importance and budget.
Limiting your shortlist to three providers is preferable when you have a tight deadline or small initiatives with minimal impact on your company.
For larger projects, you may expand the first round (briefing/proposal phase) to up to ten consulting firms (depending on the project and the stakes), but keep no more than four or five companies for the final round (pitching phase).
Once you’ve compiled a shortlist, contact your suppliers and inquire about their interest by submitting your RFP.
It’s critical to safeguard your sensitive information at all times. At the beginning (including during an RFI or RFP), don’t hesitate to ask your prospects to sign a confidentiality agreement so that they won’t disclose your project’s specifics to your competitors.
If the proposal includes collaboration and subcontracting, make sure that all of the project’s contributors have signed NDAs.
If the nature of your project is particularly sensitive, you should consider working with a third-party sourcing firm, such as Consulting Quest that will take care of everything behind the scenes. They will maintain your company and project privacy until the shortlisting stage.
Keep it simple
If you’re not working on a multi-million dollar project, don’t go crazy with tenders. It may be quite time-consuming to read bids and hear consultants’ pitches. It will also significantly slow down your project’s progress. Make sure your RFP process is suited to the size and budget of your endeavor.
If you have only a few consultant firms or the project is particularly intricate, it’s a good idea to hold briefings where you can go over the project’s specifics and make sure the consultants understand what they’re working on.
If you have a large number of candidates, a clear RFP, and little time on your hands, send the RFP and read the written proposals to choose the most relevant for the next phase.
Examine the written proposals.
Take the time to go through the proposals with the other stakeholders once you’ve received them. Always keep in mind the goal of the selection process: increasing the probability of success of the project. You need candidates to submit their best ideas, and for that, they must have a thorough understanding of the problem.
Level the playing field for all firms so that they can compete equally. It is also in your best interests. Don’t be afraid to take some time to describe your firm’s backstory and assignment context and to polish up the Q&A.
Assess the fit with your RFP
Make sure the applicants have addressed the essential elements in your RFP. Their proposals should help you answer the following questions:
- Has the Consultant understood our objectives?
- Do the deliverables answer our questions?
- Do we trust the approach the consulting provider proposes?
- Has the team the required experience?
- Is this Consultant the right fit for you?
- Does the budget fit with the value we expect?
Take note of the grey areas and any potential misunderstandings.
Identify the most promising proposals.
When dealing with a large group of Consulting Providers, it’s critical to focus on the most likely ideas to save time and energy. If you’re not completely happy with your initial batch, you may always go down the line.
Rank your proposals based on your evaluation of them. You can utilize the following five dimensions to rank your proposals: objectives, deliverables, approach, experience, and fit.
You should also be able to grasp the ambiguities in the proposals and express them as questions. The most promising Consultants will use this list of questions as a basis for their pitch session: an excellent chance to clear up any confusion and assess the fit with your teams if necessary.
Select your Consultant
Keep in mind that the greatest delivery consultants are not always the best salespeople. And vice versa. Instead of focusing on how consultants appear on paper, give them a chance to persuade you and organize a meeting to present their proposal.
Define your criteria and your budget
The first step is to establish a list of criteria. Begin by incorporating the characteristics not included in the RFP, such as price, cultural compatibility, and intimacy… Start prioritizing the dimensions once you’ve agreed on them.
You should also establish how much value you want from the project and, as a result, how much you are prepared to pay. The cost is a significant consideration in the selection process. Therefore, you should always verify that your initiative has a favorable money-to-value ratio.
In that stage, we propose collaboration with all parties to gain buy-in and get started on the project.
Ask for a presentation.
On paper, it’s quite tough (if not outright impossible) to evaluate a Consultant’s chemistry with your teams. However, you get the chance to see the human component in a Consulting Firm’s approach when you ask them to present their ideas.
During the presentations, you’ll want to remember a few things: you should challenge the proponent’s basic proposition, make sure your team on the ground has the appropriate knowledge, understand the pricing, and assess your teams’ chemistry.
After the presentation, provide the Consultants with a few days to fine-tune their ideas. Now is the moment to contact and verify the credentials of the Consulting Firm and its lead partners.
Make your final decision.
Take a look at the list of criteria once again, this time emphasizing the order of importance. Then, make a score for each proposal based on all the dimensions and give each criterion a weight. After you’ve completed, you may compute an overall rating.
Last but not least, try to create a consensus score among the most important stakeholders. Finding an appropriate consulting firm is just one of several conditions required for your project’s success.
The buy-in of the stakeholders is also required. You’re attempting to make things easier for the project and consulting teams by gaining consensus around the selection of the Consultant.
Negotiate a Consulting Agreement
Once you have identified the most promising proposal, you can start negotiating. As for the selection, you need to gather as much information as possible to have leverage during the negotiation.
Prepare your negotiation
Before you dive into the key elements, take the time to prepare your negotiation.
The first step is to agree on what you want to negotiate. With intangible services, almost all the components of the proposals are negotiable. You can modify anything from the scope, the team composition, and, of course, the price.
You also need to keep in mind the overall value of the project vs. the price. Again, understanding the dynamics of the pay-off matrix will help you define the needed magnitude of the negotiation.
Now, look also at how much latitude you will have in the negotiation. Do you have a negotiation edge? Or are your hands more or less tied?
Finally, get the right people at the table based on the size and the strategic importance of the project.
Try to anticipate as much as possible how the Consultants will act to get the best deal. In this situation, the best deal is when both parties have a positive outcome.
Negotiate the key elements
When you enter a negotiation with multiple dimensions, the BATNA and ZOPA concepts can come in handy. It will allow you to draw a bundle of potential deals along the different dimensions.
To build this bundle, you will need to analyze how the changes in scope or team staffing will impact the price and, conversely and identify the trade-offs you are willing to accept.
If you still need to reduce the costs, you should explore other savings opportunities such as travel expenses or expert staffing.
Give feedback to the unhappy consultants.
Don’t forget to debrief the consultants who lost the project. Take the time to explain why they didn’t get the project and what they could have done differently. It will help them improve their proposals for your next project or their next client.
You can also ask the Consultants to give you some feedback on the project as well. It can bring you some valuable insights into how your teams manage a consulting project and help you improve your practices.
Draw the contract
Once you have negotiated the terms of the agreement, you can start drawing the contract. You can either work with a standard consulting agreement or a couple of Master Service Agreement (MSA) plus Statement of Work (SOW). The latter solution is particularly interesting when you work with the same consulting providers regularly. We strongly recommend working with your legal team to develop your own agreement templates.
Formalize your expectations
Even if you work with a standard consulting agreement, the Statement of Work is the first element to include in the contract. It covers the scope of work & deliverables, the schedule & phasing, the Governance & Escalation procedure, and the expected outcomes & metrics.
The contract is always the reference in case of litigation. You want the Consultants to commit to the results of the project, not the means.
Define the terms & conditions
When you have described what work will be done, how, and when, it is time to define how the consultants will be paid. Even when you have opted for a flat fee, the schedule and the terms of payments should be clearly stated in the contract.
If you work with hourly or performance-based fees, you should include the conditions to get paid and the potential safeguards to avoid derailment.
Clarify the rules
Depending on the project and the company, the agreement should include the following rules:
- Confidentiality – This clause should always be involved in a consulting agreement. Many projects involve confidential information about the company’s Strategy or products.
- Use of Third-Party – Many Consulting Firms work with subcontractors or Partner with other firms on projects.
- Intellectual Property – Monitor the information and the models developed during the project and clarify the ownership in the contract.
- Client Policies (such as information management and safety) –The Consultants should comply with any rule that you might have.
- Conflict of Interest and NonCompete – On some projects, you can make sure that the consultants don’t have any conflict of interest or won’t go and sell the methodology they developed for you to your competition.
Prepare for the worst.
As Lao Tsu said, “Anticipate the difficult by managing the easy.” You should integrate into your contract clauses that cover the most probable problems you might encounter if the project goes awry. Then, the resolution of the issue if and when it occurs will be much easier to manage.
7. How to work with your Consultant
When you buy consulting services, that are intangible, the bulk of the work comes after the procurement process has ended. You have to monitor and manage the outcomes of the project, but also the project itself. Indeed, a consulting project very rarely plays out as planned.
Manage a Consulting Project
You have expectations for your consulting project. The challenge with most consulting projects is that they are not linear and have to be managed carefully to achieve success.
Organize to manage your project
Managing a consulting project is first and foremost managing a project. The same principles apply. To maximize the chances of success of your project, you will need to manage three elements:
- Stakeholders – This is project management 101. Align the stakeholders to ensure they will support the project and collaborate with the project team and the consultants.
- Project – You need to implement the best practices for project management: define the work plan, clarify the roles and responsibilities, and put in place clear governance.
- Change – Always obvious, but more often overlooked, change management is a key success factor for consulting projects. Anticipate the resistance to change in the teams impacted by the project to define strategies to address each situation.
Monitor the performance
Don’t wait until the end of the project to evaluate the performance and share your results with the consultants. The reasons for low performance can be multiple and simultaneous. For example, it can come from the Consulting Firm (capabilities, skills, experience, staffing, …) or your own teams (low priority, staffing, …).
In any case, it is best to sit down with the Consulting Firm to understand the issue and find solutions together.
Manage the contract
When you are working with external consultants, you also have to manage the relationship. First, you will have to track the changes in the project that can touch scope, staffing, timeline, or unforeseen events. When these changes are substantial, you should consider amending the contract. In any case, keep a trace of the changes in the minutes of the Steering Committees.
For very large projects, you should consider organizing a formal mid-project review. You can cover both the changes to the statement of work and the quality of the outcome. It should not prevent you from checking in regularly with the Consulting Firm to anticipate potential slips in the project scope and timeline and allow your provider to fix the problem.
Consider the consulting firm as your Partner with a common objective: the success of your project. Be unbending on the quality of the outcomes. Give them feedback on their performance and visibility on payments.
Wrap up the project
Anticipate for when the Consultant departs
Maybe you have prepared the transition from the start (in other words, the RFP) and included the transition plan and regular check-ins in the deliverables. However, if that’s not the case, make sure to prepare for when the Consultant leaves.
Once you have decided what recommendations you will consider, you have to organize how to act on them. You should also consider transferring knowledge, particularly if the project implemented a new organization or technology. And you should define this plan with the Consultant at hand.
Prepare the performance assessment for the Consulting Firm by gathering the information collected during the project.
Don’t hesitate to stop the contract.
Sometimes Consulting Projects have to be closed earlier than expected. Many changes can happen between the moment you decide to work with consultants and the end of the consulting projects.
The context can change for the management team. If that’s the case, continuing the project as it is might just be a loss of energy and money. Always find ways to adapt the scope to your needs. And stop the contract if you must and if the consequences are acceptable.
Close the project cleanly.
Whatever the reason for terminating the project early, don’t rush into it. Take the time to analyze the impact of the termination and the probability of success of another consulting project. Prepare also the communication to your teams involved in the project.
At that point, you should have paid the consulting provider based on the delivery and accrued the budget until the end of the project.
Keep the last invoices on your desk until you are sure that the project is delivered in full. That will give you enough leverage to get back to finish the project.
When you think the project is closed and the invoices are approved for payment, you can take the time to debrief the consultants on their performance on the project.
Manage the relationship
The intimacy between a Consulting Firm and its clients can facilitate and accelerate projects. When you regularly work with a Consultant, he is “plug-and-play”: he knows your business and industry.
Build the trust
Put in place regular meetings with your Strategic and Preferred Suppliers to keep them in the loop and communicate their Performance Assessments results. And give feedbacks that are both positive and constructive when they do well or negative if things don’t go as expected during a project.
If you are not happy with the consulting firm, don’t hesitate to change it. Sometimes working for a long time together can be counterproductive if there is no trust or openness about what’s going wrong or right in projects.
Trust and transparency aren’t easy topics between two companies that have to do business, but they should come naturally when people respect each other. And sometimes, just one of these aspects will bring your relationship back on track!
Leverage category management
When you purchase a large volume of consulting services, implementing Category Management for the Consulting Category can drive significant savings and increase the return of investment of your Consulting projects.
It implies a close cross-functional collaboration for all categories, which can be challenging in a large organization.
Consulting Services demands an even more collaborative and flexible approach to category management since decision-making and knowledge are only in the sponsor and the project leader’s hands.
Make use of your consultants’ suggestions.
After spending a long time working on projects with you, consulting firms start to acquire a good degree of familiarity with your Business. They would love nothing more than having another project with you (unless you have been a painful client, but that is another story).
Ask your consultants for feedback about your company and what they would do if they were in your shoes. You will be surprised by the power of this simple question. In doing so, you will usually get in record time honest feedback about your operations compared to the state of the industry or the latest thought leadership.
8. How to evaluate the quality of a consultant
Is the performance of Consulting Services worth measuring? Many consulting firms will tell you that as long as customers keep buying, there is no need to analyze further the performance. Is that so?
In most procurement categories, the purchased goods’ receipt and inspection are key steps in the process. When the product is damaged or not compliant with the requirements, it will be rejected. When the product is compliant but not satisfying, the provider’s contract will not be renewed. When a supplier is subject to numerous claims, it will be removed from the panel. It is the ultimate penalty in the Automotive Industry, for instance.
Surprisingly, despite the significant amounts at stake, 57 % of companies don’t have a systematic Performance Evaluation system for the Consulting Category. And as the cobbler’s son often has the worst shoes, even consulting firms don’t necessarily have a robust system for measuring customer satisfaction. They realized the client was unhappy when the account was lost. Quite an accurate measure of satisfaction, but maybe we can do better.
If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.
Consulting Firms are looking for feedback to engage in a continuous improvement process and monitoring their relationship with their clients. And their clients are expecting them to listen to them and improve their ways of working. So why are these conversations not taking place?
Executives often see Consulting Services as a black box. Intangible Services, like consulting, are challenging to handle, and measurement can be tricky. It seems impossible to translate impact or trust into metrics. But companies know from experience that even intangible objectives can be measured. Since Peter Drucker has popularized management by objectives in the 50s, it became a standard in General Management. SMART objectives are used across the board to help employees have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities.
The same can apply to Consulting Services. When you hire a Consulting Firm, you have some expectations such as the quality of the deliverables, the ability to understand your business, build trust with the stakeholders, etc.
Why not measure the achievement of these objectives?
Without data, you are just another person with an opinion.
Consultants are kings for building elaborate dashboards, KPIs, and management systems to track improvement performance. But, strangely, they rarely taste their own medicine. As a result, management consulting remains an informal business when measuring and proving its own impact.
Implementing a systematic Performance Evaluation specific to Consulting Services is a cornerstone of the Consulting Category management. The benefits can be seen at different time horizons.
The beginning of the implementation can be rocky. However, being attentive to feedback from the main departments or business lines using consulting can help procurement identify the Consulting Firm with performance issues and gather the necessary information to build the right improvement plan.
Longitudinal tracking your providers’ performance is the only objective way to monitor the providers, benchmark their performance, and identify high and low performers: two essential elements to keep a fluid Preferred Supplier List. This analysis will also help you to identify capabilities with insufficient performance. In fact, you can be very well equipped in Marketing and struggling on the innovation front.
The purpose of aligning your Consulting Spend with your Strategy is to maximize the Value for Money. Year-Long performance evaluation of your Consulting Projects’ impact will help you validate your decisions and make sure the money has been well spent with the expected impact.
Don’t forget that you can evaluate the performance at all stages of a Consulting Assignment. Mid-project assessments are a healthy practice on very large projects. Otherwise, post-mortem analysis might well be aptly named.
What do you need to measure?
You have built or used a Performance Evaluation System before. It is not rocket science. Keep in mind a few common-sense tips:
Identify what is important for you.
The goal of an Evaluation system is to make sure that the Consulting Firms are delivering according to your expectations. But what are your expectations? What are the key success factors for a Consulting Project? Is it the quality of the delivery? The expertise of the team? The impact delivered?
Consistency is key.
You can decide to have a specific assessment for each project based on the key deliverables. However, if you want to leverage benchmarking, you have to find the right granularity to build a standardized evaluation. Also, you need to use it on a systematic basis to create statistical relevance. You may also want to use third parties in performance measurement.
Don’t forget that the driver for a Consulting Project’s success is very often the Partner or the Project Manager in charge. His knowledge, expertise, and behavior are what you are assessing for your project. You can decide to assess the performance of each Consultant in the team – pretty time consuming, with little impact for you – up to the performance of a company as a whole on the project – which can make sense for a small consulting firm but is more questionable for a big 4.
Don’t forget the behavior component.
When you are building your questionnaire, don’t forget to include a Consulting Project’s soft aspects. The ability to build trust, create buy-in or transfer knowledge, for instance, are things that you might want to look at depending on the project’s purpose.
Ask for feedback
Do not hesitate to ask for feedback on how the project unfolded and what your company could have done better. Some companies will be very sharp in expressing their needs but fail in achieving internal alignment. Some others might struggle to formulate what they want or define unrealistic requirements (time or budget-wise). Capturing this feedback will help you to increase progressively your capacity to use and manage consultants.
Make sure the system will stick.
One of the key success factors is continuity over time. If you start measuring the performance but stop after a few months or measure the performance on a random basis, it won’t be easy to convince your suppliers of the effort’s seriousness. Therefore, the performance measure has to become part of your Procure to Pay Processes (P2P) to avoid this unfortunate situation.
The distribution of the performance measurement survey can be automated as part of the workflow when you open a new project and should be mandatory before the project’s official closure. In addition, it can be linked as a mandatory step before proceeding with the last payment of the supplier.
In the same way that you are probably running performance reviews with your teammates every year, you can start to pencil a few dates in your agenda to discuss with your main providers about their performance over the last few projects. This conversation, broader than the sole project, will focus on the overall performance and be the improvement plan’s starting point.
An improvement plan with your Consulting providers can take many shapes. Depending on the situation, it can be linked to:
- staffing (in other words displacing low performing individuals or those with the lowest fit with your company’s culture),
- movements in and out of projects (staffing evolving too frequently, poaching of collaborators, …),
- perceived performance or impact issues (disconnect between costs and actual impact), lack of expertise on a given subject,
- Respect of company processes and policies or commercial terms (daily rates, discounts, …).
You can follow up on the action plan at the most appropriate frequency. A quarterly is the most customary rhythm.
To build support in your organization and be more specific in the improvement actions, a great way to proceed is to create an internal network of experts. They can be functional experts or ex-consultants. They can help you review the outcomes of the key projects, the feedback on the various firms, and design improvement plans more specific to the expertise of each consulting firm. They can also support you to identify, through their personal network, alternative consulting firms not initially on your radar screen. Finally, the cherry on the cake, you might be tempted to ask for their expert opinion in the future when working on a particular RFP.
Last but not least, the exercise also has to yield value for the internal stakeholders as they will have to spend some time filling in the surveys. Therefore, once a year at least, plan a debriefing with them about the performance of the key suppliers in the panel. Take advantage of this meeting to discuss what will be the future needs and to identify changes to be brought to the panel. Also, keep the stakeholders in the loop on the action plan with the consulting firms and open a line of communication to receive direct feedback that will complement the surveys.
Building an appropriate measure of the performance is your first step to create value through consulting and take control of the consulting category while keeping decision-making and feedback in the hands of the project sponsors.
Engage in discussion with your Consulting Providers to understand what feedback they expect from you and open the door to feedback in return. Would you buy again from them? Would you recommend their firm? Your net promoter score matters a lot to them—a good reason to act on the feedback.
As you can see, Consulting services can bring much value to your organization. The right Consultant will help you get the most out of your time and money while creating effective solutions for your company’s goals. There are many different types of consultants, and the value they bring vary depending on their skills and experience. Finding the right consultancy requires some research to make sure that the firm’s skills match your needs.
And while the selection process may seem like a daunting task at first glance, we have all the information you need compiled into one place so that it will be easier than ever before! If this sounds too much for you—or if there’s any other question about how to hire or work with experts—you should contact us today. We’re experts in sourcing the right consultants who deliver impact time after time–just ask our clients!