I had a call from a contact at a managed service provider (MSP) the other week. They had just lost a long-standing client to a competitor and were in a bit of a dilemma. Their customer had engaged a consultant to undertake a review and a competitive proposal process. This is a very healthy thing for firms to do and something which we would encourage – it keeps suppliers on their toes in terms of delivery and helps validate pricing; it is also an excellent way to review the relationship and the ‘value add’ that has been provided in the course of the relationship.
In this case it seems that the process had been run in such a way that the selection went in favour of the consultant’s favoured MSP – rather than the solution which would be most matched to the customer’s need. The consultant restricted access to the client, didn’t seem to understand detailed technical elements and had slanted the questions asked to the answers they wanted to see.
The MSP wanted our advice on what to do – to speak to the client made them look like sore losers, to confront the consultant could alienate them and cause business disruption.
Our advice was that it would be best to have an open meeting with the client and the consultant to discuss the frustrations, and to gain feedback as to why the advantages of their solution had been discounted.
Of course, it is easy to discount these frustrations as the ‘it’s not fair’ rumblings of a malcontent supplier who’s just lost a long-standing client. But there appeared to be genuine grievance here.
All consultants need to develop and retain good relationships with other 3rd party suppliers, and at times leverage these relationships for the benefit of the client.
So how do you ensure your consultant is playing with a straight bat?
1. Ask for reference calls and gather information on to the outputs from the consultant’s engagement
- Do the selection processes always result in the same result?
- How did the consultant interact with the firm?
2. Ensure your consultant receives no form of referral fee or commission from the deal.
- We are always happy to show our accounts to any clients.
3. Ensure your consultant details why each firm included in the selection process is on the list
- What personal relationships exist?
- Any family members working for/have worked for the suppliers?
- How many other common clients do they have?
4. Ask your consultant to detail the last 3 to 5 similar selection processes
- What was the short-list?
- Who were the winners?
5. Take reference calls from a couple of the “losing” suppliers from those engagements
- Did they feel the consultant operated in a fair and transparent way?
- Did they feel as if any questions were deliberately favouring another supplier?
- Were all questions dealt with professionally?
- Were they happy with the explanations for not winning the deal?
- Would they enter another selection process if they knew that consultant was leading it?