Consulting RFPs

9 secrets to getting the best proposals for consulting services.

When you hire consultants, it is usually to solve an issue or to prepare for the future. The sourcing process is just a means to get a solution that fits your needs. ​The procurement professionals are here to help their business lines to get the best proposals to chose from.

9 secrets to getting the best proposals for consulting services

But what is a winning proposal exactly? It is a proposal that helps you answer these three questions:

  • Does the consultant clearly understand the issue we are trying to tackle?

  • Is the consultant able to tackle the issue?

  • Can we work with this consultant?

Implementing a structured sourcing process adapted to consulting services will put you in the right conditions to get several solid proposals.

“Failing to prepare is, generally speaking, preparing very well to do the wrong thing”- Sam Harris (Neuroscientist)


So small or large spend? Managing the consulting tail spendcan be challenging, but are 4 best practices to help you get started.


1. Don’t rush it –

Understanding your needs and articulating your expectations in writing is a key step when sourcing consulting. It is also one of the most challenging. Many RFPs for Consulting are rushed in their development. Sometimes the details or the context are insufficient to understand the business problem you are facing.

Maybe some key requirements are missing, or the language is ambiguous. You also might have omitted the common pricing framework to be followed or given too little time for the candidate consultants to respond to RFI/RFP. However, the result is always the same: it is difficult for Consulting Firms to send a solid proposal, in particular, if they are newcomers.

The RFP will be the reference document for the consulting providers you invite to the competition. Don’t forget to include elements on the RFP process such as timeline, criteria of choice, and requirements. It will help the candidates to be laser-focused on your needs.

2. Look for the Right Consultants –

With your RFP in hand, you can start identifying the potential candidates. You might be impressed by some Consultants’ expertise or interesting projects they have been part of, but the most relevant question remains to determine if they are right for you and best fit for your project?

3. Adapt your short-list to the project’s Budget and Timeline –

Look closely at the project’s scope, the budget, and the internal procurement policies to define your criteria of selection for the short-list. Be mindful of your time and adapt your short-list’s length to the level of priority and the budget of your project.

When you have a very tight timeline or small projects with limited impact on your business, prefer a small short-list to spend enough time on the proposal and the references checking. We recommend not going beyond three prospective providers.

For larger projects, you can broaden the first round (briefing/proposal phase) to up to ten consulting firms (depending on the project and the stakes) but keep at most four-five companies for the final round (pitching phase).

When your short-list is ready, contact your suppliers and check their interest by sending your RFP.

4. Secure Confidentiality –

It is important always to protect your confidential information. Don’t hesitate to make your candidates sign a confidentiality agreement at the beginning (even at RFI or RFP stage) to protect proprietary information and make sure the consulting firms will not be sharing your project’s details with your competitors.

If the proposal includes collaboration and sub-contracting, make sure that an NDA legally binds all the project contributors.

If your project is particularly confidential, you should even consider working with a third-party sourcing company, like Consulting Quest, that will handle the process anonymously. They will keep your company and your project confidential until the short-list stage.

5. Remember simplicity Always Wins –

And it’s best to make things simple. Unless you are handling a multi-million dollar project, don’t organize extravagant tenders. Looking through proposals and listening to consultants’ pitches can be extremely time-consuming. It will also considerably slow down your project. Make sure that your RFP process is adapted to the scope and the budget for your project.

If you only have a small number of consulting firms, or if the project is specifically complex, you might want to organize briefings to discuss the project’s details and make sure the consultants have well-understood what is at stake.

If you have a large number of candidates, a clear RFP, and little time on your hands, you can just send the RFP and assess the written proposals to identify the most promising one for the next step.

6. Assess the written proposals –

Once you have received the proposals, take the time to review them with the other stakeholders. Always keep your objective in mind: maximizing the chances of success of your project. You need the candidates to submit their best proposals, and for that, they need to understand the problem very well.

Level the ground, so all companies have a fair chance in the competition. It is in your best interest to do so too. Don’t hesitate to explain in length the background of your company and the context of the assignment and to take some time to polish the Q&A documents.

7. Evaluate the fit with your RFP –

Make sure the candidates have responded to the most important 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?

  • Does the team have the required experience?

  • Is this consultant the right fit for you?

  • Does the budget fit the value we expect?

Note if there are any gray areas and potential for misunderstanding

8. Identify the most promising proposals –

When working on a large cohort of Consulting Providers, you should focus at first on the most promising proposals to save time and energy. You can always go down your list if you are not satisfied with your first batch.

Start ranking your proposals based on your assessment of the proposals. You can use these five dimensions: objectives, deliverables, approach, experience, fit and budget.

9. Discover and resolve any uncertainties –

You should also be able to put your finger on the proposals’ uncertainties and articulate them into questions. The list of questions will be the basis for the pitch session with the most promising Consultants: an excellent opportunity to clarify the RFP if necessary and assess the fit with your teams.



Hélène Laffitte
Co-founder & CEO at Consulting Quest
Hélène is the author of Smart Consulting Sourcing, a step by step guide to getting the best ROI from your Consuting. You can follow @helenelaffitte on Twitter.

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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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.