Best Proven Techniques for Finding the Right Consulting Firms

by | Apr 6, 2023

Finding the right consulting firms is a challenging but crucial task that many organizations face. In an era of abundant choices and ever-specializing services, the temptation to cut corners and opt for the familiarity of big-name, blue-chip companies is ever-present.

However, it’s essential to resist this temptation and focus on the process of identifying the right consulting firms that truly aligns with your organization’s needs.

And the statistics back this up; in our last two spend analyses, we found that a staggering 65% of consulting expenses went to just 2 or 3 industry giants. What’s even more alarming is that the projects didn’t necessarily require the involvement of these heavy-hitters.

This highlights the importance of conducting a thorough evaluation to ensure you choose the right consulting firms based on the specific requirements of your project or organization.

This reveals a fundamental disconnect: internal stakeholders and procurement teams often default to the “easier” option, not because it’s the most appropriate, but perhaps because navigating the consulting marketplace seems too daunting.

Overcoming this challenge involves breaking down the process of selecting the right consulting firm into manageable steps and embracing a strategic approach to decision-making.

They’ll often cite the complexity of the consulting industry as their rationale, and while it’s true that consulting is a multifaceted field, this shouldn’t deter a thorough search for the right consulting firms.

Just like any other industry, there are keys to understanding the landscape, processes to follow, and frameworks to employ to ensure you’re making the most informed decision. After all, no one is born an expert at buying consulting services—even us!

Laying Down Your Requirements

So, you’ve got a project that needs some external brainpower. Great. Now, you’ll need to write a Request for Proposal (RFP) that’s as clear as crystal. But before you start drafting that magnum opus, let’s cut the fluff and talk about what really matters.

First off, don’t get too poetic about it. Your RFP should spell out the scope, the deliverables, and the timeline. What needs to be done? When does it need to be done by? What are you expecting at the end? Think of this as the ‘what, when, how’ of your project. Simple, right?

Now, here’s where things get interesting, especially in the context of finding the right consulting firms for the job. You need to figure out what kind of consulting firm will fit this undertaking like a glove. Ask yourself a few hard questions:

Type of Expertise: Are you looking for general strategy advice or something more niche like strategic marketing?

Industry Experience: Does the project require someone who knows the healthcare industry like the back of their hand or a Jack-of-all-trades?

Location, Location, Location: On-site or remote? And if on-site, where exactly? Maybe you need a consultant who knows how to navigate European markets, or perhaps you need eyes and ears in South America.

Budget: Ah, the money talk. How much are you willing to shell out for this endeavor? Big bucks for big impact or shoestring for short-term? Consider your budget constraints when selecting the right consulting firm.

Firm Size: Boutique firms might give you specialized focus, but maybe you need the clout and broad capability of a blue-chip consulting firm, especially if the boardroom will be tuned in.

Political Value: Does your project have the kind of visibility that could make or break careers? If so, you might need a firm that can deliver not just on paper, but in the court of corporate politics as well.

Delivery Model: Do you need a high-flying strategic approach or someone who will get into the weeds and be hands-on?

Culture and Language: Last but not least, do you need a consultant fluent in, say, Mandarin, or intimately familiar with Silicon Valley culture?

So, there you have it. Your RFP isn’t just a laundry list of deliverables; it’s your first step in defining exactly what kind of consulting firm you’ll need to nail this project.

Identifying the Ideal or Right Consulting Firms: A Case Study Approach

So, you’ve defined your project’s requirements in your RFP. Great, but now you’re staring at a wordy document that even a caffeine-fueled speed reader would dread. How do you make sense of it all? Simple. Organize these many requirements into digestible, logical criteria, especially when seeking the right consulting firm.

If you find yourself a bit lost on how to proceed, let’s make it straightforward with our Consulting DNA approach that utilizes the following seven markers, essential when selecting the right consulting firm: Capability, Industry Experience, Geographic Footprint, Budget, Delivery Model, Culture, and Credibility.

An Illustrative Example: Let’s consider a Tunisian IT company with aspirations to enter the Fintech space. They’ve got a laundry list of what they want in a consulting provider. Time to bring some order to that chaos. Here’s how they’d use the Consulting DNA markers:

Capability: The IT company needs a consulting provider proficient in market entry and growth strategy. Generalists need not apply; this is about expertise in specific areas.

Industry Experience: The company is keen on a consulting provider with comprehensive knowledge of the Fintech sector, including both regional and international trends.

Geographic Footprint: They’re focusing their search on North Africa and Europe. The reasoning is two-fold: cut down on additional expenses and secure local, high-level expertise.

Budget: The funds for the diagnostic phase are limited. They’re exploring options with independent consultants or boutique firms that can provide value for the price.

Delivery Model: The IT company is undergoing structural changes. They’re looking for strategic input that considers both internal and external politics. Additionally, they want their team to gain Fintech knowledge in the process.

Culture: Language and regional experience matter. They want a consultant who can communicate in Arabic or French and has prior work experience in North Africa.

Credibility: While they’re open on methodologies, they’ll scrutinize case studies and profiles of the firm’s partners. Having a background in Fintech or being considered a thought leader in the industry will be seen as a distinct advantage.

This case highlights that finding a consulting firm who aligns with all seven markers may be challenging, but it’s not about finding a perfect match. It’s about knowing what you’re looking for in the right consulting firm so you can find the closest approximation. And while nobody’s perfect, being specific in your criteria brings you much closer to getting it right.

Prioritization of Your Needs – The Effective Approach

You’ve laid out your seven markers for the ideal consulting DNA profile—kudos to you. But let’s not fool ourselves: not all markers are created equal. The next step in our pragmatic guide to consultant hunting is to understand which of these markers are deal-breakers and which are merely deal-sweeteners. This step, my friends, is called Prioritization.

First things first, priorities vary when seeking the right consulting firms. What’s crucial for one project manager might be trivial for another. Is industry experience your hill to die on when choosing the right consulting firm, or could you flex a little if everything else fits? Is budget your Holy Grail or is it just a piece of your priority pie?

Think of each marker as a keyword in your consulting search engine. What you deem most critical are the search terms you’ll type in first. Let’s face it, unless you’re courting unicorns, finding a consulting firm that is a 100% fit is as likely as stumbling upon a treasure chest in your backyard. So, get real and decide what’s a must-have and what’s a nice-to-have when it comes to the right consulting firm.

With your priority markers in hand, you can construct an “Ideal Consulting DNA Profile.” This profile becomes your cheat sheet, your go-to reference in the ocean of consulting choices. Imagine your project as a complex jigsaw puzzle; this profile is your edge pieces.

The odds of finding a consulting firm that aligns perfectly with your ideal profile are rare, and even rarer is that they’re actually interested and available for your project.

So, apply some real-world logic here when seeking the right consulting firm. Willing to compromise on ‘Culture’ but not on ‘Capability’? That’s your prerogative and potentially your fast track to a functional partnership with the right consulting firm.

In a perfect world, we’d all want consultants who are experts in our industry, affordable, and perhaps can even recite Shakespeare for intellectual stimulation. But this is not a perfect world. Some markers are must-haves; they’re non-negotiables.

Others are just nice-to-haves; they’re the cherry on top. Being clear about this distinction will not only streamline your search but also keep you from agonizing over minor details.

Prioritization is your real-world filter in the often overwhelming quest for the right consulting partner. It’s not about lowering your standards; it’s about knowing what’s truly essential and what’s just window dressing.

Because, let’s be honest, not all of your criteria are going to be the star players in this game. Some are destined to be benchwarmers, and that’s perfectly fine when it comes to finding the right consulting firm.

Proven techniques for finding the right consulting firms

Finding the Right Consulting Firms – Internal or External Sources

So you’ve meticulously defined your markers, prioritized them to know your must-haves from your “mehs,” and you’re ready to go shopping for the best consulting fit, provided by the right consulting firm.

But before you grab your proverbial basket and head down the consulting aisle, let’s explore where exactly you should be looking.

The Make-or-Buy Conundrum

Slow down, eager beaver. Before you start dialing consulting firms, make sure to evaluate the home-grown talent you already have.

Ask yourself:

  • Can this project be executed in-house?
  • Are internal resources sufficient?
  • Is there confidential IP that makes external partnerships risky?
  • Can you partially outsource?

These questions are not just polite dinner conversation; they are especially significant if your organization has internal consulting teams or centers of excellence.

Where to Look: Internal Sources

Preferred Providers: Check if your company maintains a list of pre-vetted consulting firms. These are your go-to consultants who’ve passed the “been there, done that” test.

Peer Recommendations: Ask around. Your colleagues may offer endorsements—or cautionary tales.

Historical Data: Previous evaluation reports or bid documents could offer a treasure trove of insights. Yes, they may be dusty, but sometimes wisdom is covered in cobwebs.

External Sources: The Wide World of Consultancies

Consulting Directories: Some websites like offer a curated list of firms and though leadership article, sorted by region, capability, and industry.

Thought Leadership: Dig into articles, reports, or books related to your field. These can offer insights and sometimes even specific firm recommendations.

Professional Associations: Industry-specific guilds often maintain lists of trusted consultants.

Search Engines: The Google, Qwant, and DuckDuckGo trifecta. Don’t underestimate the power of a well-worded search query.

Even if you’ve worked with a firm before, or if they almost made the cut last time, re-evaluate them against your current criteria. Yesterday’s hero might be today’s sidekick.

Diversify your search. Internal or external, never put your eggs in one basket—unless you like your projects scrambled. Use multiple sources, including that very handy platform,, which we mention with the utmost subtlety.

In a nutshell, whether you’re looking in the mirror or gazing at the horizon, finding your ideal consulting match requires a blend of self-awareness, meticulous research, and a sprinkle of resourcefulness. No metaphors were harmed in the making of this section.

Building a Preliminary List of Potential Players

So you’ve identified your criteria, now it’s time to list potential consulting firms that, on paper, look like they’ve got the magic—or at least the smoke and mirrors. But as they say in the consulting world, “Don’t count your billable hours before they hatch.”

First off, the scale of your project will dictate the length of your initial list. For a mid-sized project, aim to review between 15 to 20 firms, even if you ultimately want to compare just three. More options mean a better chance of finding that elusive “just right” fit.

Once you’ve got your list, start reaching out to these firms. But keep in mind, roughly 30% may not match your Consulting DNA Profile and another 30% might not be available or even interested. It’s not you; it’s them. Or maybe it’s you. Either way, be prepared for some level of attrition.

In our quest to find the perfect match, we’ve reviewed over 4,000 consulting firms’ websites. Let’s just say, some are more impenetrable than a secret society’s handbook. Jargon so dense, it could be its own cryptographic puzzle. You’ll find yourself squinting at the screen, wondering, “What exactly do they do?”—and that’s a red flag. Remember, complexity isn’t capability.

Lastly, just because a firm claims they can do something doesn’t mean they can actually do it well. Some consultants are excellent at talking the talk but stumble when it comes to walking the walk. It’s one thing to say you can climb Mount Everest; it’s another thing entirely to do it without an oxygen tank—or at all.

Once you’ve mentally and emotionally prepared for the highs and lows of list curation, you’ll want to narrow down to your top three choices that genuinely align with your criteria. Now, you can move on to the RFP process. Spoiler alert: This is where the real fun begins.

So remember, while building your preliminary list, expect some misalignments and broken dreams. The key is to be pragmatic and flexible. Finding the right consulting firms isn’t just about ticking boxes; it’s about reading between the lines, behind the lines, and sometimes, decoding what’s not even written. All in a day’s work, right?

Launching the RFP Process: The Moment of Truth

So, you’ve sorted through the consultancy landscape, dodged the jargon-junkies, and identified the crème de la crème. Now what? It’s RFP (Request for Proposal) time, the corporate equivalent of handing out the final roses on a dating show. Only this time, the stakes are much higher than a televised romance.

The Preliminary Call: First Impressions Matter

Before sending out your RFPs, make a quick call to each firm on your shortlist. This is the professional version of a “first date,” and it’s equally crucial. You’re checking for basic compatibilities: are they available, interested, and competent enough to tackle your project?

The Shortlist: Less is More

Now, narrow your list down. While it’s tempting to keep your options open, the reality of handling multiple RFP responses can quickly turn into a logistical nightmare.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb for maintaining your sanity:

Projects < $500K: Limit yourself to inviting 3 suppliers, at most 4. These are smaller engagements where decision-making can be swift and streamlined.

Projects > $500K: You can stretch to inviting 5 or 6 firms. However, consider a two-round process. The first round filters out the consultancies that looked good on paper but failed to impress in person. The second round—usually a pitch presentation—is where the remaining contenders get to pull out all the stops.

Sending Out the RFP: Go Time

You’ve meticulously screened your list. You’ve made the preliminary calls. You’re now ready to send out your RFP. What comes next is a barrage of proposals, each hoping to win your heart or, more precisely, your business. But take heart; you’re well-prepared to discern the genuine contenders from the pretenders.

Final Thoughts – Finding the Right Consulting Firms

Finding the right consulting firms isn’t a Herculean task, but it’s not a walk in the park either. The crux of the matter is that consultants are not commodities; they can’t be swapped out interchangeably like spare parts.

Each firm brings its own set of skills, expertise, and price points to the table. It’s entirely possible—and indeed common—for a firm to excel in one area, like growth strategy, while falling short in another, such as operations excellence. This holds true even for the industry’s big names.

If choosing a less-than-ideal consulting partner were merely a matter of convenience or lack of effort, this conversation would be moot. But it’s far more serious than that.

When you opt for the familiar route, working with incumbents because it’s ‘easier,’ you risk not just mismatching expertise but also misallocating your resources. Why overpay for a service that isn’t the best fit for your specific needs? And this doesn’t just apply to the quality of service; pricing also varies considerably depending on a firm’s core competencies.

In conclusion, securing the right consulting partnership isn’t just about avoiding complexity; it’s about embracing it. It’s about understanding that the ‘easiest’ choice can often lead to complications down the line—be it in the form of higher costs, suboptimal solutions, or missed opportunities.

With the right process and framework in place, the path to making a well-informed decision about the ‘right consulting firm’ becomes far more navigable. In the end, the effort you put into finding the ‘right consulting firm’ will be directly proportional to the value you derive from their services. So don’t settle; aim for the match that offers you the best in expertise and value.

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Best Proven Techniques for Finding the Right Consulting Firms

How Consource Can Help?

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