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No matter how sophisticated your market and competitive intelligence (M/CI) function is, it often makes sense to work with a third-party vendor. There are many reasons to do so: access to deeper subject expertise, guidance on setting up the right systems and processes, or even just to get a fresh perspective on your existing M/CI process. 

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Effectively managing competitive intelligence consulting vendors takes a deliberate approach, and there is a great degree of nuance as you progress through the different stages of a consulting engagement. Of course, there will be differences in the way each third party vendor operates, but the vast majority of consulting agreements go through a similar five-step process:

  1. Defining Scoping Documents and Requests For Proposals (RFPs)
  2. Finalizing Statements of Work (SOWs) and contracts
  3. Managing vendor progress
  4. Reviewing vendor deliverables
  5. Centralize resources and knowledge sharing

Here at Cipher, we’ve been in the competitive intelligence consulting business for 25 years, and have worked with clients in all kinds of industries. In this article, we’ll share our guidance on how to best manage third-party M/CI vendors throughout consulting engagements to ensure competitive intelligence consulting projects deliver real value to your organization. 

Defining Scoping Documents and Requests For Proposals (RFPs)

At the outset of the project, organizations will define scoping documents and issue RFPs to potential vendors. 

A scoping document defines how a project will be executed and quantifies key details, including:

  • Project goals
  • Key deliverables
  • Project timelines and key milestones
  • Roles and responsibilities

Scoping documents are foundational to the success of any competitive intelligence consulting partnership, and require a high level of clarity and detail. It’s important to ensure there is internal alignment on the contents of a scoping document so that all organizational stakeholders have similar expectations and a shared definition of success. 

A request for proposal, commonly referred to as an RFP, is a formal document that announces a project to potential partners and provides a structured framework for interested parties to submit a bid. RFPs are primarily used by government agencies, but many other organizations are also embracing them for the increased clarity they bring to the vendor selection process.

The key to creating an effective RFP relies on striking a balance between specific project details and allowing freedom for vendors to demonstrate what they bring to the table. A strong RFP will include concrete details on the aims of the project, but should not be overly prescriptive, so as to allow third-party vendors to creatively share how they will add value.

Finalizing SOWs and Contracts

Once a vendor has been selected, the final SOW for the consulting engagement should be updated and agreed on. During the course of exploratory discussions, it’s likely that some details will change. It’s important to redefine the SOW with your new vendor partner to ensure that everyone is aligned on expectations, deliverables, and goals from the outset of the project. 

The same goes for contracts. It’s crucial to document your new consulting relationship in a legally binding contract. Make sure all key details are covered, like payment terms, confidentiality, and ownership of intellectual property. A good attorney will be able to draft a solid consulting contract that effectively protects both parties and ensures a fruitful business relationship.

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Managing Vendor Progress

Once the project kicks off, it might be tempting to sit back and watch the vendor do all the work. But successful competitive intelligence consulting engagements are built on deep partnerships and high levels of engagement from all stakeholders. The M/CI world moves fast, and it’s important to have the agility and organizational speed to react effectively to changes in the wider market, or in competitor’s activities. 

Some practical tips for managing vendor progress: 

  • Establish a steering group for the project that includes management and other key stakeholders
  • Schedule regular check-in meetings, both amongst leaders and the team members responsible for the day-to-day work
  • Set up regular milestones and deliverables to ensure the project is progressing at the right pace 
  • Establish clear communication channels and shared visibility of important documents and M/CI resources

Remember to strike a balance. You hired external consultants because of their expertise, so give them appropriate time and space to complete the work. 

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Reviewing Vendor Deliverables

As the engagement progresses, project deliverables will come due. These should be delivered in accordance with the SOW agreed at the outset of the project. If you’re working with a competitive intelligence consulting company, common deliverables may include a market overview, deep dives on key competitors, or a strategic plan on the best way to move forward. Ultimately though, the deliverables will be case specific, defined by each unique project. 

Related: The Key Components of a Good Strategy Engagement

Take time as a team to review vendor deliverables and identify any follow-up questions or topics for deeper analysis. Widely distribute the deliverables among your organization to ensure that everyone is well-informed. Discuss the deliverables with your vendor, and openly share thoughts and feedback with them to ensure ongoing improvement.

Centralize Resources and Knowledge Sharing

Throughout the process, your M/CI consultants will likely compile all kinds of interesting insights for your business. It’s important that you have access to these on an ongoing basis, particularly if the consulting agreement comes to an end. 

At this stage, it’s all about blending together software and strategy to create a unified competitive intelligence hub. 

One solution is Knowledge360Ⓡ. By locating all M/CI information in one centralized platform, it’s easy for teams to access M/CI resources asynchronously. Knowledge360Ⓡ is one of the only M/CI software platforms built for collaboration and uses a range of sophisticated technologies to provide sophisticated CI insights in real-time. 

The benefits of working with a competitive intelligence consulting firm are clear: new market insights, deep expertise, and a fresh perspective on existing practices. Follow the process above and you’ll benefit from a well-defined, structured relationship that delivers value to your CI function.

If your organization is looking to start working with M/CI consultants, get in touch with Cipher. Our blended approach pairs innovative software with expert consultants to deliver ground-breaking M/CI insights.

To learn more about our services, contact us