Consultancy Buyers Insight: Lawrence Smith, Direct Line Group

Lawrence Smith is a Procurement Professional with responsibility for Procuring Consultancy & Professional Services, most recently for Direct Line Group. As part of the Consultancy Buyers Forum, Lawrence spoke to the MCA about his career in procurement and thoughts on Consulting Excellence.

Tell us how you got into your role as a buyer of consulting services. Why did you want to get into this industry?

I fell into the role as a consequence of circumstances a few years back. A colleague was taking a promotion and needed to offload some activity, and the rest is history. There was a certain amount of naivety on my part as to what the category entailed; I had worked in indirect procurement covering a myriad of service lines for a number of years, consultancy was something new and from a personal development perspective had a very prominent stakeholder population that would lead to good exposure within the business. I asked myself, “what could possibly go wrong”.

Consulting is changing fast. How can buyers keep up with the latest trends and innovations within consulting?

Networking is sometimes overlooked as it eats into an already busy schedule. However, networking is vital to keep learning everyday; meet your supply chain, meet peers, attend conferences & seminars and take yourself out of your comfort zone. Ask the silly question, although the only silly question, in my mind, is the one you don’t ask. A consequence of procuring consultancy services is that you are involved in some highly strategic and transformational projects,  be involved, be heard, but most importantly, listen and learn. You will be networking in live situations and meeting some pretty smart cookies.

And of course, there’s the obvious answer, stay on top of what’s happening in this space via the MCA & CBF.

What should individual consulting firms be doing more effectively to get themselves in front of their potential clients?

In all honesty, my experience tells me that most consultants are getting facetime with the key individuals in business they want or need to. If there is one thing I would encourage, it would be for those same consultants to communicate as often with the procurement function. We have a depth of knowledge holistically across our functions and could potentially help those consultants use their time more effectively. For example, introducing stakeholders with a budget to spend and a real desire to meet. Sharing knowledge at regular review sessions is very effective, sometimes the smallest snippet of information can prove invaluable for both parties.

What has impressed you most about UK consulting firms in recent years? And what has been your greatest disappointment?

If we’re talking about major players in the market, it’s their ability to always have that particular expert you need, and they’re always available! There is always a willingness to engage with a view to sharing knowledge, market trends, innovation and industry specific details. In fairness, I’ve found a partnering approach is welcomed by consultancy companies, with their willingness to go the extra mile and dare I say ‘put some skin in the game’ more and more frequently, there’s often such a confidence around delivery (albeit with some caveated dependencies). We just need to be mindful as organisations and buyers that what we’re asking for is SMART and that we are really getting that ‘bang’ for our considerable buck.

Disappointment would be the constant ‘through the back gate’ approach some consultants take with my stakeholders, kicking off a project and playing catch up with commercials .Ultimately, that doesn’t benefit anyone. As an old boss of mine once told me, “it’s easier to seek forgiveness than approval”, never a truer word said in this circumstance.  

The MCA has created a new Consulting Excellence scheme, based around 9 principles of Ethical Behaviour, Client Service and Value, and Professional Development. How could buyers of consulting use this scheme effectively in their buying process?

The Consulting Excellence scheme offers a view of some of fundamental principles the consultancy buying community should be seeking in their supply chain. The best practice standards are clear and precise; they offer buyers a point of reference from a recognised industry body, something they can use when discussing any of the areas covered with their suppliers. So much of both day-to-day downstream contract management and period of engagements with suppliers is down to behaviours.

You have been an enthusiastic participant in the Consultancy Buyers Forum. What future can you see for the Forum and what role could it play?

The previous steering group did a great job in getting the network off the ground and establishing the Blueprint. The forum needs to continue this ground work and start to promote itself and its activities more widely. Going forward, there are still areas to cover in terms best practice advice around ‘what good looks like’ for a consultancy engagement, ‘what works best for both parties for an engagement’ and ‘how you realistically measure performance over lengthy engagements with so many dependencies and Changes’.

There’s lots to do and discuss, but so far so good!

This interview was conducted as part of the Consultancy Buyers Forum. If you would like to join the forum, or for more information, please contact Jasmine Knight.