Communicating with consultants... a common courtesy!

by the admin guy
7 minutes
Communicating with consultants... a common courtesy!

I need to get this of my liver... perhaps not the smartest business decision but so be it.  I am frustrated - and I hear the same from colleagues and friends - with companies that remain silent when we send them our resume or a proposal.

And most are guilty of this. It is true that, as consultants we are at the 'mercy' of our clients - and the NGOs and  the EU  framework contract beneficiaries are the worst.  And before they get their defences up, I know that we all vie for the same jobs; it is understandable that human resource staff are flooded with CVs, but acknowledging receipt remains a common courtesy!

Yet we have taken the time to look at your offer, researched your company and often tailor our CVs to the position. We put in work. Have at least the decency to acknowledge our effort.... And perhaps give us an indication of by when we should no longer hope for an answer!

I have sunken so low that even an automated reply is welcome! Because it is better than being left hanging.

...even an automated reply is welcome!

Even more egregious are the organisations that solicit our proposals - we analyse your terms of reference (ToR), we look at your requirements, we develop approaches and methodologies. In short, we work for a week or more, in the hope of getting a contract.

At least give us some feedback - tell us you received our proposals in due time. And perhaps give us an indication of your timeline. Put them in the the ToR, make it part of an (automated) reply .... and if you are overshooting your self-imposed deadlines, keep us informed.

Treat us with the same respect we show you!

And when you do communicate - because we insist or do no longer hesitate to go beyond the field level and contact head offices (yes I started doing that when I feel that communication is not forthcoming or appropriate) - communicate well, respectfully and do not brush us off.

proposal coverLet me illustrate with two cases  - that found their denouement  in the same week - but left me stunned (and without a project).  The first case was with a company that found my proposal, submitted in May 2019  "..the review process found your proposal to be excellent - it ranked the highest of all submissions - and we want you to be part of the work..." (I even bragged about it!). 

A contract is dangled in front of me - on four different occasions"...we will send you the contract tomorrow..." but never arrives (for what at the start seemed 'legitimate reasons') and the ToR kept on changing.

I should have walked away then. But you wait, you adapt, because you put in the work and believe in the project.

I should have walked away then

To make a long story short, five months later in October - because of what essentially can be summed up as a communication breakdown - the organisation backs out. I call it a communication breakdown since there was never any serious attempt to consider arguments for reducing the number of billable days (after accepting the proposal) from 30 to 20, although the workload did not change with the different iterations of the ToR. Not to mention that accepting such a change (without seeing ToRs or an implementation schedule) was a precondition to see the draft contract.

...in hindsight I am happy I do not have to work with that organisation...

We don't do half-ass work! And although I would have liked to implement the research ... in hindsight I am happy I do not have to work with an organisation that (1) communicates only when prodded by involving the head office; (2) changes ToR like I change my socks and (3) does not deem the opinion of the expert they praised earlier important.

Luckily we had another iron in the fire! A call for tenders for a project in West Africa.

proposal coverI replied in due time and waited. I replied duly to a request for clarification and when the announced starting date of the project passed, inquired about new deadlines and a decision calendar. Never about the outcome of the process. In the absence of a reply, a week later I inquired again. No answer ... Repeat!  On my third email, all I got was a snooty reply saying ‘...to wait for the process to be completed...’ which I did.

Only to receive an email that said nothing more than that the process would “...for strategic reasons not go further”. At least an answer, and many questions more. Which I asked. Just to have a bit more information after the time and effort put into answering the organisation’s request. And to be able to tell the more than 1500 field researchers that had signaled their availability...

The next reply - "... for reasons internal to our organisation, your proposal was not selected..." - stunned me because all a sudden it seemed to be about my proposal only. And it happens not to win a bid, but the answer was at odds with the previous one. A decision that would have affected all bidders was all of a sudden just about my proposal? So as an evaluator I asked about ‘criteria’ and 'ranking. What about transparency, openness and unambiguous communication?

No answer except that ‘the harassment’ should end. So another email to the organisation's head office was due... To ask closure. And how to best answer my field team, my co-researcher and the answers I needed. To perhaps improve my proposals.

What about transparency, openness and unambiguous communication?

I find it disheartening that it is only after some manager in a head office in Europe is informed, things get moving. I can not reiterate it enough: communicate with the consultant community.  Provide clear deadlines for us. And of course, we will ask when you do not mention them in the ToR. When we do, please don't see this as cumbersome or undue meddling. Certainly not as harassment. 

We need to plan our time - our availability. We live in this weird symbiotic relationship. We need your projects - you need our expertise. Let's communicate. And stick to the promises we make.