Originally posted on the National Outsourcing Association (NOA) blog


Insights from the NOA “Benchmarking” Special Interests Group with Everest Group

Benchmarking is a worthwhile endeavour. When conducted properly, the practice will give you a baseline indicator of where your business is currently, where it is headed on its current trajectory, where you need to be to maximise gains and how you can get there.

Benchmarking can also act as the catalyst for a more fruitful long-term outsourcing relationship, by highlight areas that must be focused on moving forward. On the other hand, it is not the solution to every problem that relationship might have. The term is frequently misunderstood and the practice is even more frequently misused.

At the NOA’s Special Interests Group on Benchmarking in association with Everest Group, benchmarking experts led a roundtable discussion on when benchmarking is necessary, how it is best carried out and what the practice does to help business relationships between clients and their providers.


Read more on the NOA blog

Sole sourcing can deliver multiple benefits, including reduced cost- and time-to-decision, elimination of the need to manage a large portfolio of providers, and likelihood of reaping greater value from a closer relationship with a single services delivery partner. Yet the sole-source process can quickly unravel if not carefully designed and managed by the buyer, even (or perhaps, especially) when a strong relationship between the buyer and provider already exists.

Several factors are critical to sole sourcing success. 

Deepen the relationship

While mutual respect, aligned interests, commitment, and trust are critical in any outsourcing relationship, they assume greater importance in a sole-source situation. Why? Buyers look to sole source to achieve collaborative, insights-based solutions, rather than merely receiving a table stakes collection of transactions. Buyers achieve this by openly sharing their desired outcomes and concerns, and building an outcomes-focused, value-oriented foundation during the solutioning and negotiation process. This depth of relationship must be nurtured throughout the tenure of the engagement. This applies whether looking to transform the relationship or simply update it. Alignment of both organizations to the objectives is key to a successful sole-source.

Engage senior leadership

Senior leadership from both the buyer and supplier need to set the initial goals for the relationship as they deepen it, and then continue to reinforce the desired outcomes to their teams throughout the sole sourcing process. Institutionalizing these objectives will ensure that they become the parameters that guide behavior in all interactions. This takes significant and persistent effort at all levels, and will require some spot coaching to realign team members who fall back to the old ways of doing things.

Get approvals early and often

Given their role as stewards of an enterprise’s activities, boards of directors may balk at the idea of sole sourcing. To avoid delays and additional fact gathering expenses – and even the requirement to tender an RFP to multiple providers – the buyer should present the opportunity to its board as early as possible in the process. The buyer must understand the concerns the board might have around the value of a competitive process, and address them through external benchmarking, leveraging current market information about suppliers and services, and a thorough understanding of the value of the current relationship. An early confirmation from the board that this is worth considering will avoid wasting time, resources, money, and momentum.  

Don’t boil the ocean

As one of the key advantages of sole sourcing is time-to-execution of the agreement, buyers need to focus on three factors during the sourcing process: a strong, solid, and accurate business case that is easily explained to the organization; confidence (through benchmarking and external validation) that the service provider, scope, and pricing are market-competitive and aligned to the desired outcomes; and a robust contract that focuses negotiations on the most relevant terms.

Develop a robust business case

To attain buy-in from senior leadership, the board, and the overall organization, the buyer’s business case must include: a baseline to demonstrate the full current service delivery costs; projections for the contract duration; dynamic modeling for real-time solutioning; an accounting of direct cost, business, and strategic benefits; and multi-dimensional risk measures. The business case must include a comparison to a competitive process, ensuring that the organization understands the value of the sole-source. And while it must cover all these bases, the resulting information must be presented in a clear, simple, direct, and compelling manner.

Compare to ensure value

The onus is on the buyer to ensure that the scope, pricing, and value are reasonable. As the buyer, you need to know what you want from the provider’s services, and how they’ll help you achieve your goals. After analyzing all through a market-comparative lens, you should work hand-in-hand with the provider to set specific (and quantifiable!) solution targets, making it clear that under-achieved goals may re-open a multi-provider sourcing process.

Focus the contract and negotiations on truly important factors

By taking ownership of the engagement process to set specific milestones and goals, the buyer maintains control of the decision and problem solving involved in reaching the goal, and eliminates any ambiguities relating to timing, scope, responsibilities, metrics, and targets. But a bit of buyer beware: Everest Group has identified 31 relevant contractual terms that sourcing negotiations should address.

For more specifics on attaining sole-sourcing success, please read our paper, “Sole Source Outsourcing – Ensuring a Successful Outcome.”

Every service provider is looking for the one, simple thing they need to do to change their growth trajectory. They think they may need to change their messaging or perhaps they should incorporate automation into their finance and accounting offering. Or they think moving from FTE-based pricing to transaction-based pricing will grow their business. If a silver-bullet answer existed for the question of how to grow a service business, it would be a wonderful thing. But here’s the sad truth: none of these actions will change the game.

Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. Are service providers going insane? It appears so, since they keep looking for simple, one-dimensional answers over and over again. I think by now they should be willing to step back and realize that their growth problems are much bigger than getting their messaging right or delivering the right combination of offshore and onshore resources or even adding a host of new service offerings in cloud, as-a-service, digital and automation platforms.

We talk with providers that are very enthusiastic about their new offerings and say they’ve signed dozens of new deals. But when we ask how much revenue comes from the new deals, the answer paints a very different picture. Often these are small sales, pilot situations and small revenue with the hope that they will grow into something larger. That may be where the market is heading, though not always.

Does a provider’s future success depend on moving to new technologies, new offerings? Providers need to recognize they can drive bigger sales by focusing on well-established areas that customers are already buying. For example, businesses will spend small amounts of money experimenting with cloud and social media, but they will spend huge amounts of money extending their CRM system so it supports the provider’s new offering. Evolving established technologies drives much larger revenue than experimenting with new technologies or new business models. That said, this still won’t change the game.

I believe providers need to stop their insane search for silver bullets and look, instead, at the fundamental tenets of how their customers perceive them and then change the nature of those relationships.

Providers that want to change the trajectory or the nature of their customer relationships and move into a deeper relationship on a larger scale likely need to change how they treat customers. Today’s customers want deeper, more intimate relationships.

But when we at Everest Group talk to providers about this reality, we find very few service providers are willing to step back and do that. Providers tell us they can’t afford to allocate more resources to customer relationship development and customer care functions because their cost of sales will rise too fast. So they just keep treating customers the same way but expecting a different outcome.

The dilemma for service providers is that they have a shareholder mandate to drive growth today. Sure, they get rewarded for growth in the current quarter, but their future ability to drive growth depends on their ability to position themselves should new technologies catch hold. When that happens, having already established deep, intimate relationships with customers will drive growth.

The cowboy song by Rhett Akins, “That Ain’t My Truck,” where he discovers his girl has left him for another guy, reminds me of the anti-incumbency bias occurring in today’s global services marketplace. What’s causing clients’ infidelity to their incumbent providers?

I believe many incumbent service providers find themselves displaced today because of three factors.

  1. Services that clients once viewed as value are now just a commodity. Almost all services commoditize over time. And at that point a service that was once a differentiation of the provider no longer is different from other providers’ offerings.
  1. Client and provider interests become unaligned. When interests aren’t aligned, the client comes to believe the provider delivers services in a manner that benefits itself rather than working for the client’s benefit.
  1. The service provider takes the relationship for granted and the customer sees it increasingly as day-to-day business. Figuratively speaking, the provider forgets to bring roses. I’ve blogged before about this relationship phenomenon where clients tell Everest Group they get no innovation (continual added value) from their providers.

Incumbent providers should keep in mind that Taco Bell is not fine dining and a trip to Galveston is not the same as a trip the south of France. Just as with relationships between men and women, commercial relationships also need forward momentum. Without making an effort to build a deeper relationship, it will go stale or even go backward. Management changes and employee turnover in the provider organization aggravate this situation.

Service Provider Taco Bell

Clients now have a variety of options when it comes to service providers. Incumbent providers that don’t want to find their clients with another provider’s “truck” are wise to focus on the above three factors.

Also see our complimentary viewpoint, Rising Anti-Incumbency in Outsourcing: Breaking Up Is Not Hard to Do.


Photo credit: Don O’Brien

There is increasing skepticism and cynicism in the customer ranks in the hyper-competitive environment of the services world. As a customer commented to me, “Providers are like snowflakes. They all think they are unique, but they look just like everybody else. And if you put them under pressure, they all become the same thing.”

The customer was referring to being bombarded with providers’ offers in PowerPoint presentations and the fact that many of the presentations are “paper thin and aspirational.”

Providers come in with the latest hot topic (especially digital, cloud or cloud orchestration) or what they’ve heard at a conference, spinning that into a PowerPoint presentation. But, as the customer explained, it very quickly becomes apparent that the provider has no real experience or only limited experience in the service touted in the presentation. At best there are one or two examples of having done something similar. The offer is more PowerPoint than reality.

There is another problem with these thin PowerPoint offers. These presentations are all about the provider — how smart it is, how capable it is and the complications involved in the provider delivering the service. But this information is of limited interest to the customer, who wants to talk about their own business issues.

The offer overload showing thin experience results in customers’ increasing cynicism. And the focus on the provider creates further barriers for good conversations. Adding to the negative impression, providers usually offer these aspirational PowerPoint multiple times; but essentially, this accomplishes only one outcome: it reduces the customer’s willingness to entertain new offers.


Photo credit: Andrew Magill

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