What are the key starting points for a successful Outsource deal?

The key starting points for a successful Outsource

Knowledge of what you want

There must be clear scoping of the demand and what is being put to the market. Within the objectives for the outsourcing there must be consistency and reasonableness of demands – cost reduction, as a key aim together with increase service may be inconsistent. Sign off internally why we are doing this and determine what is driving the whole process is agreed within the organisation – this is important from the Vendors perspective as well. If the vendor knows that cost reduction or technology refreshes are key objectives the response can be tailored to precise needs. Furthermore, objectives can change over time and the original case for an Outsource can be undermined by events. Revisiting the rational is an important task during the process – don’t be driven by the running train.

A clear process of acquisition

Decide sole source versus competitive sourcing to the market. Sole sourcing usually suggested (particularly by the vendor) if there is a history with the supplier and there is a time constraint – but there are significant negatives. Loss of leverage, not being able to compare alternatives, less aggressive pricing, and a sole source could have high impacts such as the legitimacy of the deal. Last but not least, the process may actually take longer as there is no time pressure that comes from a competitive environment.

In a competitive bid position cost savings have a better chance of being realised, suppliers can come with more innovative proposals that the in-house supplier – at least in principal. The process can actually be quicker as the client can drive the competitive process – by a strict time based approach to the process for example. But on the other side competitive bidding is more resource intensive, for the supplier as well as the client.

Be precise, not prescriptive, comprehensive but concise in the layout – focus on key objectives. We need the ‘what’ not the how – avoid laying down all sorts of preconditions about how the service is to be delivered – that’s the suppliers job in the proposal. I have seen in several RFP’ s detailed specifications of what packages to use and how precisely the service is to be delivered – effectively closing off all innovative solutions that may have been available from the vendor.

RFI is a high-level document inviting general response and can be used as a test for possible solutions and to pre-select candidates for the bid. Usually there is no bid price given by the suppliers – nor should we expect too much detail here. An RFP invites a formal response and takes longer for the vendor and the customer to evaluate. Ensure we are being realistic and take care that the quality and clarity in the RFP promotes conformance in the proposals received.


In negotiation avoid shortcuts and set specific goals – and ensure they are delivered. Evaluate, clarify and frame negotiations to keep competition alive. Document all discussions and carry out frequent self-assessment. Use a term sheet, this helps drive and track the discussion and allows apples to apples comparison – over time the term sheet can evolve into a contract

Manage the up and down communication channels carefully. Make sure no seniors speak to vendors and control vendor access to senior management. Some vendors are good at getting around the formal process to the senior management and exploiting this to short-circuit the tender process. We all know of ‘golf course’ deals that cut through a bid process and enable vendors to return to the customer team informing them they ‘know’ the requirements of senior management.

Keep talking to vendors and meet frequently to discuss the proposals – the more open and interactive the better the eventual outcome.


First of all vendors to this for a living – often the vendor sales team have been doing this for years and when this is done will move onto the next. The customer side on the other hand may have not done this before or at least the team carrying out the supplier proposal evaluation may be completely new compared to the last time the outsource process was done.

Also some of the customer team will also have a day job to contend with – don’t forget this (or holidays etc.) plan capacities well. Plan well, resource well and set realistic time scales – time pressure can act in the vendor’s favour and allow skipping of important details. Never let issues that should be solved at negotiation drift into ‘we will solve this later’ discussions. They never are and these can be a source of major conflict later. In an old course, some time ago on bargaining it was said: ‘It is better for the negotiation to break down rather than the agreement’. All-important details must be cleared before signing a contract.

Partnership rhetoric will appear at some stage in the discussions from the vendor side. Partnership usually means giving all the risks to the vendor from the customer side or to closing off competition from the vendor side (sole sourcing). Partnership can be invoked to get over tricky points and put them off until later stages or to close out competition. Partnership should be based on performance and strict business principles not waffle

Maximum gain minimum vendor pain during the proposal stage – and remember to ask what we are looking for from outsourcing until we know what it is!