The definitive guide to hiring an energy advisor
s a large user of energy, you know that one of the key factors in making smart decisions is engaging the services of an energy procurement advisory firm. We have previously touched on the relationship between the energy advisor and the energy user. However, we have never fully explored the process used to actually engage and evaluate the advisor.
The next series of articles will provide a “Definitive Guide” to selecting an energy advisor.
Keep in mind that there are a whole host of factors to consider when making a choice. Depending on your location, you could have upwards of 300 different such “firms” calling on you. In order to help sort this guide by identifiable and measurable pieces, we will investigate the evaluation of advisors based on five key factors:
- Services Provided
- Wholesale Market Expertise
- Strategic Approach
How many times, as a procurement professional, have you heard vendors pitching their goods/services say they are “experienced?”
Such a claim can take the form of an “experience” section in an RFP stating that “our team has over 300+ years of experience” to a brochure touting that “our founder invented the very product you are using today.” Experience is too often boiled down to a measurement of years, most commonly as part of a bid or RFP process.
However, when considering experience, it is not just quantity but also quality. One individual with 50+ years’ experience could prove vastly more valuable than 50 workers with just a year of experience each. A more accurate summary of experience would include a host of items:
- Company background: what are the major milestones and accomplishments?
- Years in business: how long has this been a viable company?
- Organizational structure: how will the business operations support our needs?
- Management team: does solid leadership drive the company forward?
- Uniqueness/strengths: why should we choose them over the competition?
- Geographic reach: can they address issues for all of our locations?
- Client numbers, load managed, client types, references, case studies: do they employ best practices, and can they handle our needs?
- Number of vetted suppliers: do they work with all the major suppliers in the marketplace?
- Client retention/satisfaction: does this business have a track record of success with customer support?
- Financials: can this company prove their fiscal strength and endurance?
- Results/awards: what is the tangible evidence of this company’s “experience?”
However, we can narrow this down to three key areas of the evaluation process for purposes of our discussion here: industry experience, breadth and depth of clientele and geographic coverage.
Again, the simplest measurement is to ask how many years’ experience the consultant in question has in the industry. But remember, an advisor is only as valuable as the tools they can access. So in addition to the experience of its people, you need to also consider the years’ experience of the firm itself. This becomes “generational experience” that adds to the collective knowledge of the advisory firm, which provides additional layers in the assistance they can provide to you. Typically, experience manifests itself in resources. When you can find a firm whose work with energy commodities goes back several decades, you are able to access the resources that give you insight into the inner workings of the markets – which, in turn leads, to price discovery.
Breadth and Depth of Clientele
In some areas of business, you want a company that works only with entities like you. When it comes to selecting an energy advisor, though, you really want to take the opposite approach. When selecting an advisor, you want a firm that has experience working with a wide range of customer types and industries. While it is important that your advisor understands the nuances of your industry, you can also leverage knowledge and experiences gained in other industries to create a more comprehensive solution. This is how best practices are developed and fresh ideas are brought in to the picture that you might never discover if you stick with a consultant strictly within your industry. In the evaluation process, pay close attention to references from multiple industries, not just yours.
The vast majority of energy advisors and consultants out there are smaller companies that, due to lack of resources, just focus on one region or state. As with the desired industry experience, looking for extensive geographic coverage will get the best bang for your buck. This means working with a firm that has a solid presence and actual experience in the widest range of geographies. While you might feel that an advisor focused on your region has the greatest resources to bring to the table. However the focus should be on best practices, and you can only develop best practices when you have experience working in a variety of industries and geographies. It is fairly common to be evaluating an energy supply RFP with suppliers that serve in multiple states throughout the U.S. These suppliers will often offer certain terms in one market that they don’t offer in another – but only a good advisor with reach into those various markets has this knowledge to leverage the best of all possible terms for a client, regardless of which market they are in. The smaller regional advisor would be unaware of what was left on the table.
More that meets the eye
The ultimate goal is to choose an advisor who can truly strategize and create a customized solution that will bring value to you for years to come. In discussing energy policy and how the markets may affect budgets, your truly “experienced” advisor will become a trusted team member whom your organization will come to rely on.
In upcoming articles, we will explore other key areas that – along with experience – must be considered when engaging the right energy advisor for your organization.
Bob Wooten, C.P.M., CEP, is Director of National Accounts for Tradition Energy and has over 20 years of experience managing commercial, industrial and governmental procurement programs for a wide variety of clients. Bob holds professional certifications from the Association of Energy Engineers and the Institute for Supply Management, as well as a B.A. from Texas A&M University, and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Houston.