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#232: Giving Advice in the Best Format

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, February 2, 2010
What should a consultant do when a client wants to get their advice in a format I don't think is appropriate? For example, I hate writing reports because I don't think anyone reads them but my new client is insisting on my delivering one.

It's not for you to decide for the client what the right format is, but you can certainly recommend, if done in the right way. Depending on how well you know the client or can point to the usefulness of reporting in your comparable prior consulting engagements, you might be able to convince them of their own best interest. Starting with asking how they are going to use your work products. Ask a series of questions about how they usually receive recommendations (i.e., always the same way or is there some flexibility?). Will they be reusing it for presentation to another group (i.e., is this why they need a "killer PowerPoint presentation”)? Is this the company's preferred method of storing work recommendations (e.g., in a detailed report)? Is the format of delivery tied to the culture of the organization?

Now consider your mutual interests. An elaborate means of delivering findings and recommendations will cost your client money and time for you to prepare. Create a formal estimate of the expense and delay such a formal report would require and provide alternatives, including the relatively limited loss of content for the significant cost reduction of approaches such as executive briefings. The trick is to turn the economics around and present them in the form of an investment to save the client time and budget.

Tip: One possibility is that your client may not be able to visualize or experience a leaner or different reporting format, especially if they always do things one way. If it doesn't violate confidentiality, provide alternative formats of reports you have presented to past clients (or redact them, as appropriate). One advantage is that they might really like a reporting format for which you already have experience creating. Remember, it's not your place to tell them a report is a waste of your time and their money, but it is appropriate for you to advise them on the most effective communication mechanisms for the company. See the difference in tone?

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  customer understanding  information management  presentations  recommendations 

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Mary Adams CMC says...
Posted Tuesday, February 2, 2010
I just want to chime in on the approach of pricing out different deliverables as options. Sometimes creating a report is a clear objective of the assignment. But most of the time, the objectives of the project have to do with creating a change.

Focus the conversation on the best way to ensure that the desired change/improvement occurs--and how the deliverables support that. Putting alternative prices to different deliverables helps the client make that choice. We always do this and usually the client opts to not pay for a formal report.

In my most successful project ever, we ended up with three drawings/graphics that expressed the essence of the findings. Managers at the company kept contacting me to ask if they could use the drawings in their own presentations. I use an abstracted version of these (and other drawings) to explain the power of this approach to potential clients.
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