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Between 2005 and 2011, IMC published Daily Tips every weekday on consulting ethics, marketing, service delivery and practice management. You may search more than 800 tips on this website using keywords in "Search all posts" or clicking on a tag in the Top Tags list to return all tips with that specific tag. Comment on individual tips (members and registered guests) or use the Contact Us form above to contact Mark Haas CMC, FIMC, Daily Tips author/editor. Daily Tips are being compiled into several volumes and will be available through IMC USA and Mark Haas.

 

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Top tags: client relations  communication  customer understanding  your consulting practice  marketing  consultant role  learning  client service  reputation  goodwill  consulting process  market research  practice management  sales  ethics  planning  client development  engagement management  innovation  proposals  professional development  professionalism  knowledge assets  prospect  trends  presentations  recommendations  consulting colleagues  intellectual property  product development 

#150: Managing "Pickup" Consulting Teams

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, October 9, 2009
I know clients increasingly want the right team of experts and don't want to pay for people just because they work at the same company as the star consultant. However, isn’t it problematic to assemble and manage a team of people you don't know?

That's the point of having a robust network of talented and ethical consultants. Yes, assembling and managing a team of independent experts is an acquired skill and takes some hard work. It is much like playing pickup sports, where many individuals, who have neither played together nor faced the other team before, create a team that has to perform. Each individual is a talented and successful individual in their own right, usually capable of running the team themselves. In pickup games, however, adaptation, flexibility and humility are required to weave together a team that often can beat a team that has played together a long time (the 1980 US Olympic hockey team playing the USSR comes to mind).

I am not minimizing the risks of managing such a team and recognize that it takes some extra work that a larger company may not have to do. However, there are benefits for both the consulting team members as well as for the client. For the consultants, each member must clarify and defend their cherished positions, methodologies and assumptions, in contrast with that situation if they were working with the same people they always do. This really keeps you on your toes and rapidly advances your expertise. For the client, the self-assembled team brings robust, innovative and validated thinking to a problem that a larger firm, usually having developed a branded standard methodology and using in-house research for which they usually consider a strength, cannot provide. These are the kind of comments clients who are trending toward use of boutique and independent consultants make when talking about their need for nimble, creative and cutting edge thinking.

Tip: Your ability to attract and serve these kinds of clients and win sizable engagements that used to automatically go to larger firms all comes down to your network. You need to know well and spend time with consultants from a range of disciplines and get to know how they work, what they know and their ethics. Certification is one good marker of a candidate for your future teams, but spending time in professional associations, doing pro bono work, and just talking over an issue you or they have will give you a sense of whether they are the right person you want on your "pickup" team.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  collaboration  consultant role  consulting colleagues  innovation  networks  practice management  proposals  sales  teaming  trends  virtual teams 

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#149: Keeping Up With Your Industry Through News Feeds

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, October 8, 2009
I have recently discovered news feeds for major industry groups as a way to keep up with news without reading a lot of sources. How can I customize a news feed for my specialized areas of interest?

The specialization of trade press has tremendously increased the volume and detail in news and research data about even the most arcane corners of business. However, this increased detail creates a more difficult job of sifting through sources. Online availability improves access but does not reduce the volume.

This is where news feeds come in. A news feed is an aggregation of news items published by many different online sources, which is then updated constantly. When used with a news reader (many are available for free as standalone applications or can be added to a browser or to email clients like Outlook), news feeds can collect the most up to date news about a specified topic and deliver it to your desktop, saving you considerable time and providing a wider collection of content than you could get by searching manually.

You asked about custom news feeds. There are now a few sources where you can design your own feeds. Although not an endorsement of any one source, News Feed Maker and Feedzilla are good places to start. Both services allow you to specify keywords on which the feed software will work to aggregate news to your needs. You can place these as widgets in a variety of formats on your website or just as news sources for your own use.

Tip: You may find tremendous value in news feeds for daily digests of content you need to stay ahead of your profession, discipline or industry. Create several feeds using keywords related to your current or prospective consulting practice. You will quickly figure out which sets of keywords are producing the highest value news. Once you have fine tuned your feeds, you can begin passing along timely and relevant news to your clients. Given that most news feeds are updated at 15 minute intervals, you may well be the first one to notify a client about an industry trend or event related to a competitor. Keeping a client abreast of breaking news is one service expected of a trusted advisor.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  customer understanding  information management  innovation  learning  market research  marketing 

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#148: Creating Case Studies From Your Engagements

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, October 7, 2009
When I lecture at a local university, I often use business case studies purchased from management review journals. Can I use my own project summaries instead of these cases?

Yes, and this strategy has two valuable benefits. First, no one knows the nuances of a case like the person (you) who was intimately involved in its creation. You know the players, the circumstances, the solution implemented and the outcomes. You will be better able to respond to questions about alternative approaches or the implications of variations in circumstances on intervention outcomes. Second, you have the ability to adapt the case to your teaching needs in ways that are internally consistent with the client organization. Some cases have been adapted or constructed in ways that describe an organization that exhibits unrealistic organization or actions. For both reasons, you will be able to present an appropriate case that you know well. One caveat. You must remove all explicit or indirect references to you client's name or any information that could lead to identification of your client or any other person or organization.

Tip: There is another important benefit. Creating a case gives you an opportunity to revisit and examine your client's situation far removed from your initial interaction. You may want to create cases of several of your prior engagements and use them to teach your staff or colleagues about your approach to consulting or client relations. The comments you receive from others about your case are indirectly assessments of your role in the engagement. You may even learn something new about your approach to consulting that you can use with this same client or future clients.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  customer understanding  intellectual property  learning 

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#147: Evidence-Based Consulting

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, October 6, 2009
I have refined my consulting approaches over the years and my clients seem to appreciate them. Is there any reason I need to validate these approaches to improve them?

This is a touchy question for many consultants. We tell our clients to apply proven approaches to process improvement but we don't necessarily apply the same rigor selecting methodologies for our own businesses. Often, we spend most of our time delivering client services or in marketing and relatively less time researching and developing new or even better approaches. Some large firms devote the resources to research and develop new consulting services but most firms rarely spend sufficient time seriously creating services based on evidence. We know clients are enamored with “innovative” so we are happy to oblige.

Consider where your consulting practice is in terms of these suspect decision making practices:
  • Selecting the Wrong Model - Consultants are known for generating a steady stream of "the latest" approaches to management. Some managers and consultants presume these models are appropriate when they are not. The attractiveness of an approach is often based on how clever they appear or the logic that if they worked for one company, they will work for others. A write-up in a management magazine is not a justification that an approach will work for your client. So too is it wrong to abandon an approach because someone says “The XYZ method is dead.”
  • Repeating What Worked Recently - The world and business are constantly evolving. While some truths are timeless, as business changes, so must your consulting business. Just because your approach worked so well for your last client does not validate its use for your next client. Each client warrants a zero-based review of how best to approach a problem. Using your "standard" approach without a proper diagnosis is unprofessional. At a minimum, you must validate that the success of your last client was due to your intervention and not some other factors before you propose the same approach.
  • Not Examining Your Ideologies - We need to constantly evaluate whether our deep seated beliefs about training, incentives, strategy, morale, and other ideologies based on our culture, experience or education are really true. For example, mergers are often proposed as a way to capture market share and offset corporate weaknesses in a competitive market. The fact is that most mergers, even those with prodigious due diligence, fail spectacularly and most actually destroy shareholder value, yet consultants still eagerly propose M&A as a strategy.
Tip: This lack of evidence-base management is a serious problem with both management and consulting. A good treatment of this issue is Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management by Pfeffer and Sutton. The authors discuss how we are guilty of the above three approaches to avoid the hard work of proving our methods are effective. This is a must read for management consultants, both for the benefit of your own business as well as those of your clients.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  consulting process  innovation  market research  professionalism  recommendations  your consulting practice 

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#146: Positioning Your Services on Price

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Sunday, October 4, 2009
Although there is considerable pricing pressure on consulting services, our firm still has a modest amount of business for our standard services at our regular rates. Should we be developing a low cost version of our services?

In a word, yes. If we as consultants truly believe that we exist to provide services that meet a client's needs, then alternative versions of your services fit this criterion. Providing only a single version, and this applies to more as well as less, comprehensive versions, can limit your market attractiveness. A single offering can only be compared to services of other consultants, which puts the comparison out of your control.

According to both market research and common sense, your bread and butter service offering may well be enhanced by offering a higher and lower priced version. Think of different versions of a software product. Many show charts of features with checkmarks next to those features that come with the "basic," standard," and "premium" packages. Each has a price with it that allows a prospect to evaluate, within your set of offerings, which version best meets their current needs. This way of arraying offers allows you to frame the decision around your own strengths.

Tip: For each of your typical services, configure a limited service or duration version, as well as an enhanced version. Run these by past clients and maybe colleagues to see how well these alternatives resonate, and revise as appropriate. This creates two opportunities. First, you might be surprised that there is some demand for your basic and enhanced packages. If so, you may have limited your services because clients have selected other consultants whose services were more to their price/value liking. Second, considering the design of basic/enhanced versions, especially when such versions just don't work for your services, may give you insights into entirely new types of services to offer, including teaming with other consultants.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  fees  marketing  product development  proposals  sales 

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