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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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#676: Be Cautiously Creative with Your Sales Collateral

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, October 17, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Given that consulting prospects have little time to get to differentiate you from your colleagues (and all the laid off executives flooding the consulting market), what are some ways to get people's attention long enough to develop some rapport?

Most professional service providers today have a common challenge when it comes to getting noticed above the crowd. All are presumed to have competent technical skills, a set of marquee clients who provide glowing referrals and some "unique" technical approach that is presumed to stand out on its merits. However, what once served as a sufficiently large marketplace for your combination of these characteristics to differentiate you, it is increasingly hard to see how one consultant is so much different from others. Instead of refining our offering, our target market or both, it is tempting to juice up our collateral as part of our visibility strategy. This can backfire badly if done poorly.

Consider the efforts of professionals who one would presume are tuned in to what works in the area of marketing collateral - designers. look at some examples of creative resumes by young designers. To the untrained eye, many of these look quite creative (the title of the article calls them "billiant") and one would think they would catch the interest of potential clients or employers. Now look at the comments of those viewing these resumes - it is not a pretty picture. The commenters are in the design business to which these resumes are aimed and they are unimpressed. What went wrong? Too much emphasis on being creative and not enough on the basics of communication, value, and clarity.

Tip: Be cautiously creative when presuming that splashy (but still professional) creativity can differentiate you from your peers. Being unconventional to be different is a double edged sword. If you do want to make a point with the format of your collateral, invest in market research with colleagues, clients and marketing professionals to make sure your targets are getting the same message you think you are sending.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  innovation  publicity  sales 

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#675: Never Upsell Without Permission

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, October 14, 2011
Updated: Friday, October 14, 2011
At the risk of sounding unprofessional, when is it appropriate to for a management consultant "upsell" to a client?

To be clear, let's assume you are talking about adding services to an engagement beyond those initially agreed to. While some might consider it "unprofessional" to focus on selling more services than the client has initially asked for, doing so is appropriate if such services are in the best interest of the client at the time you propose them. Be aware, however, one of the greatest complaint clients have of consultants is the suspicion that the consultant will find an unending set of problems that the consultant is "uniquely positioned" to solve, potentially staying forever. Not all consultants follow the creed of "be bright, be brief, and be gone."

Some consultants consider themselves "order takers" by just doing what the client asks them to do. Part of your responsibility is to continually diagnose a client's situation and advise on additional value-added services within your skill set and ability to deliver. There is an inappropriate time to suggest additional services, and that is in the first days after you start the engagement and before you have established the legitimacy of your services and client trust in your judgment. We have to earn the right to suggest additional services.

Tip: At the beginning of each engagement, mention to the client that you will be continually evaluating opportunities for further improvements of his or her organization as your engagement proceeds. Ask them if they would welcome your diagnostic findings and suggestions for additional services if you detect a valid need. As the engagement proceeds, note those improvement opportunities for which you or other consultants could provide services. As long as you are delivering on your original commitments, discuss how these additional services could be integrated with your current services. The key is to establish explicit terms under which you are may suggest additional services. If they say no, honor their wishes. By not doing so and, as your last slide of your final briefing, listing all the additional services you could provide, you just strengthen the uncertainty in their mind of whose interests you really serve.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

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#674: White Papers Have Multiple Avenues of Value for Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, October 13, 2011
Updated: Thursday, October 13, 2011
Is there any value to consulltants in writing "white papers"?

White papers are short written discussions of topics, usually about trends in a subject or (presumably) an authoritative guide of how to do something. Companies use them to describe their position in the market or about how their products or services work. A consultant may write a white paper to describe their consulting services but more often it would focus on developments in their industry or functional discipline. The intent is to show a command of the subject matter, an innovative perspective, or a solution to a difficult problem.

The problem many consultants have is that they think of this as a book report or summary of the literature on a problem in their area of specialty. Many also do not think they have enough information or perspective to write anything groundbreaking. This is OK, because writing white papers has other benefits and can take time to develop a skill in writing them.

Having white papers benefits you in two ways. First, it can focus your thinking about your industry or discipline by forcing you to articulate the key factors that are driving an industry or important current issues in your discipline. This makes sure you are on top of these issues and not just relying on conventional wisdom. You'll have to defend your conclusions and recommendations in the white paper, so they had best be on target. Second, a well written and insightful white paper is an effective marketing piece. Sent to a prospective or current client, a white paper will almost always elicit a comment, thank you, alternative perspective, or inquiry about your services. In any case, you win by engaging a client in a discussion about their business, with your insight as the topic of conversation.

Tip: Pick three topics: one about the primary industry you consult to, another about an emerging issue in the general economy likely to affect this industry, and a third of how your primary technical discipline is undergoing changes (these are illustrative so you can choose others). Commit to writing a white paper on each in the next three months. Develop an outline, ask colleagues for feedback, conduct a short survey or some research, and then draft a 3-5 page version. Have colleagues or clients review the draft. Look for alternative or contrary views on your selected topic. Tighten the writing. Take the best of these three papers and identify colleagues, clients or prospects (or media) you think would appreciate hearing from you and discussing the topic. Based on the resulting exchange, refine the paper and post on your website. You now have a good first white paper - and some perspective on how to make the next ones even better. Having five to ten white papers enhances both your credibility as an expert but also makes sure you are on top of emerging trends in your industry.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  intellectual property  professional development  publishing  reputation  writing 

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#673: Who Will Respect Consultants if We Don't Respect Ourselves?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, October 12, 2011
The seemingly increasing publicity of ethical and/or criminal activities by consulting firms (e.g., false payments, kickbacks, insider trading, conflict of interest, plagiarism) is unsettling for a profession I have been proud to represent. Is this just more publicity or have the standards of the profession declined?

As with many newly discovered "trends,” it is always hard to tease out what part is actual change, an increase in reporting, or increased sensitivity to the news itself. Take the recently reported increase in domestic violence in a particular ethnic group that was commonly to be rare behavior. It turns out the increase, rising to the same levels as for other ethnic groups, was only due to newly available language-capable case workers. The "crisis" in the community was just a correction in reporting.

It is true that a lot of books have been published about unseemly behavior in management consulting firms. These authors pick on the larger firms because the stories are more spectacular. However, with greater scrutiny of corporate management, stiffer penalties and greater mobility among executives at consulting firms, it is logical to have greater visibility of such activities. As with any professional services firm, the pressures are high to sell more work to current clients, prove the value of that work, and to create opportunities to provide your services in new markets.

What has changed are the business models of consulting. What once was a relationship business in reality has become less of one today. Clients increasingly look for specialized expertise, lower cost and shorter term engagements and, because of greater migration of client executives, have less loyalty toward a particular consulting firm. This creates incredible pressure to step closer to the ethical line than ever before. As Ethics Officer of IMC USA, I hear more allegations of impropriety than in the past. In reality, however, it is a testament to the ethics and professionalism of many consultants that there are as few of these transgressions as there are.

I don't have empirical proof that consultant behavior is worse than it has been in the past, but the conversation about consultants has definitely coarsened over the past few years - both among clients and consultants. It is uncomfortable to hear executives say that they spent millions of dollars for a prestigious firm's services that left them with nothing of value. However, what is really troubling are conversations among consultants that disrespect colleagues, other firms or the profession. Take a series of consulting cartoons by James Sanchez called Big Consulting. While clever and painfully true, they make light of consulting firm compensation, disrespect for associates, questionable client relationships, and of highly unethical practices. Laughing at yourself is healthy, but crosses the line when it poses unethical behavior as funny.

Tip: Management consulting is a respectable profession but only deserves the respect we are willing to give ourselves. Let's use our intelligence and self-respect to promote excellence and ethics in our chosen field and treat our colleagues, our competitors, and particularly, our clients and communities, with the respect they deserve.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  consulting colleagues  ethics  goodwill  professionalism  publicity  reputation  trends  trust  values 

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#672: Be Careful About Naming Names

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 11, 2011
After I do interviews, my notes are full of names of individuals referred to by interviewees, such as "Mary really is the problem because . . .". Since they were specifically named, should I include those names in my report to the client, but not externally?

There are two answers: "of course not" and "probably not." First of all, it is likely that your interviews were confidential, and this means internally as well as externally. To associate the content of an interview with the name of the interviewee is a breach of trust, unless you explicitly get agreement from the interviewee what you would like to pass along and to whom. An understanding with your client sponsor as to the scope and disposition of interview data is always a good idea.

The other situation is where you are reporting the results of your interviews or analysis and you would like to report names of individuals to whom you would attribute certain characteristics. These are not quotes from an interviewee or a staff member with whom you have spoken; they are your own subjective impressions and recommendations. In this case, it is usually better to attribute your observations (and you should qualify them as such) to "the Vice President of Finance" and not the name. The reason for this is because you are best evaluating the structure or processes of an organization, not the individual. Only when the behavior or actions of the person, unrelated to their position, is an issue should you consider naming names. If possible, make your recommendations about the position ("shipping profitability is greater when the VP of production is held accountable for closeouts.").

Tip: Unless your task is about improving a specific person and not organization structure and processes, leave the names out. Your recommendations should apply to whoever fills the position. Your credibility as an impartial and ethical advisor hinges on how you handle what others may expect to be confidential conversations.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client staff  confidentiality  ethics  reputation  trust 

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