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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 

#50: How Consultants Can Use Twitter

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, May 15, 2009
This makes no sense to me but I hear people talking about using Twitter for business. Is there anything useful to adding yet another communication I need to keep track of?

Twitter
is a "microblogging" service that lets you send 140 character messages to individuals who are connected to you and to all people who are "following" you. Originally conceived as a way to keep tabs on social activities, it is evolving into an interesting business tool. Twitter users vary considerably in who they are, what they write ("tweet") about and how active they are.

Like many social networking tools being turned into business use, Twitter has a growing following of business users. Who ever thought Facebook or MySpace, the province of students, would ever give rise to into LinkedIn, with more than 600,000 management consultants and 40 million total members? As useful as LinkedIn is (if you are using it effectively and not just assuming your being listed is enough), you are to be forgiven for thinking that Twitter can have little business value.

The trick is to carefully select who you follow. Some of the people I follow are Tony Restell (tonyrestell), the editor of Top-Consultant) who tweets several times a day about new issues in the consulting profession, the Wall Street Journal (wsj) and Fast Company (fastcompany), which let me know about emerging business issues, and an evolving set of people who tweet about R&D and innovation (I will need some time to settle on who I really want to follow).

The other side of the issue is who is following you and how to get more people to follow you. This is not narcissism; it is a solid business strategy to induce people who are interested in your business to hear what you have to say about your research, activities and commentary on current events. One good way to get someone to follow you is to follow them. With a minimum commitment of time, you can communicate with new information sources and current or prospective clients.

Tip: The bottom line is that Twitter is still evolving in how businesses can use it and management consultants should be at the forefront of this trend - if not for themselves, then at least for their clients. Spend a little time looking into how Twitter may be a powerful addition to your business for communication, market research, branding or prospecting. Look at the growing list of articles about business use of Twitter.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  contact information  marketing  technology  trends 

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#49: Conserve Your Sales Resources

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, May 14, 2009
Updated: Thursday, May 14, 2009
How can I stretch my marketing and sales activities and budget?

In most cases, referrals are more powerful routes to to clients than prospecting. A referral carries with it an implicit endorsement from the referrer and gives you an advantage over someone who reaches out to a client without a referral. Given, that, your best strategy is to focus on the mechanisms to cultivate and maintain referral sources. There are a few ways to do this.

First, understand who is likely to be a referral source. Small businesses are busy and may not have time to help you out. New businesses to a market won’t have built their referral networks. Conversely, trade associations or chambers of commerce have broad contact with their industry or profession. Vendors, if you are not competing with them, can be great referral sources.

Second, understand what you need to do to get referrals. We sometimes assume that a referral source is eager to help us based just on our reputation. Although this might be true in some cases, you are better off making sure there is something in a referral to both the referrer and the target. Making a referal requires trust that you are both good and ethical over the long run. This means cultivating referral sources with repeated and consistent good service. Do good work and make sure you let your referral sources know about it.

Tip: Set as a target to get 50-75% of your new clients from referrals. Start with a list of your target clients and work backward to find types of and specific referral sources. Make this a formal, written plan to identify those referral sources for whom you have already or can demonstrate that making a referral will not put them at risk. Finally, develop the tactics that will assure that the referrer benefits from making that referral.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  market research  marketing  proposals  referrals 

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#48: Add Risk-Based Analysis to Your Consulting Toolkit

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, May 13, 2009
When clients ask for my "best guess" of what will happen in the future, I don't want to lowball my estimates just to cover my reputation, but am looking for a better way to give an estimate.

Our job as consultants is to give the best of our experience, knowledge and abilities to help improve change the future for our clients. Suppose your client asks for an estimate of cost, timing, volume, or any other object for which there is uncertainty in its calculation. You do your market research, go into your own files for comparables, ask client staff for data and then calculate your best guess of an answer to the question. Unfortunately, your answer is most certainly wrong. Misestimating any input parameter will throw off your answer. But there is a better way to approach this common consulting challenge.

A probabilistic (also called stochastic) estimate uses distributions of input parameters rather than single (point) estimates. Estimate or use historical data for the lowest, most likely and highest estimates of input parameters (e.g., unit price, task duration, customer order volume, training impact) and combine them mathematically to create a range of likely output values. The result is a far more useful distribution of estimates. Instead of one estimate of, say, profitability for an investment, you can say to your client that there is a 90% probability of at least a $1 million profit, and a 20% probability of at least a $1.5 million profit. This gives your client a better sense of the real range of possibilities, and allows you to answer the real question of "What are the odds we'll lose money on this deal?”

Tip: Every consultant should understand the principles of risk analysis. One of the best tools to generate these kinds of probabilistic estimates is an add-in for Excel spreadsheet called @RISK. It provides a framework to ask deeper questions about the nature of a client's processes and provides you insight into the greatest areas of leverage for your consulting services. Finally, risk-based estimates are also useful to find out which of your recommended interventions are likely to have the greatest impact on the client's condition.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  risk analysis 

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#47: How Much Marketing Effort is Enough, and When?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, May 13, 2009
When the consulting business turns down, we take advantage of the lull in business to crank up our marketing effort. This year we are collecting all the information we can to build a database of prospects and market trends. What else can/should we focus on?

Let's deal with a premise of your statement first, that a robust market database is a productive base on which to build business. True, when we are flush with business, we often spend less time on marketing and sales activities. Thus, it seems logical that, when the press of delivering services abates, we increase our market research and/or sales efforts. There are two issues here. The first is that start and stop marketing is a road to start and stop client opportunities. If you haven't been doing continuous marketing/sales (a little ebb and flow is OK), you will be caught without a full pipeline when the market slows a bit.

The second is that there is a natural limit to the value of an all-out marketing campaign. Information saturation occurs when each additional piece of information has less and less value (economists call this "diminishing returns"). Once you have identified a market trend you think you can exploit by advising clients, each piece of information about the market potential, suppliers or consumers, regulation, competitors or substitutes, etc. has less and less value.

The result is that a massive market research effort in a slow period may be "too much, too soon" (vs. "too little, too late"). Probably more information than is useful for a given prospect and by the time it is most useful, some of it may be getting outdated. As difficult as it is to maintain a steady marketing effort, according to an explicit marketing plan, every consulting firm must do this to maximize its ability to keep its pipeline full - even in slow times.

Tip: Review your marketing plan for this year and next. Are the underlying assumptions still valid? Are you still executing against a plan whose assumptions about the demand for consulting services, the industries or types of clients most in need, or your available time to conduct market or sales activities are no longer valid. It is really easy to let your plan, which may have worked fairly well over the years, take on a life of its own and cause you to commit to more or less of what you need to succeed.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  market research  marketing  practice management  prospect  sustainability 

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#46: Different Types of Review Processes

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, May 11, 2009
What is a "Murder Board"?

When a project management function wants to subject a project to intense scrutiny, it convenes a group of experts to try to find faults in the scope, sequence or content of the project plan. This can be applied to a project plan, a summary of findings or recommendation for implementation. The "murder board" is a term often used for the team convened to see if they can push hard on a project plan to see where it will break. This process goes by other names, depending on the subject of the scrutiny and type of firm in which it is employed. For a hard review of a proposal, it is usually called a "red team." Some consulting firms call final briefing reviews "gauntlet drills."

The process is presumed to have gotten its start in the middle ages where the Church appointed a "devil's advocate" in proceedings to determine if an individual was worthy of sainthood. It was this person's job to find any and all fault with the candidate, legitimate or not, to defeat canonization. This set a high standard and required an irrefutable case to proceed. Presumably, by this logic, if one can't find anything bad, then the subject of an inquiry must be good.

Tip: The complexity and severity of a rigorous review process should correspond to the consequences and risks of the plan or product being reviewed. For a simple, short-term project with minimal risks, the reviews can be cursory. For a complex engagement plan for a major multi-year project, you may want to convene a team made up of members of your own practice as well as representatives from other practices in your firm or specialists from outside the firm. Regardless, you would do well to craft a protocol for the criteria and process for your own project or product reviews. Build a book of these over time to handle each type of project plan, client briefing, or implementation plan you provide to clients.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting terminology  planning  process  proposals  quality 

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