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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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#25: Picking the Best Chart Format to Make Your Point

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, April 9, 2009
How do I select the best type of chart to use when I am trying to simply convey a point about complex data?

All of us use data in our consulting work, whether we are in training, leadership, strategy, process improvement, facility management or other discipline. Our ability to analyze and understand a client's situation and convey our findings clearly and without misinterpretation is essential to our effectiveness. Many graphical formats are available in spreadsheet software like Excel, but it does take some learning to select the right format and structure the data in the most effective way. Often the best representation of data is not a simple scatterplot, histogram or stacked bar chart. Many of us are very familiar with Ed Tufte's work on visual display of quantitative information and how easily (or intentionally) data meaning can be distorted.

Sometimes complex data require a complex chart. But that doesn't mean there aren't some rules about communication and data visualization that aren't useful for consultants. Consider what you are trying to convey. Typically, you are showing distribution of data, relationships between variables, comparison of items, or composition of parts of a whole. These may seem to overlap and, depending on the nature of the point you are trying to get across, you may have several choices of an effective graphical type. An interesting flowchart is available to help you choose. There are many great examples of relatively simple, yet powerful data visualization techniques. Florence Nightingale’s Coxcomb chart of Crimean War casualties is one such example.

Tip: Consultants don't place enough emphasis on visual display of data in our work. We will polish our writing and PowerPoint presentations but fail to work hard to make sure that the single graphic clearly and memorably makes your point. Spend some time reading about how to best show the facts of your client's circumstances and future. Remember, data visualization does not have to be static. Some of the most effective are animations or video/flash. The flow of commercial air traffic over a day conveys a lot of information.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  data visualization  writing 

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#24: Do Your Prospects Know What You Are Talking About

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, April 9, 2009
I recently won a competitive bid and my client showed me some redacted text from some of the proposals she received. Several proposals had so much jargon that they were practically unintelligible, even to an experienced consultant. Why can't we just speak cleanly?

Jargon developed by a profession or industry is intended to have specific and unambiguous meaning to members of that profession. In many disciplines, this terminology has been developed with rigorous review and is eventually institutionalized with uniform meaning. In consulting, there is an inherent tendency, and not always in the profession's best interest, to create new approaches, principles, techniques and practices. The problem is that these are too often developed as commercially oriented products or book titles with names like "The Four XXXXs" or "The YYYY Matrix." The intent is to make these concepts distinct, not commonly understood.

Truth be told, we use jargon when we can't explain something in plain language. If we are talking to another consultant, jargon may or may not even be clear, depending on our respective disciplines. Your client, despite their use of consultants and their background in management, may be unclear what you are talking about. What does "we offer convergence-oriented facilitation for growth-minded businesses" mean?

Tip: Give your proposals and reports to someone in business, but not consulting, to review. Ask them if they really know what you are talking about, whether their explanation and your intent match, and how they might rephrase your words in plain English. You don't need to do this for all your written products or presentations - one or two will give you the feedback you need. Don't assume that you are entirely clear.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  proposals  writing 

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#23: KISS Your Proposal Worries Goodbye

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Updated: Thursday, April 9, 2009
Although I try to avoid writing proposals, sometimes a prospect insists. In addition to taking a lot of time, I am often unsure whether or not I am getting off track and endangering my chances of winning the bid. Any advice?

First, no consultant likes writing a proposal. If a client requires one, and they have every logical right to do so, they should be conclusive rather than exploratory. If you are introducing yourself ("please describe your company history") or general approach to consulting ("describe how you approach consulting projects") then this is a warning sign that the client really does not know what they want or does not know how to work with consultants. It is also a sign that there may be other surprises down the road.

Second, other than a long windup about your philosophy and background, the more detail you are asked to provide, the less flexibility both you and the client will have when the project starts. Any surgeon can specify how an operation generally goes, but none are under the illusion that your case will be exactly as specified, and you sign a permission to deviate from the standard procedures per the surgeon's judgment.

Third, they really don't want to read a long proposal any more than you want to write one. Talk to your prospect about this and talk about the project until you are both very clear about the scope, sequence and content of engagement tasks. Then write a high level proposal, almost at a contract statement of work level, that should be only a few pages.

Tip: Many clients ask for a proposal without thinking it through that they are imposing work, creating unnecessary restrictions on a professional consultant's flexibility, and not using the pre-proposal time to clarify the project scope and outcomes. Show your professionalism by advising your prospect on how best to promote their interest by laying out a more focused sales and evaluation process. Even if this is a competitive proposal process, you will likely win some points by adding value even before the proposals are submitted.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  marketing  proposals  prospect 

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#22: What To Do With "Found" Time

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Like many consultants, business is a little slower these days, but is looking up a few months from now. Instead of ramping up selling activities, which I am not sure I need, what else could I be doing with this "free" time?

In previous Tips, I have suggested that it is always prudent to have a list of activities for your "found" time. For example, if a client defers the start of a project for a month, what will you do with, say, 65 hours spread over the next four weeks? What we didn't mention is that list needs to be updated occasionally, since priorities will change with market conditions. A list you created last year is probably seriously out of date now.

What are your priorities over the next two years? What do you need lead time for? What will you miss most the next time you get really busy? Are your marketing materials getting a bit dated? Is your website in need of an overhaul? Do your past clients need a visit for a meal or a conversation to catch up? Have you always wanted to get started on a book but never had the 30-40 hours in one block of time to think through a good outline? Have you wanted to develop a new service with a prospective partner but needed to travel to their city and work out the details? What about taking consulting courses or attending conferences that you put off because you thought an hour of education meant an hour less billing? Not planning how you would spend a few hours, a few days or few weeks suddenly thrust on you will likely lead to you wasting them. Even if you decide to take a vacation with your family, you'd be wise to have thought it through.

Tip: If times are slow for your consulting practice over the next year, then make this time count and invest it. Once business picks up, you will wish you had it back. If your business is going in overdrive now, there is no better time to reflect on what you wish you had time for. Write it down. No, really, write it down in different length blocks of time and make sure you have all the arrangements to get started.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  planning  practice management 

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#21: Hiring a Development Person to Help You Sell Your Services

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, April 6, 2009
I have heard that some consultants hire a "marketing" or "business development" person to help them sell their services. Does this really work?

First, what do you mean by "work?" Do you mean can a person you hire to make calls to prospects get you appointments? If so, then the answer is definitely yes. Giving someone a script with a compelling case of why your consulting services are needed and having them pitch your services for you can save you some time. Business development services can range from just making appointments to helping you with your pitch and using their contacts to identify prospects. Such a person can be especially helpful if you are a poor salesperson or have limited contacts. Financial arrangements range from flat fee, to an hourly rate to a finder’s fee. You are buying, at a minimum, sales time and, at best, access to prospects you otherwise would not have.

However, the success of this approach can be compromised by two factors. First, given that consulting is a relationship business, you will still have to make the final sale. If you cannot articulate a clear value of your services or close the sale with a prospect, then appointments are unlikely to translate into engagements. Second, relatively few management consultants provide such standardized services that can easily be sold by someone else. Exploring the nature of the prospect's business and circumstances is much easier to do yourself and this is where the relationship building starts. Although not a representative sample, I have heard clients say that having another person sell your work strikes them as unprofessional.

Tip: There are aspects of business development you can certainly outsource. You can have someone advise you on prospects, help you with your marketing research or sales materials, even coach you on closing the sale. However, as a professional, you need to develop the relationship with the prospect from the beginning.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consultant role  market research  marketing  proposals 

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