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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 

#411: Deal With Difficult People Like Other Consulting Challenges

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, October 11, 2010
Updated: Monday, October 11, 2010
I have a client who has asked me take on an assignment that will have me reporting into to a VP who is known to be a "difficult" person to work with for the entire project life cycle. I am concerned with how the engagement will turn out for both my client (and me) as a result. Do you have any suggestions on how to handle this effectively?

Here's how one consultant relayed her handling of a similar situation: "I took on a rather lucrative assignment that had me reporting into a 'challenging' member of my client's leadership team named Robert. I attempted to arrange an initial meeting with this person to discuss project logistics, but he was difficult to schedule around. Once we did meet, Robert was not very forthcoming with critical background information, and seemed to regard me as an interloper. I prepared an initial project plan based on what limited data he provided to me, but I felt it was far from complete. I decided to try a different approach to build mutual trust and open up communication between us. I suggested that Robert and I get together over lunch to 'break the ice' and learn a little more about each other, but he flatly declined my offer, stating that he was too busy. I tried a few making a few more attempts at establishing a working relationship, but to no avail."

She continued, "As a result, I wrote a carefully crafted letter to the client sponsor, and let him know that, although I had no reason to suspect that this particular member of his leadership team was doing anything other than a terrific job, he and I were having a difficult time getting on the same page. I told him that, as much as I appreciated his business in general and this assignment in particular, it would probably be best if I withdrew from this particular assignment. I told him that I would certainly be happy to entertain other assignments in the future, but that I felt that perhaps it would not be in (the client's) best interest if I was to continue trying to unsuccessfully get this time-sensitive project off the ground. I tried to do it in a way that did not reflect negatively on Robert (or me), but rather on the situation. It actually gained me respect from the client, as well as additional assignments and no loss of goodwill. Having said that, in hindsight, I think I should have spent more time upfront building a working relationship with Robert and attempting to directly allay any fears he might have regarding my involvement prior to the project's start. It was a difficult situation with a dedicated and senior person in my client's firm who simply had his own style of doing things."

Tip: Whether it is a lack of information ,a lack of capability or capacity on your part, or a difficult client contact, if you can’t provide value to the client as expected, you are obligated to find an alternative approach. Always try to resolve the issues up front and if you can't do this to your satisfaction, take the high road and graciously and professionally withdraw from the engagement.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  communication  consultant role  engagement management  ethics 

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#410: It's Time to Upgrade Your Consulting Practice User Interface

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, October 8, 2010
Updated: Friday, October 8, 2010
Everyone in business knows the adage of "Make it easy for the customer to buy," but what are some good ways to do this for a professional services practice?

There have been a lot of questions about differentiation and marketing these days, so I won't address the traditional ways to increase attractiveness in favor of one I think most of us forget about: the UI (user interface). Let's assume you are already price-competitive (so you can take cost out of the equation), your administrative processes are streamlined (so client administrators are happy to do business with you) and your reputation is well established (so trust is not an issue). Your goal for you UI is to make the day to day transactions a pleasure, a notably seamless and impressive experience for each client.

Here is a framework for developing a great consultant UI (your clients’ and your own styles dictate your implementation):
  1. Be familiar - You are often a new entity (even if you have worked together before, not all staff will know you) so make the effort to understand the client's current language, systems and constructs and align your systems accordingly.
  2. Be clear - Clients may know you and your ways of doing business but once you get rolling in the engagement, it is easy to slip back into consultant-speak. Push for unambiguous language and concepts and make it intuitive how to transact business with you, even if it means publishing resource guides on your website.
  3. Be predictable - Check to be sure that client assumptions and their resulting actions in dealing with you are indeed seamless and provide for feedback. Confirm the predictability of the client's experience dealing with you and your staff by asking them directly.
  4. Be safe - Make your client-facing systems fault tolerant and failure resistant. The client should not feel at risk when allowing you access to their physical space or information systems, which you can show by having written risk management protocols (that don't have to be complicated).
  5. Be efficient - Clients hired you to reduce time, cost and risk, so don't impose those on them merely to satisfy your own desire to reduce the same for yourself.
Tip: There is far more to say about developing these principles of good consultant UI. Take the initiative to develop one or more of these concepts further. Share your ideas with your colleagues, write about them in your blog or author a paper. Contributing to the knowledge base and practice of management consulting is a core attribute of professionalism.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  communication  customer understanding  engagement management  professionalism  your consulting practice 

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#409: Using How You Feel About Your Day to Set Direction

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, October 7, 2010
Updated: Thursday, October 7, 2010
I have found a good compass to help me set new directions in my practice. I have started to keep track of how I feel at the end of the day and what the main activities I had that day. After a few months, the evidence begins to pile up where I really want to spend more time and where I want to spend less.

This is a great idea. Professional service providers can unknowingly get stuck doing something that no longer invigorates them. Conversely, they might be missing signals that there is something they could really enjoy with a change in practice. We tend to take an intellectual, left-brain look at our practices to evaluate, analytically, how we should navigate our market. Don't ignore facts, but your gut is probably a better gauge of value than we'd like to admit.

Tip: Try the practice of giving yourself a "score" from 1 to 5 each day. A "1" means it was among the best days you have, you feel invigorated, excited to take whatever activity that occupied your day to the next step. A "3" is an average day and a "5" kind of day leaves you depleted, upset, disillusioned, etc. Set up your own criteria so that your days are more or less normally distributed. Then, next to each day's score, write down the major consulting activities of the day: client briefing, marketing, staff work, administration, research, going to a conference, professional development workshop, reading in your field, analysis, negotiation, client presentation, etc. After about three months, what patterns do you see? How can you begin to shift your business so that you are having more "1" days and fewer "5" days?

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  work-life balance  your consulting practice 

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#408: Write Email Subject Lines That Get Attention

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, October 6, 2010
I get it that people receive a lot of emails and can't always answer them right away, but what's the difference between an email that gets opened right away and one that is saved for later attention?

Assuming the recipient is in an email reading mood, there are probably three things that most determine what gets opened right away:
  1. The return address. Let's face it, we are more likely to act on emails from family and friends than ones from a complete stranger. Furthermore, the "display as” text in the return address (over which you have some control) can send your email to the junk folder (by an automated process) or the deleted folder (by the recipient). If your "Display As" return address text includes provocative words (e.g., "sales," "offer," or "free"), you might consider whether this is the reason your emails are not being opened.
  2. The subject line. Usually the second thing a recipient looks for, but sometimes the first. Make it crystal clear what you want from the reader. Also, consider writing the subject line first, before the body of the email, when you are not deep into the details of your offer or request. Ask yourself what you want the reader to think, feel or do after reading and put that in less than 50 characters. If you limit yourself to this length, this can make your emails themselves crisper (less time to write and less time to read - everyone wins).
  3. Get to the point - quickly. Many people use email readers that have a reading pane that show a few lines of body text. If the reason why I should be interested is not clear, and I have other things on my mind, your email is going into the "later" pile, which may mean the "never" pile.
Tip: If you have gotten this far, don't blow it by making the reader think they didn't receive your full attention when you wrote it. Impersonal and oddly formatted emails send subtle clues that the reader's time was not being respected. Finally, if the body is too long, you risk a "later" decision that may never be fulfilled. It is often better to use a short email and attach the longer content, which increases the chances that your core message will be received.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication 

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#407: Look at The Consulting Services Procurement Process as an Opportunity

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Our firm has been successful in developing relationships with senior managers of client organizations, which has made securing consulting work fairly easy. However, as the average tenure of CEOs continues to decrease rapidly, is this strategy at risk?

The average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO is down to 3.5 years, with high turnover rates extending down through the management ranks. You should be concerned about over-reliance on senior relationships for steady consulting business.

But there maybe a larger issue in play here - the way we consultants view the procurement process. Whether we are approached directly, are tipped off to a need by an insider, find opportunities through research, respond to an RFP, or turn up possible work through cold (or warm) calling, we really need to pay increasing attention to changes in procurement of consulting services. We have mentioned before in these Daily Tips about decreasing size and increasing specialization of client requests for consulting engagements. They are less interested in brand or size than they are in the specific skills of the few people most suited for the job.

The key is to recognize that clients see consultants a bit differently than they have in the past. Telling clients that you are different because of personalized service, deep experience in the market, or "recognized" expertise largely falls on deaf ears. They want to see a commitment to understand their "here and now" need, not tell them that you have solved their problem many times before. This means spending a lot more time to understand the precise issue they face and not presume you have the perfect consulting process, much less the likely answer, at hand.

Tip: A good coverage of this way of looking at the procurement process is in the Consulting Times, titled "A Match Made in Consulting Heaven?" (pp 12-13) that addresses specifically how consultants need to better embrace the procurement process.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  customer understanding  learning  market research  marketing  proposals  referrals  sales 

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