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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 

#321: Consultant Writing Skills

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, June 7, 2010
I recently received from a client a copy of a report submitted by a prior consultant. I was stunned by the sloppy language, misused terms and unclear recommendations. Is this common?

You are not alone in being concerned. Despite the increased emphasis by colleges on writing, many businesses see poor writing and presentation skills from their employees. Across the board - vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure and critical thinking - businesses are finding employee communication skills seriously deficient.

Consultants are not excluded from this finding, and many managers expect their consultants to be among the best communicators. The Wall Street Journal reports that even top MBA graduates can't meet business needs. One business reports, "It’s a daunting challenge these days to hire literate M.B.A. students who can write a coherent letter or memo. Too often, what [we get] from job applicants are collections of rambling thoughts littered with misspellings and grammatical gaffes."

A consultant's job is to communicate clearly ideas that may be derived from complex information and concepts. Although the solution to this problem is more than we can solve in this tip, here are a few ideas to help you improve your communication:
  • Structure - Be clear of your findings and recommendation before you begin to structure your communications. Write a logical outline of objectives, assumptions, approach, data, process, findings, risks and contingencies, and recommendation (or another structure, as appropriate). Flesh out the outline and dry run it before giving it to your client.
  • Grammar - take a second look to be sure you are using the correct words for what you are trying to say. Do you use the word estimate when you mean forecast or projection or extrapolation?
  • Spelling - use automated spell checking but also proof it manually. Best of all, have another person read all your material before delivering it to your client. Recheck your work after last minute edits (an occasional lapse for Daily Tips)
  • Presentation - Ed Tufte (The Cognitive Style of Power Point and other works) has shown how presentation technology linearizes thinking and reduces resolution of presented information. If possible, develop and present your findings and recommendations without resorting to PowerPoint.
Look for other ways to assure the full meaning of what you intend to present is clearly understood by your clients.

Tip: Before submitting your work to a client or to a journal or other publication, proofread it yourself and also by someone who is not a consultant. Advise them that you want them to flag any phrase or concept that is not known to them or wouldn’t' be recognizable to a high school senior. You might be stunned at how many items in your work that you consider "common knowledge" are really not.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  data visualization  presentations  trends  writing 

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#320: Preparation

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, June 4, 2010
Updated: Friday, June 4, 2010
It seems like experienced consultants serve their clients with such ease. They can deliver speeches, run meetings and conduct analyses with little or no preparation. What do I need to learn to do this?

It is hard to really know how much preparation goes into an activity unless it is your own activity. What may seem effortless often takes a lot of preparation. Attributed to many people, a famous quote goes something like, "If I am to speak for ten minutes, I will need a week to prepare; If I am to speak for an hour, I am ready now." However, effective preparation is absolutely necessary. It doesn't get so easy that one can dispense with it altogether, which is what you infer that experienced consultants do.

A good house painter knows that the key to a long lasting and attractive paint job lies in the preparation (e.g., scraping, spackling, cleaning, taping, etc.) The prepping often takes more time than painting itself! What's this got to do with consulting? Everything! Here are some key points in the process to prepare carefully and do "your homework” well in advance:
  • Before Soliciting a Prospective New Client — Make sure you are focusing your efforts on the right person in the firm. Also, know thoroughly what products and/or services the client provides (you might visit their website, for starters).
  • Before Your First Conversation with the Client (Over The Phone Or In Person) — Know as much of the "knowable” as you can, including the client’s competitors.
  • Before Any Meeting On Any Given Topic — Thoroughly research the topic to be discussed at a client meeting, even if it's not your within your direct area of expertise.
  • Before Proceeding With an Assignment — Research and study to be sure you thoroughly understand the pertinent facts and variables.
  • Before Visiting an Unfamiliar Location — Try to find out as much as possible about the geography, business norms and culture.
  • Before Submitting a Report — Have you checked your facts? Make sure to always challenge your own assumptions before they are challenged by the readers.
Tip: Prepping pays off for consultants in the same manner that effectively prepping for a paint job pays off for a painter. True professionals know the importance of adequate preparation regardless of the field. What can really help is to begin to write down the steps you find most effective in preparation for an activity (in addition to the steps in the activity itself). Most people just document the latter and disregard the ability to improve the most important part- preparation.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  consulting process  engagement management  learning  meeting preparation  practice management 

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#319: Looking for Credit

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, June 3, 2010
Updated: Thursday, June 3, 2010
How do I make sure I get the credit for improving the client's position without insulting the efforts of the consultants who came before me?

Although we all want credit/recognition for the good work we do, consultants must be extra sensitive to not offend those who were responsible for the failed practice or approach that you have been tasked to improve upon. In many, but not all, cases you were called in because someone else tried but didn't succeed. It may be that they were only partly successful in getting the job done or that they did not have the needed information, budget or support required to be effective. Respect for the best efforts of others is the least you can provide, and doing so does not diminish the credit you deserve for your own efforts.

Instead of criticizing a previous approach, try something like "While the previous approach was very effective and served the organization well during the past decade, it seems as if key elements in the current business environment have changed. This new approach builds on the previous approach by taking these new conditions into account and therefore is seems to work better in the current environment. We expect future efforts to continue to build on our work."

Tip: Always aim to do great work. Don't highlight past failures and how you have corrected them. Don't look for all the credit; you'll get it by default.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  communication  consulting colleagues  goodwill 

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#318: Getting the Attention of Prospects

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, June 2, 2010
I am doing what I believe is a competent job of marketing and making myself visible to prospects but competition is pretty fierce. How can I make my offering stand out more?

Getting the attention of a potential client or prospect can sometimes be challenging. This can often be achieved by making the extra effort and doing research to identify their concerns or needs and addressing them directly within the title of a presentation or agenda for a discussion.

When visiting an existing client or new prospect, the goals for a practitioner are to a) have the client pay attention and take him or her seriously, b) have the most relevant people attend the discussion or presentation, and c) have a receptive audience that is very interested to hear what the consultant has to say. If you specifically address the most pressing issue(s) or concern(s) in either the title of a presentation or in the agenda for a discussion, you might be surprised at how successful you are at achieving these goals. Here are some examples:
  • "Potential Solutions for Increasing Marketing ROI Within the Next 6 Months Using _______ (prospect's competitive advantage)"
  • "Focusing on the Customer: Re-evaluating Your Customers Key Expectations and Requirements in the _____ Market"
  • "What _______ (prospect's) Competitors are Doing to Capture Your Market Share"
Tip: Try putting yourself in the shoes of the client or prospect and attempt to determine in advance what their top concerns are. By linking your agenda or presentation directly to these concerns, you have a much better chance of key personnel attending and listening to what you have to say. "I would like to come by to talk about my consulting services" or "I would like to come by to talk about how you might re-energize your recent ad campaign." Which would get your attention?

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  customer understanding  market research  marketing  proposals  prospect  sales 

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#317: Know Your Client's History

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Every so often I get a client that spends a lot of my team's time going over company history and what every consultant before us has done for them. How do I politely decline what seems to be burning up a lot of time when we could be working?

There are several things you could do. First, with respect, it is the client's choice how to spend your time. If they feel it is important to let you know about their history and how they got to where they are now, think about why this is a problem for you. It may just be the thing you need to help you understand where their head and heart are with the changes about which they are asking you for advice. Consider that their need/desire to go through their history says a lot about the importance they place on tradition, process and company history.

Second, hearing about what they have tried and why it worked or did not is invaluable. You are there because either internal or consultant-aided change processes have not worked, or at least have not persisted. The success of your design depends on how well you understand why past efforts failed, and whether your approach is likely to work under current conditions. In many cases, clients may not have really understood the approach a prior consultant was taking and this was cause of failure. Knowing your client and how they have related to consultants is important and is well worth whatever time they are investing to help you understand this.

Tip: Consider it a gift to have a client willing to spend time and attention reviewing where they came from and how they have tackled this problem in the past. This should already be a key part of your inbrief with any client. Don't shortcut the process.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  client relations  customer understanding  learning 

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