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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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#729: Are You Reaching High Enough in Your Business?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 29, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 29, 2011
How do consultants generally measure the success of their business? If we were interested in just making money we could just track consulting income, but there are a lot of other reasons to be in this profession.

There is an inherent conflict in your question. Our goal is to create lasting value for our clients but such value is not necessarily fully valued by the marketplace. Measuring our worth by our revenues falsely assumes that the client's business, and the increment of performance we provide, is fairly reflected by market capitalization, revenues, profits, etc. Consider a Navy Seal and an investment banker. Seal s are drawn from a far more selective group, they are better educated, trained and equipped, yet receive far less compensation than bankers. The latter may even receive a financial bonus with no downside risk for "exceptional" performance, while a Seal puts his life and reputation at risk and is paid the same regardless of performance. The market is not a true measure of your intrinsic value or contributions.

A second aspect is that your client may benefit tremendously from your counsel but is not in a position to pay you what you would be worth in more financially advantaged markets. Consultants who advise educational, public sector, nonprofit, government or market-depressed private sector clients know this well. We all know colleagues who are paid far more or less for the same work. We also know that fees can increase or decrease in certain markets even if the value of our services do not.

Do you know how you know when you deliver value? Your client sponsor tells you. Client staff commend your services. You see your recommendations implemented and have the intended effect. Your clients thrive. You get unsolicited referrals. You gain the respect of those colleagues who know your work. You are sought out by others in your client's industry. You are asked to speak to professional and civic or industry groups. You recognize growth your own consulting competencies. "That's all well and good," you say, "but it doesn't pay the bills." It is true that you need to generate an income to stay in business, but don't let compensation substitute as a measure of your value.

Tip: Michelangelo said, "The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it." When setting your goals, consider setting some for those indicators of value above, and set them high. Revenue is fungible; it is the impact on your client that is the true measure of value delivered and something that you uniquely provide.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  compensation  evaluation  quality 

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#722: Customer Service and Client Behavior

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Anecdotal information increasingly points to consulting clients abandoning larger firms in favor of smaller, boutique firms. Although lower cost is often cited as the reason, I am hearing a lot about customer service and flexibility as the reason. Are there any data to back this up?

Be careful about assuming any one reason for clients to switch consulting firms. There are at least three reasons for such changes to occur over a broad segment of the market. Readers will likely come up with more.

First is a change in what clients are buying. As the US market slows, companies are increasingly buying services to help them be more efficient and flexible, and may be cutting back, temporarily or not, on M&A and systems integration, engagements that usually go to large firms.

Second, the flexibility issue has been an issue we hear all the time. Clients appreciate the fact that large firms have a "tested and proven" approach but are unhappy that the approach does not fit their needs. Client satisfaction is a big reason firms change consultants. Accenture's Global Customer Satisfaction Survey finds more than half of respondents changed service providers because of inadequate customer service. Service is the leading reason people choose a provider and outranks price by 20 percentage points as a reason for switching. As personal and relationship oriented as consulting is, it is reasonable to assume that these data are applicable, if not understated, for consulting.

The third reason is that many larger (non-consulting) firms are beginning to shed their internal consulting units. This is a typical cycling of building and disassembling internal consulting units as the economy makes it cost effective to maintain them on staff. As companies shed internal units, they typically seek specialized skills found in smaller firms without high overhead.

Tip: Rethink your processes and attitude about providing stellar customer service and pay special attention to signals from your clients that your service is slipping. Above all, just ask them if your service meets or exceeds their needs.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  customer understanding  reputation 

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#720: Management Consulting is Like Sex . . .

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, December 16, 2011
Updated: Friday, December 16, 2011
Large consulting firms have developed an institutional brand and formal "approaches" to differentiate themselves. However, as the consulting field for independents becomes more crowded with retired business executives and retired/departed large firm consultants, differentiation is getting a lot harder. If everyone is selling the same strategic planning, process improvement, training, etc. services, what is the best way to make a compelling case to a prospect that your services are truly different and valuable?

It is unclear whether competition is any easier for large firms than it is for independents. Large blocks of consultants are selling the same services that can be described in general terms focusing on process, knowledge management, strategy, marketing, etc. Every large firm sells more or less the same "technology consulting, strategy, leadership, etc. services. Independents sell many of the same services, just at a smaller scale. Management consulting, like most free agent knowledge work, is highly competitive. In differentiating yourself, what is important is not the "title" of your pitch, but the "subtitle."

Look at new business books. Many have a title interesting enough to get you to look closer, but it is the subtitle that creates the emotional hook. To make up an example, consider "Twenty-Second Century Management: Be First in Your Market to Tap Emerging Tools, Technologies and Cultures." The title raises an eyebrow, but the subtitle would probably make you open the book for a closer look.

So it could be for your services. Don't start by describing "what" you do (e.g., planning, training, finance). Go right to the value with a "title" that is an attention grabber. But, and this is important, once you stimulate an interest with your provocative lead (e.g., like the title of this Tip), be prepared to back it up with a compelling reason why your service really is different. Your prospect will remember the hook and be satisfied that you know what you are doing if you tie it all together.

OK, to validate the point and follow up the Tip title, there are a number of one liners that, if you are honest and mature, provide the basis for thoughtful discussion about the management consulting profession, and your particular services. For example, It's all about chemistry (between consultant and client). Nobody wants to admit that they don’t really know what they’re doing (particularly new consultants and new managers). Everyone thinks they are good at it (there is no objective evaluation standard for consultants' work). All remember it as being better than it actually was (witness consultants' claims in their marketing materials). It is not the size of the consulting team but the effectiveness of the consulting process (large vs. boutique vs. independent consulting firms). There are many more but this is a good place to claim victory and move on!

Tip: You won't soon forget the subject of this Tip and are already thinking of your own one-liners to supplement those above. This is just one approach, but with this type of engagement you get a prospect to enthusiastically engage with you. With a bit of wry humor, you have made it possible for your prospect (hopefully now a client) to look forward to a great consulting experience.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  client development  client relations  innovation  marketing  proposals  prospect  reputation  sales 

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#711: Bounce Back From Mistakes

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, December 5, 2011
Updated: Monday, December 5, 2011
I really screwed up at a client. It was an honest mistake, or at least it was unintended. My concern is that it may have caused problems in related areas of the company of which I am unaware. Consultants are supposed to be the experts so the gut instinct is to fix the problem quickly, tell those who are affected, and figure out how to not let again. Anything else?

We all make a mistake now and then. Most of us admit it to ourselves. Some even admit it to others. There are two concerns in a situation like yours for a consultant's mistakes.

First, you cannot possibly know the extent of the impact your mistake will have and the extent to which it ripples through the company and its stakeholders. A consultant cannot have deep insight into how a company's informational, social and power networks really work until they have been there for years. Therefore, you need to fully disclose to management and encourage them to disclose across the enterprise what happened. If done quickly enough, you might be able to stop the propagation of the mistake throughout the organization. Delay (e.g., seeing if you can minimize the damage yourself) can be deadly to your client.

Second, it is a cliché but research bears supports the conclusion that one of the most powerful sources of personal and organizational growth come from making, and fixing, mistakes. Air crews and hospitals both have technical environments with fast paced operations and hierarchical power structures. When mistakes in those settings are suppressed, they tend to amplify the likelihood of future hits to performance. As hard as it is, get the mistake out in the open, take your licks and own the process to make sure it won't happen again.

Tip: Take a quick look at an article on recovering from mistakes in business for some examples to give you heart and some references. As hard as it might be to keep pushing your mistake out in the open, you have a rare opportunity to turn your mistake into a problem solving initiative that benefits the client beyond the scope of your initial engagement.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  learning  professionalism  reputation  trust 

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#709: Play Nicely With Your Client's Other Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 1, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 1, 2011
During some of my engagements there are other consultants working for the same client. Occasionally, one of these firms or an individual consultant will bad mouth my firm or withhold information that is helpful to our work. Should I tell the client about this or will they see this as whining?

Let me share something a client once told me about a similar situation. The client said that, in her experience, consultants often seem to think that they are somehow floating through the company without anyone really knowing what they are doing. In reality, she said she is keenly aware of how consultants interact with each other. The quality of this interaction and mutual support was one of her most important bases of evaluation of the consultant. If a consultant is sandbagging or bad mouthing another consultant, she knows about it and usually will take action to correct it. If she didn't know about it, she wanted to know about any unprofessional behavior that was hurting client services

Your responsibility is to deliver the best value to your client possible. If you are not coordinating with other consultants working for the same client, you are not delivering the best value you can. Your client hired a group of consultants to solve specific problems or capture opportunities. Your service is better if you understand their tasks, which, since your firm was not selected for the work, probably is in an area you may not fully understand.

Tip: Take the initiative to introduce yourself to other consultants working for the same client. Ask your client if there are other consultants working on related problems and if he or she would make the introductions. Independently, suggest to (or ask) your client how you should work together and how or if you should bring concerns you observe to his or her attention. Emphasize that your ethics (this is a specific provision of paragraph 11 of the IMC USA Code of Ethics) require you to report negligent or dangerous behavior or malfeasance to the appropriate authority in your client's organization. Your client will respect you for your professionalism and the value of your services will increase.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA.

Tags:  client relations  consultant role  consulting colleagues  ethics 

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