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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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#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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#699: Does Your Title Really Matter?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, November 17, 2011
Updated: Thursday, November 17, 2011
Some of my consulting colleagues head up small or solo consulting practices. Between them, they are President, Principal, Managing Partner, Chair, Executive Consultant, CEO, CXX (any number of "creative" titles), or no title at all. Does any of this matter?

To whom?

These titles are important in a large firm to differentiate between various executive, management and staff jobs. It helps outsiders know which roles and responsibilities an individual has. HR departments use these to describe a job to applicants. Inside a firm, it helps define accountabilities, and who gets what size office. Certainly if your business is related to the Internet or marketing, there has been an arms race in creative job titles.

For a solo or boutique firm consultant, this boils down to what your ego needs and what makes your mother proud. It really doesn't make any difference what you call yourself. Clients are hiring you for your expertise, perspective, skills and behaviors, not because you are CEO or President or Grand Poobah.. I've heard more than one client express some disdain in reaction to a consultant whose business card reads "CEO and Chairman" when they are a one-person firm or "Managing Partner" in a ten-person firm.

Tip: Call yourself whatever you like, but know that it is mostly for your own benefit.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  goodwill  professionalism  reputation 

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#696: Take Advantage of Letters to the Editor

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, November 14, 2011
Updated: Monday, November 14, 2011
I do my share of speaking at trade events, have a blog with a fair amount of traffic and am active in my professional association. What are some other ways to get in front of people in my industry?

There are certainly many ways to do this but one that is often overlooked is writing letters to the editor of your local newspaper, business journal or trade publication. While this does not replace other activities to get your name in front of prospective clients and your professional colleagues, it does it in a way that is often more powerful.

When you write a letter to the editor, your response is usually short, pointed, relevant to today's news, and in a place where people are actively seeking information. Think about it. A brochure has information about your services but is rarely in a prospect's hands when they are looking for those services. Conversely, people reading the editorial pages of a business journal are highly interested in information, trends or opinions about their industry. These are likely the most motivated, qualified buyers of professional services because they are active information seekers.

Tip: Take a stab at selecting a few relevant publications, find out the contact information and letter submission protocol (this is usually where people abandon their motivation to write because they have to take time get this information), and commit to write three letters to the editor this week. It is not always easy to get your letters published because so many people write in. However, if your response is well crafted, is the right length, and addresses (or contradicts - always good copy) the topic of the day, your chances go way up. The side benefit of this activity is that you will become more focused on the news and industry trends.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  communication  marketing  professionalism  publicity  reputation  writing 

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