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#39: Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, April 30, 2009
For my marketing materials, I know that it is always best to describe the significant performance improvements my clients have achieved due to my counsel. However, I don't know exactly how much to attribute to my work and how much to attribute to what the client would have achieved anyway.

This is a great question and one that clients looking at your marketing materials are likely asking themselves. If you review consultant collateral, some may contain statements like "Our technology solutions have created $250 million in cost savings for our clients." I have heard clients make fun of these statements by consultants, pointing out that the consultant, even under the best of circumstances, could not be responsible for anything close to that impact. Their point is that it is the person who has P/L responsibility who is responsible for this savings and the cost savings can be attributed to many sources other than the consultant.

The Latin phrase "Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc" is applicable to describe this fallacious thinking. It literally means "after this, therefore because of this," and implies that an event is attributable to an act that preceded it. My client increased sales by 20% in the year after I consulted to them, therefore I can say I added $XX in value to my client. Or, the sun rises each morning because my alarm clock goes off. Not so fast.

Tip: Be extremely careful about making claims like these. Clients, especially those who are really responsible for P/L numbers like those you would like to claim, will discount such statements. At best, assert your value in terms of what you actually did. For example, you can say that the accounting system you planned and installed reduced collection times by 45% or that the sales close rate increased by 20% in part because of you helped develop a new process to track prospects. Don't let your desire to impress people with your value become a negative.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  attribution  consultant role  ethics  marketing  sales 

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Comments on this post...

D. Kevin Berchelmann CMC says...
Posted Thursday, April 30, 2009
Interesting approach. I tend to push my clients for believable results -- results they can support -- and then go with those. And i do it as soon as possible to those results or delivery, since the mood then is still most favorable.

As I told one client: "Russ, you're almost $8M to the better since I got involved; either I'm good, or like a rabbit's foot, I'm just plain lucky. Either way, it involved me helping you."

But that's just me...

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Brandon Rigney says...
Posted Thursday, April 30, 2009
I am not a consultant in the terms that you would normally use within your group/industry.

However, I am the first step in getting my client introduced into the proper place with the appropriate person within a target prospect company. I am an "icebreaker" or "implementer", if you will, in getting my client in front of the prospect, which he has not been able to do by himself.

We have been remarkably successful this year in signing huge clients with very lucrative contracts, simply because I could get my client in the front door. I had nothing to do with my client's success in making a successful presentation and ultimate close of the deal. However, he could not do it without me.

I consider my success as one of a team effort, with my advancing the team a long way on the first down. I don't make the goal or touchdown, but I get the team within scoring range.
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