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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 

#235: A Word to the Whys

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, February 5, 2010
Updated: Friday, February 5, 2010
Our firm focuses on R&D companies and we work with really smart people who, because they look so deeply into these problems, can easily go off on tangents. Any suggestions of how to keep everyone on track when we are coming up with solutions?

One tactic that comes to mind is to introduce a process in your discussions to keep focus in a solution space. This is known as the "five whys." When you start with a solution to an identified problem, accept the first solution and then ask a series of "why" questions.

For example, someone suggests they should sell more products in the marine market (which is one of your strongest markets). Why? Because the marine market is underserved. Why? Because the market is growing and no new suppliers are entering. Why? Because the margins are poor for this highest growth segment of the market. Why? Because the new segment cares about price more than quality, which is your company's strength. Why? Because these new customers are young consumers early in their earning careers.

What started out as a "good idea" to expand into a market area your company is already in, then swerved into a potentially bad idea (poor margins), then back into a good idea (future potential) but for different reasons. Before you asked the "whys" you might have entered the market quickly, but now you know to pace yourself and cultivate this customer base as their spending abilities grow.

Tip: It may take more or less than five "whys" to get to the bottom of an issue, but you will get your client into the habit of becoming very precise with their suggestions.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  communication  customer understanding  learning  market research 

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#234: How Automated is Your Consulting Practice?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, February 4, 2010
Updated: Thursday, February 4, 2010
Being a small consulting firm, we lack the overhead of large firms, but also the support infrastructure and scale economies. How can we leverage our size without having our consultants spending time on what is normally considering support functions?

This calls for a complex answer but consider three general themes. First, focus on what you do best - providing professional advice. One reason you may resent having to do administrative work is that this is neither your expertise nor interest. Look for virtual assistant or hire a part time administrator. Second, alter the nature of your work. There are clients who are looking for pure consulting and others who are looking for heavy process, research or staff augmentation services. These latter projects can require considerable administrative, graphics, and support services. A large firm can absorb these needs easily within their large cost base, something you are structurally unable to do easily. Tilt your practice toward projects and clients for whom these administrative components are minimal.

The third strategy is something consultants should consider more rigorously. Although many of your engagements are customized ("every client is unique"), there are probably many opportunities to automate a lot of your processes. Look back at your past few projects and you'll notice similarities where you did many of the same tasks or approached them in the same way. For example, your project kickoff meeting, project team charters, process mapping, and customer assessments all share elements that you can record, evaluate and improve.

Tip: Large firms create intellectual property and processes, assets they advertise as benefits to clients. Just because you have advantages of agility and high touch doesn't mean you can't leverage technology or automation. Use a simple process mapping tool like MindManager or Visio to lay out the similarities in your consulting services from project to project. Start to build a library of approaches, processes, templates, checklist and resources. Over time, not only will you get up to speed faster on projects, you will begin to find opportunities to devote more time to the deep thinking you prefer.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  engagement management  learning  performance improvement  practice management  product development  your consulting practice 

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#233: Can I Trust My Client's Information?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Part of my engagement is to collect information from my client but I am not sure how useful it is. How do I know that what my client provides can be trusted?

This involved some circular logic. On the one hand, you are being hired for your expertise, independence and objectivity. These traits are what you use to identify the valid and useful information. On the other hand, you are somewhat bound to your client's view of the world and the facts on the ground. The client's reality and opinions of the staff are not something about which you would necessarily have independent information. Who are you to question facts and judgments presented to you by a client as the basis to give advice? I feel your pain.

Although it might vary between clients, depending on the nature of information and type of engagement, your trust in client-supplied information would improve if you set up a validation process. Consider categorizing collected information, gathered from company records, staff interviews, analyses by other consultants, commercial competitive analyses, media reports, etc. according to your confidence in the source. Note where information is corroborated and where it conflicts with other information. To the extent that information from a particular source seems frequently be inconsistent with other sources or a particular type of information has no corroboration, flag that as uncertain. Note which items are facts, which are opinions, and which are opinions masquerading as facts.

Tip: To the extent that supplied information is the foundation of your findings or recommendations, at least confirm that the information being presented to you is internally validated. Because your analysis hinges on the accuracy of this information, present your concerns to an internal team, specifically raising your concerns about accuracy and relevance. Discuss the implications of using data or information that may not be accurate and suggest ways to validate and the risks of assuming it is accurate if it is not. This lets the client take advantage of your expertise, independence and objectivity but still make the call.

Tags:  customer understanding  interpretation  knowledge management 

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#232: Giving Advice in the Best Format

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, February 2, 2010
What should a consultant do when a client wants to get their advice in a format I don't think is appropriate? For example, I hate writing reports because I don't think anyone reads them but my new client is insisting on my delivering one.

It's not for you to decide for the client what the right format is, but you can certainly recommend, if done in the right way. Depending on how well you know the client or can point to the usefulness of reporting in your comparable prior consulting engagements, you might be able to convince them of their own best interest. Starting with asking how they are going to use your work products. Ask a series of questions about how they usually receive recommendations (i.e., always the same way or is there some flexibility?). Will they be reusing it for presentation to another group (i.e., is this why they need a "killer PowerPoint presentation”)? Is this the company's preferred method of storing work recommendations (e.g., in a detailed report)? Is the format of delivery tied to the culture of the organization?

Now consider your mutual interests. An elaborate means of delivering findings and recommendations will cost your client money and time for you to prepare. Create a formal estimate of the expense and delay such a formal report would require and provide alternatives, including the relatively limited loss of content for the significant cost reduction of approaches such as executive briefings. The trick is to turn the economics around and present them in the form of an investment to save the client time and budget.

Tip: One possibility is that your client may not be able to visualize or experience a leaner or different reporting format, especially if they always do things one way. If it doesn't violate confidentiality, provide alternative formats of reports you have presented to past clients (or redact them, as appropriate). One advantage is that they might really like a reporting format for which you already have experience creating. Remember, it's not your place to tell them a report is a waste of your time and their money, but it is appropriate for you to advise them on the most effective communication mechanisms for the company. See the difference in tone?

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  customer understanding  information management  presentations  recommendations 

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#231: Applying Reverse Innovation to Consulting

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, February 1, 2010
Given all the attention being paid by major companies to reverse innovation, how might this huge trend be applied to consulting?

In a globalization strategy, innovation is conducted in developed countries to create new products targeted at home markets and then adapt them for use in emerging markets. Because of differences in incomes and local needs, this transfer often requires a deliberate change in price-performance configuration. Reverse innovation is flipping the globalization concept in two ways, (1) to create products and services in the emerging market country specifically for the local market, and (2) to develop products in emerging markets for adaptation and export to developed countries. One way to describe it is to create a product that is half the quality for one-tenth the price. A good example is creating low-cost laptops for sale in developing countries, but finding out that many developed countries have high demand for a "good enough" laptop. Like disruptive technologies, reverse innovation has the potential to overwhelm high end services that once captured the market.

As consultants, we pride ourselves on creating the most sophisticated and cutting edge services for our clients and charging them accordingly. However, given the recent economic slowdown, many clients (in all markets) are interested in alternative services along the price-performance continuum. Regardless of where you are consulting, there is plenty of opportunity to look at reverse innovation concepts to create a range of services. Why should we offer only best practices services when our clients may not need them?

Tip: For your signature consulting service, design two alternative offerings. The first should be for one-tenth of your normal price. It may be uncomfortable cutting out quality but start with those aspects that provide the least value, such as reporting, discussion presentations or follow on service. Now that you have forced yourself to cut way back, design a second service that at least doubles the quality but keeps the price about the same. This will show you the kind of process major companies like GE and Microsoft are making a centerpiece of their strategy.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  innovation  product development  trends 

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