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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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#215: Cutting Through the Media Clutter

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, January 8, 2010
Updated: Friday, January 8, 2010
This wasn't a specific question but a recurring theme with management consultants: how to quickly scan for current news and emerging trends in media that leaves you both satisfied and educated without the exhaustion and confusion.

There are several ways to aggregate contemporary information online: RSS feeds, newsgroups, Google Alerts, clipping services, newsfeeds, specialty content aggregation sites (usually around a single industry, profession or region), are common examples. Each one is designed for the single purpose user in mind, but there are few applications that format a broad aggregation of current news and trends in a way that lets you scan quickly and make informed selections. We have available ingenious applications for aggregating data but aggregation is only half of the equation in using information. We are missing the part that presents content in a rich format to aid in choosing what to consume.

Consider the supermarket, a great idea to aggregate all types of household food and related items in one location. Now think of how difficult it would be if you had to shop using just written descriptions of the items. We shop for food in a different way than we read aggregated content, by scanning the aisles for items, reading labels, but also using taste, smell, and touch. Now imagine how great it would be to actually see media in its native format rather than reduced to a stream of letters.

Google has improved on simple aggregation in its FastFlip application. FastFlip assembles groups of media content, including some customizable sources, by showing you the actual images of the sources. You can quickly scan, just like in a supermarket, to see what piques your interest. It is now added to my "Check Daily" bookmark, letting me check the newspapers, magazines, business journals and selected other sources in about 20 minutes. As a warning, just like you shouldn't shop when you are hungry, you shouldn’t use FastFlip unless you impose some discipline - it can become addictive.

Tip: Consider the supermarket scenario the next time you present information to a client. How appealing do you think page after page of text is to a client when you could be leaving them with a rich visual feast like in FastFlip? Some clients only read selected parts of your reports because they can be so tiresome. Your findings and recommendations will have more influence if they draw the reader in (note: this tip will make more sense after you experience FastFlip).

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  information management  knowledge assets  learning  presentations  writing 

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#214: Pricing Consulting Services

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, January 7, 2010
Updated: Thursday, January 7, 2010
I am at a loss to know how to price consulting services these days. Some of our markets support healthy rates and in others we are experiencing heavy resistance. We have clients who are, for the first time, using rather sophisticated pricing models and challenging us on almost every value point. And we are using value billing, not daily rates, so this is a new one for us. What's going on?

Other than a generational disruption of the economy, an influx of new "consultants" from the ranks of business, the commoditization of professional services and a greater client emphasis on squeezing value from every expenditure, nothing comes to mind. It is a cliché to say that good consultants will command higher fees and lesser mortals may not be able to charge high enough rates to remain in business. However,, in either good markets or bad, whether your industry or specialty is ascendant or in decline, there are several fundamentals of pricing consulting services to which we should attend.

The very first piece of advice is to recognize that you are trading something valuable (skills, experience, connections) for something else valuable (cash or equity). Where you can make the case that your contribution can generate more than the value from which you are paid, the client is eager to make the transaction. A good client expects to pay fairly, if not well, for superior service. If you are in discussions with a client who wants something for nothing, it's time to consider another client. Second, if you tie your fees to the volume of effort you contribute, you have commoditized your skills into a relatively undifferentiated element of time, for which you will compete with the lowest bidder. If you cannot define the timeless value you are bringing to a client, then maybe all you are bringing is hours, which means you are not ready to have the fee discussion. Third, the manner and timing of fee discussions impacts tremendously your ability to be compensated for the value you bring. The general rule in fee negotiations is that the person who mentions money first, loses.

Tip: The process of estimating and negotiating price requires some serious skills and attention to detail. The better books on the subject emphasize understanding the client mindset and present a clear pricing model, while deemphasizing issues like calculating how many hours you need to cover costs. One of the best is Pricing Consulting Services: How to Set Fees For the Value You Deliver by Michael Shays. Shays is a veteran of consulting in a broad range of industries, countries, consulting firm types and economic environments. Learning the nuances of his pricing triangle of Client Perceived Value, Market Perceived Value and Consultant Perceived Value will provide the insight and courage you need to master the pricing of your work.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  customer understanding  fees  market research  marketing  proposals  sales  your consulting practice 

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#213: Helping Clients with Speeches

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, January 6, 2010
This is a new one for me. My client asked if I would help her write a "State of the Company" speech to her employees, to be delivered at the annual holiday party. This is not my forte and, although it was nice to be asked, it is outside the scope of my engagement so I don’t want to spend uncompensated time on it.

While it may not be a part of your scope, there is probably no more gratifying request from a client than to help summarize where the company has been, is now and is going. This reflects her trust in your understanding of the organization and your judgment in where it will or might go. Whether you are in strategy or operations, technology or governance, human resources or marketing, your insights are requested in one of the most important communications with staff. A cynical view might consider this just passing off a task she doesn't want to do, but you probably already know whether this is true or not.

You mention that it is not your strong suit to help with speeches. Be up front with her about how you think you can best contribute. While you may not consider yourself capable of writing the speech yourself, you can certainly provide talking points as input, serve as a reviewer of the text, or comment on the dry run. As to it requiring extra time, you will have to make a judgment whether you consider this offer to better understand your client as a commercial transaction or an opportunity to strengthen the relationship.

Tip: Consider this an affirmation of her trust in you and respect for your opinion. This is an opening to strengthen your service to her and the company by thinking more broadly than the scope of your original engagement, perhaps even revealing areas in which you could provide additional services.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  client relations  communication  consultant role  goodwill  presentations 

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#212: We Tried That Already

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, January 5, 2010
In tight times, many clients understandably can get risk averse. They don’t want to make a mistake, throw good money after bad or try something they don't think will work. How can a consultant help them through this?

We've all been there. We can get frustrated when we recommend something and the client say "We've tried that..." with the implication that it didn't work, they didn't like the results, or that your recommendation, or even you, are not to be trusted. In reality, when someone says they tried something before, the situation or their capabilities are not the same as they face now. Here's one way to deal with this:
  1. Let the client know that you have specific experience with the basis of this recommendation and it has worked well elsewhere.
  2. Ask to see the specifics of the previous attempt at implementation. You'll often see that either a) it was not the same circumstances, or b) the results weren't what they thought (not interpreted/represented accurately).
  3. Keep cool. Be truthful. Be thoughtful. Be sure you have solid logic to directly address the perceived risks of your client. Don’t let your pride or ego outweigh your objectivity and independence. Always consider that you might be understating the risks.
Tip: Investigate what really happened "before" and then use that to either make your point clearly, or accept the client's statement. More likely than not, if your recommendation is well thought out, the questioning process will support your position. And if not, you will at least see why your recommendation will not work in this specific situation and help the client understand that. It's their call but your job is to reach a solution that gives them their best opportunity but to be real about the risks.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  client relations  consultant role  customer understanding  recommendations  reputation  sales 

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#211: Are You a Desk Potato?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, January 4, 2010
Updated: Monday, January 4, 2010
The advance of technology has created less need to be on site with clients, and many more clients are just as happy with web sessions or phone calls, especially for those that otherwise would have to pay my travel. As a result, I am spending far more time in the office than I used to. Is there any problem with this?

I suspect this trend is true for many consultants except for those with significant hands-on interaction with staff or whose practice requires their physical presence. If the nature of your practice is advising clients in discussion, transferring information, or providing instruction to staff, it makes sense to both you and the client to do this in the most efficient manner possible. To some extent, virtual consultation even has more time flexibility that scheduling a site visit, since last minute conflicts can be accommodated more easily for a virtual meeting than if you had arrived by airplane for the meeting.

Don't just accept this trend. Even those it may save you and the client money, provides more flexibility, and may even be more efficient, you are losing client intimacy and a lot of information that you can only get from a site visit. Your personal relationship (remember that consulting is a relationship business) with your client is forged as much in the "outside the meeting" or social time as in the meetings.

Tip: Make regular face-to-face visits with your clients, both engagement sponsor and staff, a priority. Their trust in you is based on more than just the advice and information you provide from afar.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  client relations  communication  customer understanding 

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