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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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#125: Good Enough Consulting

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, September 4, 2009
I am noticing that clients seem to be looking for the “basic package” instead of the fully loaded model of consulting services. I suspect this is largely due to the economic conditions but wonder if this is a trend.

Casey Stengel once said, "Never make predictions, especially about the future." As described in Clayton Christensen's book The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book that Will Change the Way You Do Business, there is always room for disruptive technologies that provide just what the client wants. These are not necessarily the more sophisticated or complex ones. In decision-making strategies, this is called satisficing as compared to maximizing. Give the buyer what they want, not everything they can use. I suspect that the attention-focusing effect of a unprecedented (in most people's lives) economic downturn makes people ask "what do I really need here?" and not be carried away with the latest fad or presumably piling on more services in the hope of reducing risk of being wrong. As a tangent, consider the use of multiple expert witnesses in legal disputes and "defensive medicine" in which it is arguable whether marginal benefit exceeds marginal cost.

It is unclear whether this represents a permanent change in buyer behavior, but we can glean some insight from similar trends in consumer purchasing. A tangible example is in consumer electronics. If you are tuned in to things digital, you will recognize this powerful trend. After pushing technology to heights unimaginable only a few years ago, consumers have spoken loudly that they really just want simple. See The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine. Kindle, Skype, and Flip are all technologies that are fabulous for doing what people want. Are your offering at least some consulting services that are “good enough” or are you pushing only the “solid gold?”

Tip: You may want to have a conversation with prior clients about how they feel today about consulting services. If you have a good relationship with them, they will appreciate the conversation. Ask how they would scope your prior consulting engagement if it were conducted today. Would they retain you at all? Would they break up the engagement into smaller pieces? Would they source it to different consultants? Would they just do it in house or not at all? What are the “good enough” services that you could provide and would they be more attractive to clients?

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  client relations  client service  consultant role  marketing  product development  trends  your consulting practice 

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#124: A Better Way to Ask For Referrals

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, September 3, 2009
Updated: Thursday, September 3, 2009
I have been relatively unassertive about getting referrals from past clients and I have not been very successful in doing so lately. Are there better and worse ways of asking for referrals and testimonials?

One thing to consider about referrals and testimonials is that they are not really about you as a person or a professional. People who ask for referrals by soliciting in terms of how great they are or how much they did for the organization are less likely to get much of a response from the referral source. It is great for one's ego to have a client say wonderful things about you. Who doesn't like a little praise once in a while? But consider how the recipient of a referral will react when the topic is all about you instead of what you can do for them and their organization.

An effective referral or testimonial (the latter being one tangible form of the former) should be thought of principally in terms of how it will be received by a prospective client rather than what is feels like for you to get it. That is, what will the person getting the referral consider as the benefit to them from your services. That you are competent and ethical is nice but more important is an example of how you brought (and can bring to them) value, performance, cost savings or increased profitability. Don't let your ego get in the way. As a consultant, you were probably one of dozens, if not hundreds of staff and other consultants who contributed to the success of an organization. Spend more time talking about how you were able to work with the staff and executives to help them do their jobs better. Nothing induces a lukewarm testimonial more than a consultant who takes credit for more than his or her share.

Tip: Cultivating a referral or testimonial starts long before you actually ask. At the beginning of an engagement, make a list of the kinds of value you plan to provide and that would induce a prospective client to favor your services. During the engagement, update the list with specific examples of contributions you have made to the client organization. Every so often, check with your client and confirm whether he or she sees this kind of value you are providing. If the client says it is unclear whether you are providing this kind or this much value, go back and make a better case or take this off your list. When it comes time to ask for the referral, the client will be familiar with (and have confirmed) the set of valuable services you have delivered and provide you with an appropriate recommendation.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  consultant role  goodwill  proposals  recommendations  sales 

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#123: Does Your Client Understand You?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, September 2, 2009
In most of my engagements, I deliver a lot of work product. Much of this is analysis findings, recommendations and implementation protocols. How do I know I am getting through to my clients with all this content?

This is a question all consultants should ask. The assumption is that clients ask for advice, the consultant delivers it, and the clients understand and integrate it into their operations and culture. If we stop to think about it, the client often asks for our advice because we have expertise they don't. Why should we assume that our findings and recommendations are immediately and fully understandable to a client?

Your effectiveness as an advisor depends your advice being understood. If your clients don't appreciate the nuances of what you advise and trust its usefulness enough to make good use of it, you are not providing full value. If you give a presentation and your client thanks you, says “excellent work” and neither questions nor challenges you, how do you know you got through? You would do well to make sure you can confirm that your client understands and takes ownership of your work products. Part of doing so is keeping clients in the loop during the engagement but you can also make sure that you don't lose them in the final delivery.

Tip: Design your final delivery to include an in-person briefing and assure that you have plenty of time. Watch your client's expression to see whether you have them or not. Ask questions so you are comfortable that they can describe both your approach and your findings. Ask them how they intend to staff and resource implementation. How will they deal with implementation constraints and hiccups? Who is accountable for what? You are done when you feel comfortable that your client "owns" your deliverables.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  communication  meetings 

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#122: Will You Be Ready When You Are Asked?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, September 1, 2009
I recently had an uncomfortable event that I'd like to share with other management consultants. My client asked me, at a board meeting no less, to get up and give a five minute talk on the trends in the industry that are affecting the company. I think I did OK but I was really unprepared to deliver a speech that focused (it would have been easier to give a two hour talk).

While you may have relied on your extemporaneous speaking skills and subject matter knowledge to create a solid performance, you raise a good point about being prepared to "be an expert" in your field on short notice. The problem is that we often know so much about our industry or discipline (that's part of what clients value), it does take a bit of thought to distill it down, especially if what is asked is about this week's or month's issues as they relate to a business. A long view of an industry or process skills used in the industry is necessary but not sufficient to create a short presentation to deliver real value.

Mark Twain said, "It usually takes me three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech." How would you go about preparing a good impromptu speech of one minute? Five minutes? Fifteen? What are the three to five key trends in your business you would want to get across? This is not about you or your firm, nor is it about your particular skills or experience. It is about the state of your industry and the insights you have developed that decision makers, client or not, would find valuable.

Tip: Keep a running list of the half dozen key trends or leverage functions in your industry. Keep up with the news, business media and decision makers in your industries on these topics. If the key topics change, then change your list. You might even benefit by writing out a few note cards on the topics. Having done so will firm up the main points in your mind, making sure you are well prepared for your next "impromptu speech."

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  communication  customer understanding  meeting preparation  presentations  trends 

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#121: Will a Virtual Team Really Work Well Together?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, August 31, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, September 1, 2009
I have just completed a bid on a project for which we assembled a half dozen specialists. Only a few of us have ever worked together before and I have some concerns about our ability to work well together when the project starts.

As clients look more for the right expertise, whether or not it is in a single firm, virtual teams are becoming more common. It is often best to work with people whose ethics you trust and technical skills you respect and people with whom you have already worked. However, this is not always possible and, on some highly specialized tasks, you must assemble the best people even if you don't know them. This is usually the responsibility of the engagement manager, who plumbs his or her networks to create a team. There are two ways to get a sense of how well a virtual team is actually going to work.

First, to what extent do you trust the ethics and business skills of the engagement manager? Is this someone with whom you have worked before? Was anything said or done during the development of the project approach or costing that gave you pause about this person? Would you trust this person to take over one of your engagements and expect good client services from them with your best clients? If so, then you passed the first test.

Second, how was it to work with the other team members? Was it a professional experience, with clear and easy communication? Did each person deliver on their responsibilities and effort, or were some reluctant to do their share? Were they respectful and generous in their approach to offering criticism and suggestions? Even if you have never met them, can you create a mental picture of them with some comfort? If so, then this bodes well for a professional and productive engagement.

Tip: When you find yourself invited to participate in an engagement pursuit, make a mental (or written) list of the criteria you would use in selecting a business partner. As you begin to work with the virtual team in developing technical and costing approaches, check off which individuals meet your criteria and which ones fall short. If you are not getting any information about a particular person or about one of your important criteria, dig a little deeper. Soon, you will have a good idea whether your new teammates are ones you can trust and respect. If they come up short in several areas, reconsider (quickly) if being part of this team is in your best interest.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  collaboration  consulting colleagues  ethics  marketing  proposals  teaming  virtual teams 

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