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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 

#95: You Don't Have to Answer Every Question a Client Asks

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, July 17, 2009
Updated: Friday, July 17, 2009
There are some questions I get from clients, often staff not so happy about my being there, that seem like challenges and that I am reluctant to answer. How do I delicately handle these?

Just as the mark of a good consultant is knowing when not to talk, a good consultants also knows how to handle questions. If, as you suspect, the conversation you have with staff is really a challenge disguised as a question, then you need a plan to handle these.

Consider the following as a template to answer (you can modify this to suit your needs, but it is a good start):
  1. Is it really a question? Consider “questions” presented by a stereotypical prosecutor in a courtroom when trying to lead a witness. Is it just a statement with a question mark at the end?
  2. Is the question valid? The question “have you stopped beating your wife?” is an example of a question that is not something straightforward to deal with.
  3. Is the question something you should be answering? It may be that, even if it is a question and it is valid, it may not be something appropriate for you, as a consultant or as you individually, to answer.
  4. Do you need to answer it now? Given all the above, maybe there is a better time to address it, like when you get more information, or at a more politic time.
Use these as the basis for your explanation why it is not appropriate for you to respond.

Tip: Part of our maturation as consultants is to be more present in our interactions with our colleagues and clients. This can mean being aware of responding to every stimulus without stopping to consider the implications fo that response. There’s no shame in pausing before answering – or declining to answer.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  confidentiality  consultant role  ethics  values 

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#94: When Your Approach No Longer Works

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, July 16, 2009
Updated: Thursday, July 16, 2009
The literature is filled with "tried and true" consulting approaches on which many of us have built our practices. With all the changes in business, technology and commerce, how do we know if what worked decades ago still works now?

We can't generalize about all consulting practices but you are on to something. Consulting, whether in analysis, communication, marketing, diagnostics, or any other discipline or approach, necessarily must evolve with the times. This doesn’t mean that the core of an approach won’t serve you for a long time. It does mean, however, that you need test each approach to see whether it still is valid. Specifically, you need to question the underlying assumptions and metaphors on which an approach is based.

For example, we all learned about the process of converting someone who might be interested in our services into a client. We use the metaphor of a funnel, where prospects go into the large end and are reduced in number and increased in qualification until they become clients. However, this linear model has been increasingly questioned in recent years, and some are proposing some variation on a network model, with prospects coming into the client flow at various points and leaving at various points, only to possibly reenter at a later point. Do the metaphor and underlying assumptions still support your “common sense” approach?

Tip: Both consultants and managers often use approaches that are widely written about or presumed to be “common practice.” However, we are obliged to dig deep into these approaches and identify the underlying assumptions. What metaphor is used? What factors were in effect when the approach was invented? Is the approach a retread of an old idea, or common sense with a new name. Is it a “go find a market in which no one else is active and sell to it” or “build parallel processes to streamline and reduce roadblocks in your processes” (these are really “new ideas” people have “invented” and heavily marketed)? We need to make sure we understand why we select an approach before we use it. And that’s just common sense.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  intellectual property  knowledge assets  practice management  your consulting practice 

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#93: Tools to See Your Client’s Network

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, July 15, 2009
How can I find out how key executives of various companies are connected to each other?

You would think that with so many databases of corporate information, it would be easy to find the connections in an executive network. However, most databases are designed to focus on the company itself and not the networks they are in. Fortunately, there are some software companies who focus on these networks and have developed applications to interconnect these databases.

There are probably many applications and companies who provide this kind of service (please leave suggestions in a comment on the IMC USA website in response to this tip) but one is NNDB. Based on entries of people, companies, and organizations (even bands, movies, and television shows), you can see who is connected (e.g., board members) and who is connected to either the institution or the people. You can prune or expand these visual displays of networks and quickly see where influence lies.

Tip: Use this tool in your networking activities. See what other potential clients are related to a board member or executive of a client. For example, if I am interested in Caterpillar, I can see the company profile and its 24 executives and directors. Selecting James Owens, the CEO, I can see what other relationships he has, and find out he is a Director at IBM and Alcoa. This is a quick way to browse for prospects, get a picture of the executive landscape of a client, or just gather competitive intelligence on your area of practice.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  customer understanding  data visualization  market research  marketing  networks 

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#92: Watching Other Consultants for Worst Practices

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, July 14, 2009
I just left a mid-sized firm to go out on my own and am looking for sources of best practices in consulting. I have recently run across a lot of consultants I consider examples of worst practices, but would like to know where to find the good ones.

Every profession has its stars and its duds. Certification, licensure and the marketplace tend to improve the overall quality and effectiveness of any profession. However, it is up to individual professionals like you to constantly improve their consulting skills and behaviors and business acumen. Look at the Management Consulting Competency Framework for areas considered critical for an effective consultant.

Don't just use your personal experience in observing other consultants to emulate their best practices. Also look for notably bad behavior, applied skills, or approaches to consulting as examples of what to avoid. Sometimes the best way to improve is to see in sharp relief the destructive or inappropriate behavior or actions of others. For example, we have all been in the audience when a speaker goes off track, whether in content or presentation and, after cringing for them, think to ourselves that we're glad we don't do that. Odds are, however, we have done something similar somewhere in our past.

Tip: Make it a habit to actively look for ineffective (or destructive) consultant behaviors and techniques. Write down a brief (a phrase or sentence or two) synopsis the behavior, the time and place it occurred (to cue your memory later) and, this is the important part, what you would have done differently. This could include style, content, sequence, format, language, analytic approach or any other aspect of the consulting process important to you. Include your own behavior and skills in this scanning for ineffective consulting, which will keep you continuously improving your own "product."

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  consultant role  consulting process  learning  product development  your consulting practice 

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#91: Learning Management Consulting From a Book

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, July 13, 2009
I see more universities offering courses and even certificates in management consulting. How can something so experience-based be taught from a book?

All jobs are characterized by three elements: knowledge, heuristics (judgment), and technique. There is useful knowledge to be learned from books about consulting, such as management techniques, consulting processes, history of business and approaches to consulting, and various aspects of the business of consulting. You can also study the mechanics of decision making, strategy formation, and analysis. Finally, any number of books, videos or classroom instruction can provide you with checklists, templates, and processes (including analytical and presentation software) through which you can build a consulting toolkit.

That said, there are some things that can be learned from books and some things that can only be learned through experience. In most cases, medical doctors complete a residency of several years following medical school, sometimes adding a fellowship, before they are considered fully "ready" to practice medicine. Similarly, certification in consulting requires three years of progressively responsible consulting experience, including designing and managing engagements.

Many clients are justifiable upset by consultants who have sold a process but lack the depth of knowledge or judgment to adapt their processes (or abandon them in favor of more appropriate ones) as needed by the client. Just because management consulting is called a knowledge profession, don't be fooled into thinking that book knowledge alone is sufficient foundation for effective consulting.

Tip: Conversely, no consultant can acquire all the needed knowledge, heuristics and technique through experience alone. Personal experience may give a false sense of confidence in a consultant's abilities and effectiveness. Part of our continuing education commitment as professionals is to extend our learning beyond personal and even firm experience. There are quite a few great consulting books. One good complement for an experienced management consultant is The Advice Business: Essential Tools and Models for Management Consulting. I have been borrowing a copy for a few years and finally bought my own so I could mark it up. It's a great reference for items about consulting and management that you never learned, as well as those you forgot.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  education  learning  professional development  your consulting practice 

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