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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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#631: Beware of the Engagement "Valley of Death"

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, August 15, 2011
Updated: Monday, August 15, 2011
I have noticed in several engagements that after a while, the interaction with the client tapers off from its high level at the start. Is this normal and is it a problem?

While it is not a feature of all engagements, it does occur. There are several reasons for this; some are about you and some about the client. Both may have to do with the return to normalcy after the excitement of a project kickoff. When a project starts, relationships are often being built, there is anticipation about "finally" addressing a likely long standing issue, and both you and the client are excited about getting to work. Everyone is fully focused on the project.

Although it varies, there is a time, about a quarter of the way into a mid- to long-term project, where you can lose the intense connection with your client you started with. This "valley of death" is something to pay attention to and something you can avoid. Symptoms can include your client missing a status briefing or two, staff being slower getting information to you than when the project started, your having to play catch up to meet deadlines, and unexpected variance in earned value. If getting the project launched occupied a lot of staff time, they may feel that they need to make up for the "real work" they missed working with the consultants. These are usually not critical but bear watching. Left unattended, they may grow into something serious.

Tip: Steer clear of the "valley of death" by being very clear with your client about expected tolerance for variance in project plan. Don't leave the schedule of status briefings to chance, nor the expected responsiveness of you or the client staff to requests for information or participation. Check regularly with the client about the state of the relationship beyond just the project plan.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  consulting process  customer understanding  engagement management  goodwill 

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#630: If You Think Your Online Brand Doesn't Matter, Think Again

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, August 12, 2011
Updated: Friday, August 12, 2011
We always assume that clients select consultants from a prequalified set of technically competent candidates based on intangibles and personal chemistry. However, because we have increasingly been going online for our own market research and prospecting, it begs the question of whether clients do the same when looking for consultants.

It should not amaze us, but it does, how quickly technology can change business practices. A decade ago, LinkedIn and Facebook did not exist. By 2010, business had embraced both as legitimate research sources for recruiting and, yes, even for researching consultants and consulting firms. Perhaps most interesting is now clients have a way to get a real picture of large firm consultants as individuals. We can't hide behind the firm brand and are exposed to clients who want specific individuals as consultants and are less interested in the company they work for. Consultants may consider this is good or bad but it is uniformly good for clients and they are using it more and more.

Recent surveys of recruiters and businesses give a clear sense of how comfortable businesses are with researching individuals who they want to work for them (as staff or consultants). Most businesses now consider online research on individuals essential to their decisions to hire. When over 80 million individuals are Googled every day, we consultants are surely among them.

Several surveys in 2010 found:
  • 79% of US recruiters and hiring managers screen candidates using online social networking profiles and blogs (Microsoft).
  • 70% of US hiring managers have rejected candidates based on what they found online (Microsoft).
  • 80% of business people believe their online identity is now as important as their offline personal or professional reputation (Intelius).
  • 44% of online adults have searched for information about someone whose services or advice they seek in a professional capacity(Pew Internet study).
Tip: It is more than just the information you provide about yourself that is important. It is also what others say about you that clients and recruiters will see. A flaming response to one of your blog posts, an unflattering picture or a document that might be perceived by someone as a release of proprietary information can damage your reputation without you ever knowing it. Since you do not control everything about your online brand (and once content is on the Internet it is hard to remove) we are well advised to monitor and manage as well as we can our online identities and brand. This article has more information about recent surveys.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  brand management  prospect  publicity  reputation 

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#629: Be Aware of Differing Client Attitudes Toward Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, August 11, 2011
Updated: Thursday, August 11, 2011
Why is it that almost every client has at least one manager or senior staff member who seems annoyed with or even hostile toward consultants? Should a consultant deal with such people directly or through the client sponsor?

First, recognize that attitudes toward consultants can vary significantly, Just because an executive retains a consultant does not mean that everyone, or anyone, else in the organization is happy to welcome or support you. Most do because they respect management's decision and they are likely to recognize the solutions a consultant is being retained to create are potentially productive for the organization.

Second, don't assume that it is in your, or the organization's, best interest to "deal" with suspicion or opposition of client staff by suppressing it. Consultants are brought in to address change, usually because something is not working or could work better. Change means stress, which means emotion, which means behavior that can be supportive or oppositional. Before you decide to shut off a potentially productive conduit for useful information and emotion, consider the damage that could be done by bottling it up.

Third, remember that it is not your organization. You are free to advise your client that your job may be difficult politically, or even logistically, due to active opposition or hostility. But unless you feel your person or property are in danger, it is not your call to decide whose behavior to manage. However, it is useful to advise your client of the facts, and your opinion about the impact certain behaviors will have on the organization's culture, performance and image.

Tip: Consultants brought in to manage an engagement can, if they are not careful, lose sight of whose organization they are dealing with. Embrace differing attitudes toward you and the likely change assumed to arrive with you. Our true value is our independence and objectivity. Stay focused on the engagement, not the people, brand, strategy or other areas that are the legitimate responsibility of management.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client staff  consultant role  customer understanding  engagement management  goodwill  professionalism 

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#628: Finding the Right Size Consulting Firm

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, August 10, 2011
For many years I have been a partner at a highly regarded consulting firm but have been considering going out on my own. I was also recently offered a position at a boutique firm. Given the current market, what factors should I consider?

Because you are making a choice that could affect you for many years, the factors to consider do not change that much with year to year market circumstances. There are benefits of large and small or solo practices, although the distinctions are disappearing.

With the economic downturns in consulting in 2002 and 2009, many large firms cut back hiring and, among several, partners left to start their own firms. The rise of boutique firms in this decade, and the realization among clients that marquee names do not always equate to top performance, have opened the consulting market to smaller and smaller firms. Clients are looking for the best talent on the consulting team and are less concerned about the company they work for.

Large firms have more resources, can field larger teams, have internal knowledge resources and tested processes, are more likely to work for recognized logo clients, and can (or at least used to) provide more career stability. Smaller firms have more flexibility, greater discretion in selecting clients (they are less compelled than large firms by firm economics to grow year over year), and can assemble consulting teams with more flexibility and speed. Many smaller firms and solo practitioners staffed by large firm refugees (many of whom took their clients with them when they left) and successfully compete against established large firms. The sophistication and visibility of the work, assuming your skills and marketing are done effectively, are less distinguishable as a function of firm size.

Tip: More than ever, the choice of firm size is about lifestyle and risk. If you are looking for flexibility, a chance to put your own mark on your practice, and are willing to tolerate some risk, a smaller or solo practice is attractive. If you are looking for the largest engagements or prefer large teams, prefer or need knowledge assets developed by larger firms, and prefer the more institutional lifestyle, then a larger firm is where you need to be. No decision is forever, so if you want to try a boutique firm and you don't like it, you can always switch.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  career  consulting lifestyle  work-life balance  your consulting practice 

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#627: Start Small When Productizing Your Consulting Services

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Even after moving some of my consulting services to a value-priced basis, I am looking for some passive income. Productizing my services makes sense but I don't have any awesome IP that I can turn into a product.

There are several benefits to productized services for both the consultant and client. Unlike consulting services, which in the eyes of many buyers are intangible, unscripted and hard to value, a product is well branded, consistently delivered, well defined and more easily valued. Especially if you have a tiered offering of products, with several levels of service, productizing your practice can actually strengthen your brand.

This is all well and good for someone with a structured practice, a history delivering more or less the same services, and/or a set of discrete packages of content. This last item is traditionally industry reports, how to templates or packaged research data. These are well and good but increasingly lower value because they are quickly outdated and can be generated by more people (i.e., your specialized expertise is more common than a few years ago).

If you don't have these, however, you can start on the path to productizing your services by introducing minor processes or services for which you don't expect to get a lot of revenue. Take an analytical process or a procedure you have developed and refined over the years. As a good consultant you will have been documenting these processes and reusing them, with adaptation, in each subsequent engagement. These do not have to be grand inventions. They can be an easy solution to an otherwise straightforward but time consuming problem. Take an online application to calculate required consulting fees as an example. Anyone can set this up in a spreadsheet but this application makes it easy to do. It begs the question of what other applications from this provider might be of use (even for a fee) to me.

Tip: Start with an approach, a process of a dozen steps, or a format for organizing and displaying information for your practice. Distribute these for free to current clients and prospects, as for feedback and rigorously evaluate what users like and want you to add. Take this in small steps but get started. You will soon build a tiered set of products, the top end for which you can charge a hefty fee.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  brand management  consulting tools  knowledge assets  product development  your consulting practice 

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