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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 

#611: The Complexity of Your Services May Not Add Value

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, July 18, 2011
Updated: Monday, July 18, 2011
My question is about fees for value delivered. My consulting firm has built technical capabilities over nearly 30 years and offers some of the most sophisticated expertise and tools around. However, we get price resistance even from customers who stand to increase profits significantly from our services. Why shouldn't we be paid proportionally?

Fees are always an emotional issue, especially when they are compensation for something created with one's own time and effort. We tend to place a high value on intellectual property we created and all the more so when it is unique or highly complex. Yet, uniqueness and complexity may or may not be worth much in the marketplace.

Buyers may equate uniqueness with lack of peer credibility, thorough testing or market acceptance. Complexity may signify excess risk or over engineering. Consider how comfortable most people are with "tried and true." Only in a market where there are a lot of undifferentiated substitutes and the commonly available product fails to provide value will "unique and complex" demand a fee premium.

You may be selling complexity but the client is buying something else. Define what that is and you will be able to raise your fees. Is complexity tied to application flexibility, fault tolerance, or failure resistance? These are the kind of features you may be able to translate directly into value added for a client.

Tip: Also consider whether what you consider as "complexity" is really all that complex. One person's "complex" is another's "simple." How would you determine fees based just on a subjective assessment of complexity? For example, consider the instrument cluster complexity of an aircraft cockpit. To many, the dozen or so instruments of a typical small plane are "complex," but not so when compared to the instruments of the Space Shuttle.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  fees  intellectual property  your consulting practice 

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#610: Simplifying Your Writing to Better Communicate

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, July 15, 2011
Updated: Friday, July 15, 2011
It is sometimes a little tricky deciding how complex to make my client briefings and analysis reports. Clients generally want precise and explicit language but reports that may be made public or for various audiences are best simpler. Are there any rules or advice about what level of reading difficulty is best?

First, take Albert Einstein's advice to "Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler." It is hard to go wrong writing as simply as possible, as if you were trying to explain your findings and recommendations to a 10th grader. Some consultants will bristle at this suggestion, claiming that their sophisticated analysis must mirror the complexity of the client's situation or market or strategy and all their communication demands complex language. This defies both logic and experience. Any consultant leaning on complex language probably lacks sufficient understanding of the basic principles and processes about which he or she is speaking.

Second, drifting into consultant-speak is a sure way to lose touch with your audience. You may have a vigorous discussion with your technical counterpart or the CEO using technical language, but it is the customers, staff, and other stakeholders who must eventually accept and act on your recommendations, If you want your findings and recommendations to live past the first reading of you report, put them in plain English.

You can use any of several automated tools to train you to streamline your words. These tools analyze your text for length and complexity of sentences and number of syllables per word. One document readability tool I like lets you enter text and gives Flesh Kincaid and other readability indices. This tool is really useful by telling you which sentences most violate simple language rules. Readability is stated as a grade level (i.e., number of years of education needed to understand the text). For example, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is at grade 13.4 (one year of college) while Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham" is at grade 2.9.

Tip: Analyze your website, client reports, engagement letters, press releases and client communication. You will likely be shocked at how many of these communications are at college level. Use these analyses to simplify your writing. I suspect you will lose nothing of the meaning by streamlining the language.

P.S. This tip has a readability score of 11.2. A rewrite could simplify and clarify sentences without reduucing quality.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  consulting terminology  information management  interpretation  presentations  publishing  recommendations  speaking  website 

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#609: Help Your Clients Connect With Influencers

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, July 14, 2011
Updated: Thursday, July 14, 2011
Clients usually ask consultants to spend much of our time improving people, processes and technology inside an organization. Are there ways we can complement the value in these areas with an external focus?

Other than bringing in other consultants with different (or better) skills, there is one good way that is effective and long-lasting. The kind of improvements you mentioned can benefit from external input in needs definition, design, implementation and, sustainability. To do this, you should consider how to connect your client with others with an interest in the client's success. This may be by geography, industry (even a competitor, under the right circumstances, might help), common customers, supporting industry (e.g., a vendor, supplier or channel partner), government or nonprofits, or customers themselves.

Your goal is to find key influencers that can complement your services or to supplement them in areas of need for the client but on which you are not working. This building of a network may not exactly be in your engagement scope but it is a benefit to both you and your client. Both you and your client benefit by making new contacts and gaining insight. Remember to get your client's permission to cast about for valuable influencers on their behalf.

Tip: Your collection of influencers could be contributed to your client as a formal advisory body, potential managers or staff, or just as informal community members to provide feedback. As you build your own network of influencers through this process, you will have an increasing depth of individuals and institutions on whom you can draw to bring to the table on your clients' behalf. Remember, it's not just what you know (about improving people, process and technology) but who you know (that you can introduce your client to).

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  collaboration  goodwill  guidance  networks 

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#608: Be True to Yourself With Your References and Analogies

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Given that we work with four generations in most of our client organizations, how should a consultant handle communications, particularly popular references and terminology? I can make a case for keeping your references tied to your generation but also for speaking the language of the younger generation.

You lose very little being authentic. Trying (too hard) to be trendy b using terminology you don't understand or words that just don't fit your style are likely to do more damage to your reputation than endear you to someone you are trying to impress.

That said, there is value in keeping your analogies, metaphors and popular references up to date. Yet, even here, be genuine and don't overreach. When you are referring you your extensive set of contacts, you should consider whether the term Rolodex that you may have used for a long time would better be called your address book. If you don't know what Angry Birds refers to, or the nuance of the phrase "just put a ring on it" then it is best to just not refer to them.

Also, be on the lookout for terminology you may use out of habit but may no longer make sense. For example, I hear people say "ABC is the gold standard." Given that there has not been a gold standard for 80 years, maybe a better reference is in order.

Tip: It's OK to have your own terms and figures of speech. They help identify who you are and reflect something about your history, how you see the world and that you are not trying to be something you are not. And, unless a contemporary term is materially more precise or richer than a traditional term, why would you give up the power of your "old" word or phrase for a "new" one?

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  consulting terminology  learning  reputation 

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#607: Capture the Power of User Stories

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Although all consultants would agree that some diagnostics and articulation of customer wants and needs are appropriate in most engagements, there is a lot of room to debate whether we really need some of the more detailed (and expensive) requirements analyses. What are some ways to simplify the process and reduce its time and cost?

Part of our value of as consultants is not just to improve the client’s condition but to also make the improvement process itself efficient. One way to do this is to streamline the upfront activities that inform us of where the client needs to go from a customer standpoint. This is where user stories come can be extremely useful. Created for agile software development, they are adaptable and quite useful for many projects.

User stories often take the place of a more extensive requirements document. Instead of detailing the functions and features of the desired product or service, a user story explains the customer's role and desired outcome and the benefit it confers. They are informal, short statements of a single concept. The format is something like, "As a [role], I would like to have [outcome] so that I get [benefit]." For example, "As a sales representative, I would like to get hourly downloads of stock data so I can advise prospects in real time." This type of statement, combined with user stories for other roles and outcomes assures that the customer perspectives are defined and the outcomes and benefits can be ranked and inconsistencies surfaced.

Each informal, short use story can then be assigned a likely time and resources required to produce that outcome and benefit. The collection of stories (10-20 or more may be reasonable depending on the complexity of the effort and likely time to complete) can then be arrayed for design and implementation.

Tip: User stories are a powerful way to cut to the heart of the customer needs and define the successful result. It focuses on the users and their priorities rather than the requirements document, which is more about the product or service development process. There may be a time for more detailed requirements, but only for some aspects of the change process and only as needed.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  customer understanding  diagnosis  engagement management 

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