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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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#260: The Meaning Behind Words in Client Conversations

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, March 12, 2010
Updated: Friday, March 12, 2010
All consultants assume they are being clear with clients, yet miscommunications still occur. Are there any common miscues that we might not be aware of?

Past Tips (#24, #54, #958) have discussed the importance of language and nomenclature in your communication with clients. We need to be especially clear for two reasons. First, we are consultants and have a set of terms and concepts related to management and consulting that may not be familiar to clients and staff. Second, we are communicating condensed and well thought out concepts and recommendations to clients, having put in far more thought than they have. In this latter communication, having had the advantage of working out the details of a finding or recommendation, we can quickly run past even the sharpest client in a conversation.

Perhaps equal to or greater in importance than the content of your communication is the underlying messages that go with it. Stay with me on this one. Consultants, even when they are familiar to and trusted by a client, are in a unique relationship that carries with it a context for any conversation. You are not an employee, nor (usually) you are not a friend. You are by both implication and contract, someone who judges a client and their operations. The words you speak and write may be received favorably or not depending on how you say them. Subtle differences in phrasing can have a profound difference.

Tip: Take time early in the engagement to assess the level of acumen with business concepts, management terminology and how closely your client and staff are following your work. For example, fielding a survey that contains big words for simple concepts may create an opinion that (1) your work is beyond the ability of staff to understand or participate, or (2) that you are arrogant and out of touch. Your words may have been clear but in both cases the message you sent will compromise the effectiveness of your engagement. Better you should adopt the nomenclature, phrasing, and traditions of the organization in your client's culture - and work hard to understand the meaning behind their words - before you communicate your thoughts back to them. Watch closely and ask frequently about how your message was received, not just if your words were clear.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  business culture  client relations  communication  consulting terminology  customer understanding  goodwill 

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#259: What's Your Firm's Metaphor?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, March 11, 2010
Updated: Thursday, March 11, 2010
We are a new consulting firm building our practice in an extremely competitive market. We use all the typical marketing and branding techniques but this is not necessarily differentiating us. How might we stand out more?

If you truly are doing all the right things and doing them well, and presuming other firms are also, then one area to consider is the how much your brand resonates with prospects. Beyond asking your prospects pointed questions about what about your firm (or, since you are new, your sales pitch) catches on with them or is memorable, ask yourself what metaphor your firm has selected to wrap around your brand. Non-consulting firms often select a metaphor around which to mount a sales campaign or product line, but relatively few consultants use this approach to create a clear and consistent image, and your doing so may make you more memorable.

Pick a metaphor with which you can be authentic based on your local culture, industry or consulting discipline. A war metaphor (e.., I win and other lose) is inappropriate for a consulting firm in which your objective is to help clients, not to beat out your consulting competitors. However, metaphors of a family, a multiplayer game, an ecosystem, various sports

Tip: If you intend to use a sports metaphors, think carefully about the character of each sport. Baseball differs from football which differs from basketball, soccer, rugby, golf, etc. For example, football rarely has a player/coach. Baseball and tennis are played in defined units for which scoring is recorded and restarts with the next unit. Hockey players play offense and defense while football offensive and defensive players are separate.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand management  customer understanding  marketing 

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#258: Keeping Up With Your Industry

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Updated: Thursday, March 11, 2010
I have a small practice and try to read about my industry but don't have the money for research reports and special studies. Is there a less expensive source than these market research studies that cost thousands of dollars each (some of which are of questionable value)?

This shouldn't be a secret but it seems that few people know about it. Every public company, and many private ones, publishes an annual report. It contains financial information, news about the company history, major initiatives, people, partners, sometimes identifies suppliers and vendors, and often shows images of facilities. These are available for free, either online or in hard copy. You should never be having a conversation with a prospect, or a client, without having thoroughly digested at least the annual report.

To get an understanding of an industry, look up your target company in a marketing information service like at Hoovers where it lists the "top" companies in the industry (by revenue, product sales, number of employees, growth rate or other criteria). Request the annual report of each of the companies on that list and create our own "research report."

Tip: In almost every report is a section called the Management Letter, in which the company describes the key issues it faces, its investment and market philosophy and its perceived risks. These are a gold mine of insight into the company and, when compared across leading companies in the same market, give you your trends and research for which you didn't have to pay a cent.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  learning  marketing 

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#257: Anticipating Events & Outcomes

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, March 10, 2010
One of the key roles a consultant can play for a client is to anticipate alternative scenarios. What if my client doesn't want me to spend my time on this activity?

Consider the difference between perspectives and services you bring to an engagement as part of your core value and the specific billable services you provide during an engagement. The former a client expects you to have and provide as part of your core value, the latter he or she expects to pay for since it consumes your time and resources. If you talking about describing scenarios that you can do during a conversation or as part of creating a presentation, then the client won't be paying anything extra for it, and you should tell them so. It is a foundation of making sure they recognize your high value is partly based on your knowledge and insights into emerging trends in the industry, technology or markets. Don't let a client preclude you from demonstrating that value.

If, on the other hand, you are talking about doing market research or analysis that requires billable time or resources outside your current scope of work, then this is the client's prerogative. If you do feel that your consulting contribution may be compromised by the lack of scenario definition, then propose a specific scenario development scope change. But don't assume because you think it is important (and often is) that the client needs you to do it.

Tip: Compensated or not, regular discussions about alternative futures with your client are important. It is in these discussions you can explore possible roles for you or a referral to a colleague.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  consultant role  consulting process  market research  roles and responsibilities 

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#256: Wasn't That Included?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, March 8, 2010
Updated: Monday, March 8, 2010
How do I handle a client who has contracted with me for specific services and then asks for more saying, "I thought that was included?"

This underlines the importance of a key item found in our Code of Ethics — "I will mutually establish with my clients realistic expectations of the benefits and results of my services". The "setting of realistic expectations" for the prospect/client is a critical step to be performed at the outset of the engagement. Simply put, it is your responsibility as a consultant to ensure that your client/prospect fully understands what they are and aren't getting and specifically how additional work or services outside of the original project scope will be handled. One approach used by some is to build in some "as needed" additional services that could potentially be requested during the project and include them in your quotation/contract. These items might also lessen prospect anxiety in entering into an engagement (i.e., if this were to happen, you do not need to panic. If needed, this service will be provided without additional charge.)

Tip: Clarity is always critical in maintaining trust and goodwill between consultant and client. Since you can't always anticipate everything that is likely to come up over the life of a project, you might be well advised to work under the assumption that issues will undoubtedly arise periodically. Why not build in the opportunities (at pre-defined points in the project) for the client to be able to request unscheduled changes be made? Perhaps you can consider the offering of this flexibility as a value added component of your service and build the costs into your pricing.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  consultant role  ethics 

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