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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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#250: Beware Careful When Using the Word "New"

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, February 26, 2010
Lots of consultants describe their recommendations as "new" hoping to draw a distinction between the "old" way of doing things and the "improved" way. As mentioned in an earlier tip, be sensitive in selecting your words as they can sometimes have unforeseen negative consequences.

Unless the organization you are working with is about to go out of business, the word "new" can be interpreted as a criticism of what was previously put in place (i.e., what got them where they are now was "old" or "conventional" practices). As a client, I am not looking to simply discard what I've spent years developing. I am looking to build on it and improve. The word "new" can suggest that the client has been using the wrong approach up until now. It can suggest wasted opportunities and poor management. It also set up the client’s expectations for a significant change (and the impact of such a change on the It may even signify to the client that you can't understand their organization). In most cases, the client is seeking solutions with the least effort, quickest implementation, least impact and lowest risk to the organization. Therefore, be careful when you classify your recommendations as new, dramatically different, or as a total overhaul.

Tip: Instead, validate their previous accomplishments and innovations, and emphasize how your suggestions will improve on their existing process. Always remember that words matter!

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  communication  consulting terminology  customer understanding 

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#249: Asking Questions

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, February 25, 2010
Updated: Friday, February 26, 2010
When asking questions of a client or prospect, how you word the inquiry gets very different responses. Take a simple question to determine whether or not your recommendation is a) in fact, feasible, b) will meet with resistance or receptivity, or c) requires additional input from staff.

Consider the different wayts to phrase your questions:
  • "Is this something you can do?" (This wording is looking for the client’s approval and encourages their judgment on its feasibility).
  • "What are the challenges in doing this?" (This wording basically assumes that the approach you are discussing is the right one, but provides the client with an opportunity to voice concerns. It might reveal both the real and political issues surrounding your approach).
  • "What are the best approaches for doing this?" (This makes the assumption that your approach is, in fact, correct. It asks for suggestions on a specific methodology or process for accomplishing the task).
  • "Who should be responsible for managing this effort?" (This makes the assumption that your approach is correct, and you already have a specific methodology or process for accomplishing the task. This might help to uncover previously unknown organizational issues, if any).
Tip: Think about who to ask first, what to ask, how to ask, when to ask, and most importantly, why you are asking. Asking the right question will help you to serve your clients more effectively. Nobody said consulting was easy, but it is fun and challenging.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  consulting process 

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#248: Cold Calling for Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, February 24, 2010
I have read in previous tips that you don't advocate cold sales calls. Why?

Because the alternatives are better. Cold calls work best to "find" a possible customer, e.g., insurance, telephone service, air conditioning services ... mostly commodity type services. But the rejection rate is extraordinarily high (though it can be time efficient for those commodities when using low cost screening techniques). We are professional consultants. Our audiences are higher level professionals with whom we want to make a rational, if not emotional, connection. Telemarketing consulting services do not send the right message.

Preferable is the "warm" call. Trade off your lack of an existing relationship with a prospect for a compelling reason for them to talk to you. Do your research, either on the company or the industry. Give the person an intriguing, no obligation opportunity to get something at no risk and no (except for their time) cost. Let them know of the work you have done and ask if they have considered applying that in a specific (this is the key) place in their current operations. Don't just say "I do XXX, and wonder if you could use something like that at ABC Inc." Tell them that you have been reading that they are having a hard time/or looking for an opportunity and you have some experience with this, and it occurred to you that if their XYZ division, which according to their annual report has declined in new product introductions for the past three years, could introduce PQR in first shift plants, you could show how to . . ."

Tip: Give something to the prospect that demonstrates that you are interested in their company and your capabilities/results are applicable. This is the first foray into building trust. Remember, there is a lot more "free" to compete with than ever before and you need to participate in that. The cold call comes off as "I want something from you,” which comes across a costing them a lot more than free.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  client service  customer understanding  market research  marketing  proposals  prospect  sales  trends 

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#247: Delivering Bad News

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, February 23, 2010
It is never pleasant to deliver bad news to your client. So what can you do?

Remember that the very nature of bad news usually means you, as a consultant, have learned something valuable. Perhaps you found out what went wrong or have unfortunately discovered that an expected remedy was not, in fact, really the solution you were looking for. You might finally have discovered the root cause of the problem, an unexpected shortfall, unforeseen rejects, a lack of sales, etc. Regardless of the negative impact, it usually represents a valuable learning or discovery.

Instead of starting with, "I have some bad news. We have a problem," try to accentuate the positive impact of the discovery. "I am glad to report we have finally identified the root cause of problem. My team plans to have 3 -5 specific recommendations to remedy the problem by the end of the week."

Tip: When identifying a problem to your client, it is critical to either providing (a) a plan for rectifying the problem, or (b) a specific timeframe for delivering a plan for remedy.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  communication  values 

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#246: Serving on Boards as a Consultant

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, February 22, 2010
Updated: Monday, February 22, 2010
In a previous tip you mentioned getting active in association committees/boards. Frankly I have found them time consuming and pretty much a waste of time. What am I missing?

Putting time and effort into an activity that is not income producing is seen by some consultants as a waste of time when they could be billing. I think this misses the point of professionalism for several reasons. First, income is not the full test of value of activities (sleep is not income producing but we do it anyway). Serving in a capacity that mimics the circumstances of our clients is incredibly invaluable to build insight, skills and credibility. When you have to walk in your client's shoes for a bit, you become a better consultant.

Second, part of your obligation as a professional is to give back to your profession and community. Others judge your refusal to make this contribution as a statement of your position on the selfish-altruistic scale. I know clients who assume their prospective consultants are qualified in skills and experience but base their hiring decision on participation in professional and community activities.

Tip: Especially when it comes to governing boards, consultants are not always welcome. Not that you can't bring a great deal of perspective and experience. It's just that this is governance and not a management function. Many consultants just can't take the advice hat off and assume a governance role. If you can't do this, then you need to find another way to contribute. Talk with your sponsor about your attitude and areas you can best support your organization and cause. There is a place where you can make a difference, both to the organization you serve and to yourself.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  community service  consultant role  customer understanding  learning  professional development  professionalism  reputation 

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