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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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#138: Buyers Want More than Just Knowledge from Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I ran across a recent survey about why clients buy consulting services that I think Daily Tips subscribers would find interesting

The Productivity Institute recently surveyed buyers of consulting services to find out what characteristics were most important in selecting a particular consultant. Unlike the 1970s through 1990s, when technical expertise was the key selection determinant, it seems that some other criteria are moving to the front. Given that 20-30 years ago performance improvement tended to be more about process and today it is more about human capital, it makes sense that consultant selection priorities may have changed

Survey respondents were asked to name the three characteristics they considered most important when hiring consultants. Over half selected as the most important criterion a consultant's communication skills, beating out what we have come to consider most important: being smart and honest. This may cause a bit of disbelief in many of us who pride ourselves on being, above all else, smart and ethical consultants.

The second most important characteristic was the ability to work with others. Having heard from many clients about consultants who came across as aloof or even arrogant, this makes sense. The third characteristic was experience. For over a decade, we have seen the increasing importance of interpersonal skills in helping diagnose, facilitate, discuss, cajole and exhort client staff to improve performance. Knowing the answer does no good if you can't get information from clients and stakeholders, explain your findings, or encourage staff to embrace your recommendations.

Tip: The assessment of your interpersonal skills starts with your first interaction with the client organization. This means being genuinely respectful to staff, learning all you can about the culture (not just digesting the annual report for data), and listening more than you talk when you meet with a prospect. Talk to current or past staff to get a sense of the place. If the prospect did his or her due diligence, you are probably qualified technically to perform. The initial interview is to see if you are in sync with the culture and the client. And this is just the first part. Future tips will address the nuances of consultant communication and how to engage with the culture of the client’s environment.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  client relations  communication  customer understanding  proposals  prospect  trends 

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#132: Testimonials

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, September 16, 2009
What kind of testimonials do clients find most compelling?

Remember that consultants sell competence but clients are buying for confidence. A testimonial is one way to lower the perceived risk that the intangible consulting services a client is about to buy are plausible, realistic and risk free (or at least "low risk"). While you, as a consultant, might like to hear about all the wonderful experience and skills you bring to the table, when you ask for a testimonial, think more about what a risk-averse executive or manager needs to hear.

First, consider the greatest value your clients have received. What have they said was the most important benefit you provided? Then build your testimonial around that. Consider including the following (in a sequence that works for you):
  • The project issue or challenge (the preamble for why consultant services were required)
  • The intended outcome of the engagement (the value provided)
  • The actual outcome (especially longer term, in unit terms of dollars, output, or other measure that might translate to a prospective client)
  • The reason the client selected your firm (this is the key element to convincing the next client why they should select you, and should include why any reservations were quickly overcome by your performance)
  • The core strength you brought to the project (what aspect of your firm's offering you want to highlight)
  • The reason the client selected you above other consultants (here is the second most important aspect of the testimonial to induce your prospect to select you)
Tip: There is some value to planning your "testimonial portfolio." Consider the range of compelling reasons you would like to place before a prospect. Since each testimonial can't realistically present all of these reasons, work with your client to create a testimonial that fills the gaps.

P.S. If you are soliciting a testimonial for a firm ratr than yourself, remember, clients are less impressed by a testimonial about a firm when it doesn't necessarily relate at all to the consultants proposed for an engagement. If possible, collect testimonials for the individual consultants on the team rather than the firm in general.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand management  client development  goodwill  marketing  proposals  prospect  referrals  reputation 

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#121: Will a Virtual Team Really Work Well Together?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, August 31, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, September 1, 2009
I have just completed a bid on a project for which we assembled a half dozen specialists. Only a few of us have ever worked together before and I have some concerns about our ability to work well together when the project starts.

As clients look more for the right expertise, whether or not it is in a single firm, virtual teams are becoming more common. It is often best to work with people whose ethics you trust and technical skills you respect and people with whom you have already worked. However, this is not always possible and, on some highly specialized tasks, you must assemble the best people even if you don't know them. This is usually the responsibility of the engagement manager, who plumbs his or her networks to create a team. There are two ways to get a sense of how well a virtual team is actually going to work.

First, to what extent do you trust the ethics and business skills of the engagement manager? Is this someone with whom you have worked before? Was anything said or done during the development of the project approach or costing that gave you pause about this person? Would you trust this person to take over one of your engagements and expect good client services from them with your best clients? If so, then you passed the first test.

Second, how was it to work with the other team members? Was it a professional experience, with clear and easy communication? Did each person deliver on their responsibilities and effort, or were some reluctant to do their share? Were they respectful and generous in their approach to offering criticism and suggestions? Even if you have never met them, can you create a mental picture of them with some comfort? If so, then this bodes well for a professional and productive engagement.

Tip: When you find yourself invited to participate in an engagement pursuit, make a mental (or written) list of the criteria you would use in selecting a business partner. As you begin to work with the virtual team in developing technical and costing approaches, check off which individuals meet your criteria and which ones fall short. If you are not getting any information about a particular person or about one of your important criteria, dig a little deeper. Soon, you will have a good idea whether your new teammates are ones you can trust and respect. If they come up short in several areas, reconsider (quickly) if being part of this team is in your best interest.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  collaboration  consulting colleagues  ethics  marketing  proposals  teaming  virtual teams 

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#96: Let Major Events at Your Prospect's Organization Guide Your Marketing

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, July 20, 2009
Keeping my pipeline full requires a large amount of time devoted to watching my industries and disciplines and for those trends for which I can create new consulting services. Are there any tricks to make this go faster?

Let's back up a second and talk about your basic premise for marketing and selling consulting services. What you are describing is the longer term component of marketing, the one related to positioning your capabilities for evolution of the market. This is not the most effective, or efficient, way to secure new engagements in the near term. Organizations are looking for professional service providers to address their current problems and opportunities. Your approach will certainly help them think of you for an issue that comes up in the future but less so for today's crises. Consider focusing on the crisis just announced this morning, even better one that has yet to break in the news, as your entry point into an organization.

For example, the US Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced today that it is awarding $55 million in grants for construction of new scientific facilities at universities in Houston, Auburn, Wilmington and Miami. If you are a facilities management, design or project management consultant, here is an announcement that should trigger your search for active players in these decisions to whom you can offer your valued services. These points in a manager's life are highly emotional, either by fear or desire, in which your services are most likely to resonate. Using these events as your marketing focus is more effective than what may or may not come in the future.

Tip: Select your target industries or companies and subscribe to news notification services that suit your needs and price range. You may use Google Alerts, Factiva, and LEXIS-NEXIS, and dozens of other services. Once you have mastered how to use these high level sources, begin to use sources that go deeper into emerging news such as industry newsletters and business sources that conduct interviews with executive and business unit managers.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  market research  marketing  planning  proposals  sales 

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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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