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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 

#241: Best in (Whose?) Class

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, February 15, 2010
Updated: Monday, February 15, 2010
My clients always want me to conduct benchmarking studies and help them be a world-class company. For most, there is no way they will soon, if ever, be world-class. How should I let them down gently?

You had me right up to "let them down gently." Organizations vary widely in both their current capabilities and their potential. Our job as management consultants is to help them improve as much as possible within their (steadily improving) capabilities. We help most by being clear and realistic about their path to improvement. Implying that they will never be world-class contradicts the experience of many companies who originally never seemed to be world-class prospects. Despite its bumps along the way, for example, Hewlett Packard started in a garage and has become a widely admired company.

When a company talks about being best in class, we should be clear that this means best in a specific class, not best in all classes. If you are a small nonprofit, do your benchmarking on similar size and function organizations, not multinationals with no similarities with your client's current or near-term capabilities.

Tip: It is easiest to focus on exemplar organizations when creating scenarios for a company. For example, describe the desired improvement in sales function to be like Company X, the capability for innovation like Agency Y, and the governance like Company Z. These should all be organizations whose current operations are realistic targets. You can always raise the bar after you have made some progress. Depending on the effectiveness of your advice and their follow through, who's to say they can't eventually become world-class?

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  consultant role  customer understanding 

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#237: Turning Down Business

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, February 9, 2010
I am now at the point in my consulting life where I can't handle all the business coming at me. What is the best way to turn these assignments down?

Although most consultants want to secure as much business as possible, sometimes you can be offered more work than you can handle. If turning down work is a necessity, you must find a way to do so without alienating the client (and perhaps running the risk of losing out on future business opportunities with them). Here are some suggestions:
  1. Express regret for not being able to take on the additional assignment at this time. Let the prospect know how much, under normal circumstances, you would enjoy working with them and that you would really like to have another opportunity to work with them once your schedule frees up a bit. You might even provide a date when this might be (e.g., "I am currently on a heavy assignment, but work is expected to wrap on that in 3 weeks. If you have some flexibility, perhaps we can re-schedule this work for then.")
  2. Avoid taking the "full bucket" view (i.e., once the bucket is full, no additional water can be added.) What if you could drain some of the existing water out of the bottom of the bucket and replace it with some fresh, high quality H2O? In other words, consider carefully if this is truly an assignment that you want to turn down. Take a "whole system" approach, evaluating all of your current assignments. Perhaps this is the type of work you have been striving for! If so, look at some of your other, less significant (or no longer desirable) assignments and see if there is a potential to scale back on those (once your immediate responsibilities on each have been fulfilled).
  3. Offer the prospect an alternative (smaller scope, extended timeframe, off-hours work, limited deliverable.) They can always say "No", but at least you offered them an option.
  4. Refer them to other trusted and qualified consultants.
Tip: When turning down work, treat your client with the same level of care and respect as you do when you readily accept an assignment. Do your best to defer, re-prioritize, offer alternatives or refer your client's request rather than give an unqualified "No" to their proposal.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  engagement management  planning  referrals  sales  your consulting practice 

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#213: Helping Clients with Speeches

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, January 6, 2010
This is a new one for me. My client asked if I would help her write a "State of the Company" speech to her employees, to be delivered at the annual holiday party. This is not my forte and, although it was nice to be asked, it is outside the scope of my engagement so I don’t want to spend uncompensated time on it.

While it may not be a part of your scope, there is probably no more gratifying request from a client than to help summarize where the company has been, is now and is going. This reflects her trust in your understanding of the organization and your judgment in where it will or might go. Whether you are in strategy or operations, technology or governance, human resources or marketing, your insights are requested in one of the most important communications with staff. A cynical view might consider this just passing off a task she doesn't want to do, but you probably already know whether this is true or not.

You mention that it is not your strong suit to help with speeches. Be up front with her about how you think you can best contribute. While you may not consider yourself capable of writing the speech yourself, you can certainly provide talking points as input, serve as a reviewer of the text, or comment on the dry run. As to it requiring extra time, you will have to make a judgment whether you consider this offer to better understand your client as a commercial transaction or an opportunity to strengthen the relationship.

Tip: Consider this an affirmation of her trust in you and respect for your opinion. This is an opening to strengthen your service to her and the company by thinking more broadly than the scope of your original engagement, perhaps even revealing areas in which you could provide additional services.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  client relations  communication  consultant role  goodwill  presentations 

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#211: Are You a Desk Potato?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, January 4, 2010
Updated: Monday, January 4, 2010
The advance of technology has created less need to be on site with clients, and many more clients are just as happy with web sessions or phone calls, especially for those that otherwise would have to pay my travel. As a result, I am spending far more time in the office than I used to. Is there any problem with this?

I suspect this trend is true for many consultants except for those with significant hands-on interaction with staff or whose practice requires their physical presence. If the nature of your practice is advising clients in discussion, transferring information, or providing instruction to staff, it makes sense to both you and the client to do this in the most efficient manner possible. To some extent, virtual consultation even has more time flexibility that scheduling a site visit, since last minute conflicts can be accommodated more easily for a virtual meeting than if you had arrived by airplane for the meeting.

Don't just accept this trend. Even those it may save you and the client money, provides more flexibility, and may even be more efficient, you are losing client intimacy and a lot of information that you can only get from a site visit. Your personal relationship (remember that consulting is a relationship business) with your client is forged as much in the "outside the meeting" or social time as in the meetings.

Tip: Make regular face-to-face visits with your clients, both engagement sponsor and staff, a priority. Their trust in you is based on more than just the advice and information you provide from afar.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  client relations  communication  customer understanding 

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#192: When Your Win/Loss Ratio Seems Low

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, December 8, 2009
I have been losing a lot of prospective engagements lately. Even when the clients specifically call me to see what I can do for them, the ratio of wins to losses is way down.

There is certainly a lot of competition in the market today and, as the economy starts to recover, the consulting market has not yet hit bottom. Although various consulting markets are on their own schedules relative to the economy, generally consulting lags the business cycle by one or two quarters. When the economy started down, the consulting market was still relatively good. Now that the economy is picking up, clients are still cautious about engaging consultants. This is especially true in markets where management salaries are being cut and staff laid off. It is hard to justify to staff why a company is paying consultants when staff is being cut back (even if this is a logical investment from a business standpoint).

At a minimum, don't get upset by your win/loss ratio. Remember that George Washington only won three of the nine major US Revolutionary War battles he commanded. He knew that some losses were acceptable against unfavorable conditions. He was positioning himself for battles he knew he could win, even though he knew he needed to at least partially engage in battles he would probably lose.

Tip: Focus on the types of engagements that play to your strength but more so to the emerging needs of clients. Instead of thinking about what consulting services you prefer to provide, consider what services your clients need most to emerge from the recession in a stronger position. Pay attention to their reasons for why they can't use your traditional services right now. Turn a rejection of your services into a learning opportunity.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  customer understanding  learning  marketing  proposals  prospect  sales 

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