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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 

#715: Look Deeper Than Just the Headlines For Business Facts

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, December 9, 2011
Updated: Saturday, December 10, 2011
If small businesses are the principal source of job creation in the US, should consultants be focusing their efforts on small vs. large businesses?

A fundamental understanding of statistics is essential for every consultant to be able to tease the truth from the headlines. It is common to see articles, reports and pundits talk about how one segment of the economy generates most of the jobs. Recently either government, healthcare, small business, energy or technology are sectors with the most economic activity and thus job growth. Usually a graph or a single number will accompany that statement and a lot of philosophy about why the data will lead to a conclusion about the future of that sector.

If we took these proclamations at face value we would be possibly misleading our clients if we were advising them on where to invest. We need to bring a critical eye and logic to this interpretation. Consider the recent news that small businesses created all net job growth over the past decade. The NFIB published a graph on Page 1 of U.S. Private Sector Employment by Size of Payroll that seems to prove the point. Without further investigation, it seems clear: consultants should be looking more closely at small companies to support their active growth.

But looking a little deeper reveals the flaw in this interpretation. It is not small businesses that create most jobs but young businesses (by definition, most new businesses are small). But, we are not done yet. When we separate the newly formed from young businesses, it becomes clear that is new businesses that create almost all the jobs. Furthermore, the younger a business is the higher net job loss it creates. Far more complicated than the dominant headlines would indicate, right? See an enlightening analysis of these data.

Tip: Whether we are looking for new markets for our services or are advising clients on emerging (or declining) markets, consultants need to bring their skeptics hat and a competent statistical capability to interpreting reported data.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting skills  market research  methodology  statistics 

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#713: Don't Take Your Client's Assessments at Face Value

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Almost every engagement starts with the assumptions of the client about the problem, its causes and at least some suggestion of its solution. I don't want to be disrespectful but to what extent do we consider the client's assertions valid as a basis to start our work?

This is a great question, since it lies at the heart of the consultant's value or lack thereof. Presumably we are retained to provide independent and objective advice. This includes testing the assumptions of the client. As Will Rogers said," It ain't what we know that's the problem. It's what we know that just ain't so." If the client's assertions about the cause, problem and solution are right, then why are our experience and judgment needed at all? You are not insulting your client by validating his or her assertions - it is why you are there.

Another issue is whether a client's staff, or vendors or customers, should be considered the same way. Many organizations have a culture that represents that management doesn't know what is going on but staff really does. Or that the customer is always right - regardless of what an organization thinks of the services or products they provide.

Here is a good example of how perceptions vary widely within a company. According to a study of how companies work, managers see their companies as self-governing and egalitarian. Employees see nothing of the sort. How would you advise organizational change if you faced a client with perceptions internally differing as much as in this survey? DO you believe the management or the employees, or neither?

Tip: Consultants would be wise to treat information or emotions or conclusions provided to them at the start of an engagement as just that - firmly held beliefs of the source. All information needs to be verified and we, as independent and objective professionals, do well by not taking anything at face value.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  client staff  communication  consulting process  customer understanding  engagement management  learning  market research 

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#706: Build Innovation Into Your Consulting Practice

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, November 28, 2011
Updated: Monday, November 28, 2011
I know that my consulting practice should be changing as fast as the businesses of my clients. I just don't have time to create new lines of service. Any ideas how to put a little more innovation into my practice?

Good question, and one many consultants don't ask themselves. Whether you call it staying fresh, ahead of the curve, or innovative, consultants must constantly create new value. Let's talk about how.

Your inspiration for innovation should come first from your clients, and those organizations you wish to serve. They are either in need of new services or are actually asking you for additional services. Be attentive to their needs and discuss possible new services with them. Be aware that your innovation can come from processes, technologies or culture, and it can be about how they do business or about how they are served by you or others.

The second source of innovation is from your colleagues and from consulting conferences. Members of your network are providing services that, with a few adaptations, could add to your own. Find a collection of consultants with diverse practices who discuss trends in consulting and are also looking to innovate. Conferences like Confab are great places to meet with senior consultants with whom you can develop new areas of interest and potentially team.

Tip: However you decide to innovate, do it through a steady process, whether you develop new areas of practice or are tweaking current ones. Take one of your primary services and spend a month improving it. Find a more effective way to describe your service to prospective and current clients (this might give you some ideas about what areas of value might be missing). Work on delivery mechanisms, taking advantage of new analytical technologies, communication approaches, or adult learning research. Ask colleagues for examples of how they provide similar services. Finally, ask your clients how you could improve your service - they will probably appreciate being asked, since so few consultants do so. Work on innovation; don't just wait for it to happen.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  efficiency  innovation  market research  process  product development  quality  technology 

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#700: Get Prospects to Return Your Calls

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, November 18, 2011
Updated: Friday, November 18, 2011
How do I get people with whom I am not currently doing work to return my phone call? When I get voice mail, I have a hard time finding the right words to compel the action of a return phone call.

People vary in their responsiveness. Most of us were raised to return all calls, but when you are out all day and return to 10 voice mails, we have to do some triage.

The first to get ignored are unsolicited requests or offers when there is not a clear benefit (usually someone wanting to sell me something they have no idea whether or not I need). I also don't answer ones where it is unclear what they want or the request is a long and rambling one. I usually get to all others eventually.

My suggestion for you is to script the voice message - I mean really write it down, not just go over it in your head. Follow the AIDA principle of marketing: Attention (why should I continue to listen to this voice mail?), Interest (is there something of relevance to me?), Desire (is this something I want?) and Action (what should I do to take advantage of the offer?). If a call is a request for my time without a hint that there is something in it for me, I am less likely to answer it.

You just need to know what is of interest to the person you called. Part of your script should be to clarify this. If you are soliciting business, how well do you understand the needs of the person you are calling? If you don't, they certainly know this and won't hear what they need to hear in your voice mail.

Tip: Leave a voice mail that proves to them that you are really interested in getting in touch with them. Leave them a date and time you will call back if you don't hear from them sooner, or tell them that you will send them a letter describing in more detail your intended discussion, and make sure you follow up.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  market research  marketing  prospect  sales 

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#692: Make the Case for Raising Your Rates

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 8, 2011
With downward pressure on prices in general, and consultant rates in particular, how likely is it that I will be able to raise my rates anytime soon?

Although overall economic strength or weakness may mean overall prices "should" increase or decrease, this has little to do with rates clients will pay for your consulting services. In theory, skills in short supply compel people needing them to pay higher prices. In theory. But that is only part of the story.

When the economy changes, the types of services in demand also change. Don't confuse supply with demand. Just because there aren't many other consultants doing what you do doesn't mean that the demand remains high. Sometimes the demand declines along with supply.

Increasing your rates requires you to make the case to prospects and clients that your services will make them and their business more productive. When the economy slows, there are needs for new or different types of services. Your credibility to provide those services is your validation of your greater value.

Tip: Talk to your clients about specifically what has changed in their short term needs. Look at the trade press for points of pain for companies in your area of specialization. For example, for companies with tightened credit or decreased cash flows, how can you recast your services to alleviate these challenges? For example, if your area of specialty is training, often a discretionary expenditure for companies, recast your training to show how your training will increase employees' abilities to sell more products and increase cash flow. Show the direct link between increasing cash flow to increase profitability in the emerging economy and your ability to increase employee productivity through usable skills. Be fully prepared for any argument that your services are worth less because "the economy is slow."

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  fees  intellectual property  market research  marketing  proposals  reputation 

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