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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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#133: Is There a Book in You?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I see lots of consultants have written books and this alone seems to give them instant credibility. Is it worth the trouble?

Thirty years ago, when the barriers to publishing were substantially higher, being the author of a book did bring substantial credibility. Not so much these days, although it depends what you want the book to do for you.

First, do you have anything compelling to say? Having only the desire to write a book, much less to write it for notoriety alone, is insufficient reason to sit down at the keyboard and start typing. Look at the compelling and timeless business or consulting books around – there are not a lot of them. Now look at the business books that Amazon lists of $0.01 and have hundreds of used copies for sale. A book about consulting may look good in your marketing materials, but assume that people may check out how good your book it is. Instead of a reputation booster, it may well be the opposite, and once it is published, you can't take it back.

One good way to know if you have a book in you is to see how you feel when you read other books about consulting or listed to "experts" in your industry or discipline. If you are well versed in the industry or discipline and strongly disagree with many of these people, or you think the ways they explain processes or trends are off the mark, or you have something innovative in your work that clients have repeatedly found valuable and for which you are getting a good reputation, then you have the kernel of a book. Given this potential value, however, your vehicle may not be a book, but workshops, speeches, articles, ezines, blog or case studies. If you are not generating solid and useful services in high demand as a consultant, a book will not create that demand. Better to spend your time developing your business than struggling with a book.

Tip: Don’t take this as arguing against books entirely. A book may be an OK vehicle, but consider where it fits in your overall business plan. Books are good to launch a speaking career but it is hard to compile speeches into a book. Blogs are best if you have a steady stream of ideas about emerging trends, for which a book is the wrong vehicle. Yet, a collection of blogs may make a good compilation, ezine or book. There are so many books (almost 1,000 books are published each day in the US, plus an unknown number of self published books) that you will be fighting an uphill battle for recognition. The business of publishing is changing rapidly (e.g., print on demand) and, as great a consultant as you are, take advantage of the expertise of agents. They know the market, the process and the scenario your book idea will take.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  intellectual property  knowledge assets  marketing  reputation 

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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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#130: Overcoming Fee Objections

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, September 11, 2009
Updated: Friday, September 11, 2009
What do I do about the increasingly frequent, "I'm sorry, we just don't have the budget to fund this project right now" response to a well reasoned and sorely needed offer of assistance to a client?

The budget closing objection is similar to several others, including the implicit objection that your price is too high for the work or value proposed. It is about perceived value. This can result from not talking to the person who will benefit directly from your intervention, thus a lower perceived value than you want. Second, you may be facing a competitive pressure from other vendors of services, even attorneys, accountants and engineers, all of whom may be facing market pressures to lower their fees. Third, this may just be a negotiation technique to see how much money the client can save (we are not the only ones who use "closing techniques").

Assuming you are talking to the qualified buyer and the one whose problem you are solving, it is critical to find out how much your services are worth to the client. One way is to not beat around the bush and just ask, "I understand you are cutting back on many investments, so tell me how much budget is available to improve sales efficiency by 20% (or whatever you are proposing)?" If the answer is "none" then your conversation under these terms is pretty much over. Either another service, another outcome or another buyer is called for. If they say "around $40,000," then you can, without cutting your daily fee if you are charging on a time and materials basis, start the discussion about trimming services to available budget. You should always be prepared with alternative formulations of your project (e.g., what could you do for 25%, 75% and 150% of your proposed fee).

Tip: Budget objections are always tied to value. If your client was sued, they wouldn't say, "We just don't have the budget to defend ourselves," or if there was an office flood, they wouldn't say, "We can't afford to clean up the damage." Your services just need to be altered to find that value.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  customer understanding  marketing  proposals  prospect 

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#129: Remember That "The Decision Maker" May be More than Just One Person

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, September 10, 2009
This has happened twice in the past year: I reach an agreement with a prospect on a project, only to be told that "the management team" or "a project review committee" has decided not to go ahead. How can I keep this from happening?

There are two likely sources of this outcome. One is that you were really not talking to the fully qualified buyer. If someone does not have the authority to "issue the order" to start your engagement, then you should find the person who does. However, the model of a single qualified buyer may be flawed. It may be that the person was qualified as an individual but that, in your case, the decision does not rest with a single individual. If "the management team" is making the decision, you need to be addressing the team, or at least the most influential members of the team, with your proposed value and approach.

Tip: If a board of directors or management team is making the decision to retain you, see if you can get some time in front of the entire group before the decision is made. This gives you some sense of who members are as individuals, their decision style, how they interact, and (hopefully) their disposition to using consultants and their attitudes about the situation or problem you propose to address. In addition to collecting market intelligence about the organization, issue and decision makers, it may be appropriate for you to presell or discuss your proposed approach or value with the board. Don't leave it to your prospect as an individual to convey your message to the decision making body as a whole.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  market research  marketing  proposals  prospect 

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#127: How Many Brands Does A Consultant Need?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, September 8, 2009
I am a Gen Y consultant and I don't really have a brand other than myself, which I am OK with. Why do I need a company brand when the client is buying my services mostly for me and not my company?

Perceptions brand value vary, and nowhere more than when considering how generations look at brands. Ther are three major types of brand for a consultant. Each may resonate differently depending on your type of practice and relationships with your clients. First is professional, often designated by a degree, license or certification. An MBA or PhD, for example, may be prized or denigrated, depending on a client's perceptions of the value of academic degrees. Professional certifications and government licenses are generally recognized as validating experience, knowledge and practical accomplishment (e.g., MD, PE, CMC, ATR for pilots).

Second are institutional brands. For most of the later 20th century, who you worked often for carried more weight than who you were as an individual or your academic or professional pedigree. You've heard the expression, "No one ever got fired for hiring XXX"? Many consulting firms used to be, and some still are, strong brands. However, following a series of ethical and management lapses in large firms, including more than a few consulting firms, a company name alone no longer automatically carries the weight it once did.

The third brand is the personal brand. Although the rise of social networking and the "always on and public" style of Gen Yers is described as overly narcissistic by Boomers and some Gen Xers, there is something to be said for making a name for yourself beyond just your profession and institution. Because we are more mobile, staying at one company, and often one career, only a short time. Your most enduring brand may just be your personal one. Although a personal brand changes as your circumstances and interests change, it is more under your control than when the professional/institutional brands affected by company scandal or professional ethical lapses.

Tip: It is never to soon to begin forging a personal brand. Certainly, it takes more time and effort than did an institutional and professional brands. Once you took a job or achieved your certification, you were all set for those brands. Creating and maintaining a personal brand takes more forethought and effort. Make it a priority to have other people know you first as you, rather than classifying you as the ___ (insert certification or degree here) who works for ___ (insert organization here).

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  brand management  marketing  publicity  reputation 

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