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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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#968: Offering a Guarantee on Your Services

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Recognizing that some clients are risk-averse in buying intangible services, I am wondering if it makes sense for me to offer some sort of "satisfaction guarantee" for my consulting services.

This is a common discussion among consultants and one that bridges two perspectives of the nature of consulting services. On the one hand, a consultant is delivering a professional service based on experience, best practices, and a commitment to the current client's interests. Consultation is not a manufactured product that can be created with a standardized process to narrow tolerances and tested for conformance. Much of the outcomes of a consultation, especially implementation of recommendations, are not under the control of the consultant. A consultant is responsible for diagnosis and recommendations; the client is responsible for accepting (or not) those recommendations and implementing them. In such cases, it is unreasonable to hold a consultant fully accountable for the impact of their services.

On the other hand, clients reasonably assume they are receiving high quality services, grounded in a consultant's professional competence and ethics. Consultants are frequently castigated for promising to provide services for which they are not qualified or making unfeasible implementation recommendations. A professional consultant, one who is committed to ethical practices and continuous improvement in consulting skills and behaviors, can promise that the diagnostic, analytic, and recommendation phases of an engagement are competently provided. These conditions are usually sufficient to assure a client that the services received for a fee, despite being customized and intangible in nature, can reasonably be expected to meet their expectations.

The point, however, is to what extent a consultant should offer to give up fees for services the client feels are unsatisfactory or offer to repeat services until a client is satisfied. Assuming a client is not trying to take advantage of a consultant, this issue comes down to what an explicit agreement between consultant and client as to what the client is buying. Clients are looking for a good outcome, of which a consultant's professional recommendations are only one part. The services are in the recommendation, not the outcome.
 
Tip: To avoid the unpleasant situation of a client refusing to pay for services rendered, have an explicit discussion of what you are providing. Relate this to a visit to a doctor, where your paying for the visit is not contingent on the diagnosis you receive. As long as you are providing competent and ethical services, you should not start down the path of offering to keep redoing services until a client is satisfied. There are strong opinions on both sides of this issue, but to offer refunds raises the issue in a client's mind that you are not completely confident of your professional skills and value of service.
 

Tags:  client  client service  fees  marketing  reputation  sales 

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#966: Make Yourself Memorable While Networking

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, January 16, 2009
Updated: Sunday, January 18, 2009
Networking gets to be a pain and what I am beginning to consider a time waster. Although I know it is essential, I am not getting any traction. How can I get more people to stay "in network"?

There are plenty of books and webinars and consultants from whom you can learn the tricks of effective networking so I won't go into the details of those techniques. Needless to say, there are skills and behaviors to be learned for effective networking. There are very few of us who are "born networkers."

A network is a two part process. You want to remember people so you can provide them with referrals, information, and advice, as well as being remembered by them for the same reasons. With more than 90% of business cards collected at networking events thrown away with 48 hours, there is more to being remembered than passing out a card and engaging in small talk.

Tip: Develop a few (memorable) stories about a time when you shone as a consultant. Stories, ones with a setting, protagonist (you), antagonist (the client's problem) and a resolution, all with some clever twists an turns, will remain for years with one who hears it. I can remember stories and the people who told them from a decade ago. I also clearly remember the person, where I met them, what they look like and what services they provide, and how these services are tied to their stories. Another individual's bland elevator pitch is lost to memory, and the event was only a month ago. Consider having several compelling stories for different audiences.
 

Tags:  marketing 

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#964: Making Your Email Signature Work For You

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, January 14, 2009
I am looking for new ways to increase the visibility of my consulting practices. I have tried blogs, a quarterly newsletter, participating in online and local business communities, and working with nonprofits on a pro bono basis. Each of these work well on a sustained basis but what else do you suggest?

Those all sound like plausible ways to get exposure. Each of these work differently for different people and for different types of practices. The one thing that affects how successful these tactics are is the effective amount of exposure you get and how well recipients understand and trust your message. Pro bono work, beyond the intrinsic value of supporting your community, is only effective in showing people your public service commitment and your expertise if enough people know about it and your contribution usefully shows your consulting expertise. Newsletter and blog subscription base are the same. Getting people to know you, trust you and hear from you a lot is the key.

Many of us under use one avenue of exposure that may be one of the most effective. It is your email signature. You send it out every day to dozens of people with whom you have some kind of relationship. The message you would like to give is one that makes it clear why someone should use your services, tells them how to use them, and makes it easy to access you. Spend a day or two looking at some of the email signatures you receive. You will see some with just a name/email/phone, but you don't really know what services the person provides. Others say what they do but not how services are available - consulting, workshops, training, through products? Finally, some have email addresses or websites that are not linked or have broken links. Why make it hard on the recipient, whose attention you have, to buy your services?

Tip: Do a little thinking and looking at emails of other consultants with whom you correspond. What constitutes an effective email such that you know clearly what they do, how you can access it (even possibly an encouragement to do so) and provides the fastest and easiest way to get to you or at least learn more? Every few months, vary the email to keep it fresh, update with new content relevant to emerging issues in the market, and get some feedback from colleagues about how effective they think the signature is.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  marketing 

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#954: Order Before Midnight! - The Place for Incentives in Professional Services

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 31, 2008
In tough economic times, many businesses provide incentives for buyers of their products and services. As unseemly as it might be for professional services providers to offer such inducements, does doing so make any sense?

Never say never. A decade or two ago, no lawyer or doctor would dream of advertising their services. Now it is commonplace, and, in some cases, rather dog eat dog. Management consulting firms never used to advertise but now magazines (mostly business), television (usually public channels) and sporting events (of course, mostly the more "refined" sports like golf and tennis) are home to ads of big name firms.

As for incentives, they come in all forms. An incentive is any tactic, financial or otherwise, used to make a buyer select your product over another. In a sense, we all use incentives already. Although maybe not a rebate or discount on fees, it might be a modest free consultation, white paper, access to our research, or inclusion in a semi exclusive special group. These range in impact from economic (free) to social (being a member of a group). When economic conditions create pressure on substitutable services (i.e., your services are not unique and may be pressed into becoming a commodity), many consultants should consider some form of differentiation, even if it means an incentive of some kind.

Tip: Consider what drives buyer behavior in your market. For many in tough economic times, it is not so much sticker price but the aversion to making a mistake and wasting money or time. Any incentive you can provide that reduces perceived risk and begins to contribute some value to a prospective or current client will be appreciated. Be creative without diminishing the perceived value of your core services (i.e., don't cut your fees). For example, think about a loyalty program for your best clients (maybe invite them as your guest to an IMC program) or participation in a industry executives roundtable (invite a dozen executives to meet one another at a hosted dinner to discuss a specific topic in your industry, which you would facilitate). Well-designed incentives can really work for consultants.

© 2008 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  fees  marketing  prospect 

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#951: Is Now the Time to Increase My Rates?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, December 26, 2008
Updated: Sunday, December 28, 2008
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 increased 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."

© 2008 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  fees  marketing  practice management 

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