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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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#565: Choose Information Sources Carefully When Prospecting For New Business

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, May 13, 2011
Updated: Friday, May 13, 2011
My consulting firm focuses on improving operations but with, the economy starting to grow again, we see a lot of companies seeming to prefer expansion or acquisition of new facilities rather than improving current operations. With a diverse client base, how can we identify growth markets so we can best position ourselves?

You are right that what passes as a growth opportunity increasingly includes acquisition. During, the recent phase of the economic cycle, many companies hunkered down, trimmed staff and expenses and improved efficiency. Now it's time to pursue the prudent expansion (but still not much hiring) strategy. I infer that you are asking how your consulting firm can get a sense of where your clients might go next.

The particulars of your industry will dictate what regions might best suit your positioning needs, but there are several sources of information you might find useful. Many trade and business journals regularly publish articles describing the "best" places for business. These address different perspectives such as best to start a business, best for small business, best for green business, best places to reduce your taxes, etc. Each publication comes with its own perspective, data sources and (pay close attention to this) their own political perspective. One source's "best" may differ significantly from another's based on relative emphasis on work-life culture vs. taxes vs. support structure vs. innovation systems vs. education/training capacity vs. recent population or job growth/decline vs. housing and land prices, etc. Be clear what sources and perspectives you (and your target client) think relevant and the validity of their data sources and analysis before settling on any one "best" list.

Tip: Since you are going to be divining what is in the mind of executives at your client companies, look first at articles aimed at CEOs. An independent business publication or journal is probably more objective than gathering city or regional business marketing materials. For example, ChiefExecutive.net annually lists the best and worst states for business, at least according to their selected criteria.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  market research  planning  prospect  trends 

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#555: There are Pros and Cons of Consulting to "Widow-Makers"

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, April 29, 2011
Updated: Friday, April 29, 2011
I am starting an engagement with a new senior executive whose predecessors all seemed to self-destruct in short order before leaving the company. It is unclear whether they weren't up to the job or if the job itself is just one in which no one can succeed. I can't tell whether this is a good consulting opportunity or a bad one, given that the consultants to those departed executives are also no longer advising the company.

This is called a "widow-maker" position in an organization, so named because it defeats even the most capable executives (regardless of gender), as if it were predestined. Often the cause is a poorly designed job, created for some crisis or emerging trend, the resolution of which is poorly understood. Companies most susceptible to these positions are ones that are changing fast, whether they are growing, shrinking, entering new markets or adding capabilities or technologies. The Board or CEO sees a need and decides to vest its management in a new position and staff it with someone who has been successful in "similar" positions, although the new position is unlike any existing one.

How good this appears to a consultant at first is usually a function of your confidence. If you think you can improve any executive's performance, you will feel good about it. However, because the position is new, the consulting advice necessary to make it successful is also somewhat untested. Sure, you have some of the same skills and perspectives your new client has, and you may be able to significantly improve their chances of success. Conversely, your experience may not be enough to help rescue an executive whose responsibilities are poorly designed, whose job is inadequately resourced, or whose performance criteria are unreasonable.

So, it can be good or bad to consult to a "widow-maker" executive. The trick is to recognize whether or not your client falls into that category. And, remember, a change in responsibilities, economy, technology or corporate organization can thrust your client, and you, into a position where you are newly advising a widow-maker.

Tip: Be realistic about your ability to successfully advise an individual or organization. Sections 3 and 4 of the IMC USA Code of Ethics specify that you must only accept assignments for which you have the necessary competence and that you and the client mutually understand what will be done and the expected outcomes. It is your responsibility to recognize widow-maker engagements and unambiguously advise your prospective client about what you can and cannot do for them.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  customer understanding  engagement management  ethics  prospect  recommendations 

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#553: How to Tell if a Client's Operation is Under Control

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, April 27, 2011
We are often brought into a client's organization to address a "crisis" that may or may not be hiding a set of other problems. To limit being tagged with being "unable to fix" a problem we didn't see was tied to the one we promised to solve, how can a consultant know - before being let in to conduct a diagnosis - whether the problem set is more serious than presented by the client?

Interesting question and one of which consultant should take note. Most of the time, clients specify their needs, the consultant lays out an approach, and the terms of an engagement are agreed to and activity started. Missing from this process is the due diligence to determine the scope of the problem, whether it hides other problems and whether the entire system is really under control or not. Presuming that general organizational health is unknowable without a (fee paid) diagnostic task is wrong.

Peter Drucker said that you can tell how well an organization is managed by simply looking at its daily flow of operations. A well-managed organization flows quietly, smoothly and predictably. An organization out of control is characterized by recurring crises, stop and start flows, and inconclusive decisions. A sharp eye on a walk though of the office or factory with your prospective client should tell you a lot about the symptoms of effective systems and processes. Most of us are not even looking for these symptoms on our walk through - or don't even ask for a full tour before we start to negotiate what wonderful things we can do.

Tip: Put on your detective hat before you go for that first or second visit. Make sure you get the full tour so you have all the information you need to make a cogent evaluation and recommendation of your engagement process and expected outcomes. Finally, start building a "pre-negotiation investigation" process based on a comprehensive model of organizations (e.g., the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence is a good place to start).

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  consulting process  customer understanding  meeting preparation  performance improvement  prospect 

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#524: A Consulting Practice Benefits From a Website

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, March 17, 2011
Updated: Thursday, March 17, 2011
I have all the executive coaching and consulting business I need and never had a website. Do I need one now?

Website aficionados might start a response to your inquiry with, "In today's competitive e-world, having a website is almost a requirement for doing business. Having a presence on the web can provide you with a lot of benefits in marketing your business, etc." However, there is a more nuanced reason to have a website than just your electronic billboard. Consider a few outcomes of having a website:
  • It increases your visibility beyond your current market. You might enjoy new types of clients and consulting environments by making it possible for them to find you.
  • It levels the "firm size" questions by removing the assumption that you are small-time by not having a website.
  • It provides a consistent message about the nature and scope of your services, removing the inquiries of those for whom your services are inappropriate.
  • It is a mechanism to create an interaction with your clients and community(ies). Your website is more than just about selling your services - it is an effective way to engage your communities and enhance your perspective, or even your capabilities.
  • It can be an efficient way for clients to contract for your services (if your services can be ordered a la carte).
  • It provides an around the clock way for your clients and prospects to see what you are doing and weigh in with their own suggestions for possible work or new services they'd like to see. It can keep you top of mind if done right.
Tip: Given the widespread popularity of using online searches to learn about businesses, having some type of web presence is almost a necessity for today's consultant. Although establishing a website for your business is a relatively easy and not cost prohibitive, care must be taken to properly represent your business in an interesting, informative and professional manner. Having a site that is poorly organized, unclear, error-filled or difficult to navigate might actually negatively impact your ability to obtain and effectively serve your clients.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  communication  market research  marketing  prospect  publicity  sales 

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#503: Position Your Consulting Practice

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Too often consultants try to be all things to all people and, as a result, lose credibility. But what happens if you do a lot of different kinds of consulting work spanning more than one specialty area?

Although picking one lane in which to drive is a logical strategy, it is not for everyone. Focus on each intended audience and concentrate on their specific needs and requirements. Savvy consultants have separate, customized biographical information that they utilize for each of the different audiences they serve. For example, they might have one bio for speaking engagements, another for mailing to specific category prospects, etc. Complementing your positioning approach, also consider how your processes might be different for each of these clients/markets.

Tip: You can't be all things to all people, but you can be different things to different people. Where possible, customize your client communications to focus on their particular needs. "Position" yourself appropriately for each audience! But remember, it might be OK to drive in a few different lanes, but stay on your side of the road!

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand management  marketing  prospect  your consulting practice 

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