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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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#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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#154: Training our Referrals to Sell You Effectively

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, October 15, 2009
I am not getting any referrals from my network. I am constantly recommending them but get nothing in return.

There are a couple of issues here. Let's assume that you are technically competent, professional and provide services in demand for businesses in your area. Let's also assume that the individuals in your network are reasonable, honorable people (they are in your network, after all!). This leaves a possibility that they just don't know exactly how to refer your services. This is a common mistake most of us make with some in our networks.

Remember, referrals are mostly looking out to sell their own services (if they are other management consultants), run their own businesses, or just go about their lives. We are not their primary objective on a day to day basis. We may not even be the only person they could refer. It is our job to make it as easy as possible for them to refer us. This means "training" them in our capabilities, experience, and interests and providing them with whatever collateral they find most useful. Finally, it is most useful to guide them to your most desired clients. Helping your referrals know where to go, what to sell and what steps to take after the conversation with a prospect will significantly increase your referral activity.

Tip: Some consultants prepare what is called a "sell sheet" that describes, often on a single page, the consultant's experience, attributes, unique value, consulting approaches and services, and a "how to engage" summary. Draft such a sheet and run it by a colleague who knows you well to see if it resonates with them. Offer to review their sheet and compare format and content to share ideas with each other. Once you can provide your referrers with clear talking points, watch your referral traffic soar.

P.S. How good of a referrer are you being to others in your network? If you had to create a sell sheet for your colleagues from a blank sheet of paper, how good would it be? Work with them to make sure you can effectively refer them.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  consulting colleagues  marketing  networks  proposals  referrals  sales  sustainability 

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#153: Work Your Network Like a Project

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Updated: Thursday, October 15, 2009
Over the past few years, a number of my colleagues have retired, leaving my network a little sparse. How can I refresh it without weakening it?

Treat networks like any asset on which you depend to generate income. Many assets occasionally weaken if they are not deliberately provided new investment. The problem comes when we look at our network as one big group of people. We don’t detect it is declining until it is significantly weakened. Breaking it down into parts and treating its care and feeding as a project makes for a more effective and sustainable referral source.

First, consider the individuals in your network in terms of categories and work each category separately. Categories might include geographic location, economic sector, how long you have known them, whether you have worked directly with them or not, likelihood of a referral, whether the referral is from you, to you or mutual, whether the person has colleagues who could serve as adjunct network resources, and whether or not the person is in an area of business in which you are interested in growing your business. These are just a few but you can come up with many more. Determine where the strength of your network comes from and monitor whether this category is growing or waning. If the age category is starting to grow older, indicating potential weakening through retirements, then start looking specifically to supplement your network in those areas.

Tip: Retirement of a network source does not mean they cannot still be useful to you or vice versa. In some cases, these individuals may be able to help you actually strengthen your network by making introductions to people they might not have felt comfortable doing so before. Also, they may be better able to work directly with you, now that they have left their employer and are less likely to have potential conflicts of interest.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  consulting colleagues  networks  practice management  prospect  referrals  sustainability 

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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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#104: Before You Refer Someone

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, August 6, 2009
When I refer a colleague, some of whom I know better than others, to a client or other executive, I want to be sure I am doing the right thing. If I don't know the consultant well, should I make the referral with caveats or not at all?

The strength of our networks is strongly tied to who we can refer when we don't have the skills or time to provide services ourselves. The value of our network to a client is how strong those referrals are. If our referral base is weak, we do ourselves and our clients a disservice. The trick to using a strong network is to know when to refer and when to defer.

Each referral has value along several dimensions. First, technical skills and experience. How broad is the consultant's experience base, in how many different industries have they worked, and what certifications or other third party endorsement do they hold? Second, consulting skills. Do they have emotional intelligence, can they communicate well, are their engagement process skills of high quality, and do they have business acumen and insight? Third, ethics and professionalism. Do they follow a rigorous Code of Ethics like IMC's, are they sensitive to the fact or appearance of conflicts of interest, and would you trust your best clients to their care? Are any of these weak or missing in your potential referral? Consider whether this weakness disqualify someone from being referred.

Tip: Make a specific list of consultants you would consider referring. Now, score each along the above criteria. Whatever rubric you use, clarify any data you are not sure about (e.g., you know someone's technical skills well but are not sure about their general business acumen). By whatever criteria you set a minimum qualification, how many are in your "acceptable" referral network now? Probably not as many as you thought, would like to have, or are fully valuable to your clients. Time to selectively build your network.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  referrals 

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