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A Generic Consulting Proposal

post # 210 — October 9, 2006 — a Client Relations post

In case any of you need to “win some new business” and don’t have time to wroite a proposal document, I have prepared a genreic one for you here.

Beloved Client: You have ambitious goals, which will generate significant returns if you can achieve them. However, you have told us that your goals will not be achieved by ‘business as usual.’ You recognize that you will need to re-examine and redesign a number of your processes to capitalize upon the opportunities you have.

In turn, redesigning some of your processes will inevitably involve re-allocations of responsibilities, duties and accountabilities.

It can be anticipated that achieving consensus on these re-allocations will not be easy, and must be accomplished through a process of consultation, participation and involvement if you are to ensure the buy-in necessary for diligent implementation and execution of your plans.

In assisting you, we will play the role of objective outsiders, using our accumulated expertise and proprietary methodologies to support you in the following stages of your decision-making and implementation:

  • Suggesting information collection from employees and customers
  • Assisting in analyzing and interpreting responses from these sources
  • Conducting discussions with those you consider peers in your business, collecting best practice guidelines
  • Preparing for, conducting and analyzing one-on-one and small-group consultation sessions with your key decision-makers to identify issues, raise concerns, test emerging consensus on possible action areas
  • Re-analyze your financials and other numeric data to shed fresh insight on operational and financial results over time, geography, industry, product-line and other operating groups.
  • Facilitating top-management review of this information by design of meetings and conferences, where necessary acting to challenge assumptions and generate alternatives not previously considered.

Once management decisions have been arrived at, we will help in the design and execution of communication and consensus-building activities to educate the organization in the new methods of operating, helping to communicate the vision, clarify new roles and responsibilities, and design new metrics to monitor the organization’s performance (and that of each operating unit) in the new behaviors. Where necessary we will integrate these new metrics into a balanced scorecard and assist with a redesign of your performance appraisal and compensation schemes to reflect the new strategies, processes and responsibilities.

We recommend that you invest $XXX in our services to ensure the arraignment of your goals.

What do you think? Would this earn any business? Are proposals like this all con jobs?

What would you put into a generic proposal or pitch document?


Warren Miller said:

As a long-standing matter of personal philosophy, I don’t believe in “generic consulting pitches.” The one you wrote is about the best I’ve ever seen, though I would change ‘arraignment’ (which sounds as if it requires an appearance before a judge) to ‘achievement.’ :-)

I also fear that a pitch that is recognizably generic carries a message that the sender has excess capacity. Why else would s/he be sending out a generic pitch? If I’m the buyer, I ask myself why I would want to hire a consultant w/too much time on her/his hands. Aren’t they a dime a dozen already?

I’m reminded of a job interview I conducted many years ago when I was a CFO. I asked one of my favorite questions, “What do you know how to do?” And the guy looked at me and said, “What do you need to have done?” In the ensuing years, I’ve seen a lot of resumes and sales pitches that were like that. Sounds like the TV game Jeopardy!: Start off with the answer (Hire me), and then create the question (What do you need to have done around here?)

Having said that, I would hasten to add that I would not hesitate to incorporate said generic pitch into a multiphase consulting proposal. That way, I would be implementing something I had already proposed. Who would know the ins and outs of that particular implementation better than I?

In fact, on occasion in particularly complex engagements, we have proposed tying our compensation for entire projects to successful implementation, thereby putting the risk of the whole thing on us. I’m continually amazed at the number of small-business clients that don’t see what a great deal that is. I infer that it’s that age-old issue one sees with entrepreneurs: most are control freaks, which is a big reason that they want to work for themselves in the first place!

Hope this is helpful, David.

posted on October 10, 2006

Francine McKenna said:

David, No matter how big or small your consulting firm, it pays to qualify your clients (make sure they are the kind of client you want to do business with) and qualify each opportunity with that client (make sure the specific project is one you can deliver successfully and profitably). I don’t believe in generic anything, including cold calls/pitches to get business, especially if your consulting firm is an advisory versus a staffing firm.

Your example contains a lot of good text that could be used for a strategy firm, depending on the opportunity. And, of course, all consultants use templates, examples and other prior documents to help develop new documents. However, anything that smells like generic or, God forbid, makes the mistake of leaving in irrelevant information, (or in the worst case leaving in another client’s name or specific info!), will shut the doors on your firm immediately.

Also, “balanced scorecard”, like “benchmarking” has very specific meaning to clients. I wouldn’t use these terms unless you have full intention of delivering the real thing.


posted on October 10, 2006

Charles H. Green said:

David, I love this piece. I choose to read it as satire. But great satire is great because it comes so close to reality. This one flirts with the border between truth and parody.

What’s good about it—I mean, as a serious proposition—is that it provides a context for a wide range of serious business issues that lie dowstream of a significant strategic shift. Such a shift implies, as you point out, new processes, roles/responsibilities, performance metrics and reward systems, and the whole panoply of change management to get an organization there.

All true, and all logically, if abstractly, laid out. Simply insert [your client] and indeed you have a pretty solid conceptual outline for a consulting engagement.

But that’s what also makes it hilarious as satire. The idea that all management problems are identical, that one could just about use a random quote generator to fill in the service offerings, and that the only differences between clients is their name—this is exactly how Mad Magazine used to write parodies of movie reviews.

The critical thing is to define the boundary between seriousness and parody. If anyone actually sent the proposal in its most generic form, with only names inserted, most clients would perceive it as hopelessly buzz-worded, a classic example of consultant-talk. Not all, but most (at least, I think so).

However—if you make it truly about the client, by non-mechanically making sure that every phrase is legitimate in the specific client’s context, taking care to point out examples and specifics—then it’s a heckuva roadmap or checklist. A very good one.

To borrow one of your favorite metaphors, David, imagine a generic script for an evening’s romantic conversation. This very idea of a script has been written into countless romantic comedies, from Cyrano de Bergerac to nerds with earphones getting remote coaching from their nerd-buddies in the satellite-dish-equipped panel truck outside the restaurant. The idea of scripted romantic conversations strikes us as insincere, and therefore largely funny.

But it needn’t be funny. There are certain script lines that any successful romantic conversation had better follow, or else.

The trick is to personalize it. “Generic” by itself is, by definition, impersonal. Generic proposals, even if very cleverly written, are likely to sound not just hollow, but insulting.

Their value lies in offering us a structure, in providing a checklist, from which to make things real for a very real client. Clients are unique individuals, and want to be treated as such. Woe to the consultant who writes a generic proposal—unless he has a generic client, he succeeds only in being insulting.

posted on October 10, 2006

David (Maister) said:

In case my humor went over everybody’s head, I was trying to be funny with this blog post. I don’t write proposals at all, let alone generic ones, but I read them all the time. It struck me that even thought the ones I read try to be customized and specific, they all end up looking like the other (ie generic). Hence, my attempt to write this post.

I don’t REALLY recommend that you write generic propposals (although many people do, and many people buy them.)

The conversation I would lilke to strat is this: have I captured the essential elements of most consultaing proposals? If you DID have to write one, what else would you want to include?

posted on October 10, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Thanks, Charlie. I knew you’d elaborate the point well : Cyrano de Bergerac is another of my favorite movies” I have loved but one man and I have lost him twice!”

posted on October 10, 2006

Melissa said:

Is it just me or does anyone else think that the FIRST step in developing a proposal (regardless of the “type”) is to ensure accuracy in spelling and grammar?

There are two overt spelling errors in the opening paragraph of this article. These simple mistakes are indicative of a lack of attention to detail and create the appearance of a lack of professionalism. The result is that many clients will seek services elsewhere.

I am no longer “stunned” by the plethora of consultant web home pages, often a client’s initial introduction to services provided, that contain errors in spelling and grammar.

I am actually toying with the idea of marketing myself as a “consultant to consultants” who want “two make shure there pajes and artickles are profeshunal”.

Any takers?

posted on March 23, 2008

David (Maister) said:

Sorry, Melissa. I don’t have a spell-checker on my blogging program, and my typing skills are pathetic. I don’t say you’re wrong.

I’ve been lenient on myself because I think I’m literate – it’s not a lack of knowledge, but haste and sloppiness. Perhaps that’s your point.

What do others think? How serious is it if a blogger has typos and mispelled words?

posted on March 23, 2008

Brian Thomas said:


Spell check would have addressed this. Often those with too much attention to detail can’t see the big picture. Those individuals would not make good consultants, in my opinion, or good managers.


posted on February 3, 2010

Jon Ketcham said:

David –

Though thispost is a bit late, the question I have for you is, if you don’t use proposals, how do you go aboutobtaining your consulting assignments?

The consulting I do at this stage is primarily that of acting as an advisory board member for small companies that have never had an advisory board before. As such, it doesn’t lend itself to specific deliverables like a benchmarking report.


posted on February 12, 2010