Thinking of hiring a marketing consultant for your company? Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked with countless ones, with varying degrees of success. Make no mistake—there are many great marketing people out there for hire.
However, I’ve learned that it’s our job as business people to manage them competently. To do this, we need to enter into any such relationship with the right expectations. There are certain things we should not just expect from a marketing consultant. Here’s what I mean.
First, do not expect your marketing consultant to know everything.
A good marketing consultant will have experience in your industry. She will have experience as a marketer both in the corporate world and out on her own. She will be able to bring you new ideas and help you focus on the marketing activities that make the most sense for your company.
But she is not God. She will not know everything. Which means that you’ve got to complement her knowledge with your own.
It’s your job to make her as knowledgeable about your company, your products, your markets, and your customers as you are. You should be comfortable suggesting to her where your customers may best be found. You should share with her what other successful companies in your industry are doing to generate leads and grow their businesses. Don’t assume she knows all of this. This relationship will take up your time—and some resources—if it’s going to be successful. Budget for that.
Second, do not expect your marketing consultant to take responsibility for the grunt work.
By “grunt” work, I mean the actual chores of sending out emails, stuffing envelopes, calling prospects, writing blogs, shooting videos, tweeting, or posting. Once a plan is in place, marketing is all about chopping wood, day in and day out, until the tree falls. You don’t want to be paying someone $250 an hour to do this.
What you want from your marketing consultant is a combination of well-established goals, a well-thought-out strategy, and a plan that lays out all the tasks needed to execute that strategy and achieve those goals. That’s the thinking part. The rest is just…chopping wood.
So, once those plans are determined, delegate an internal person or even hire a part-timer to do all the grunt work. You’ll find that this delegation of duties is best for taking advantage of both parties’ skill sets.
Next, do not expect guarantees.
I’ve given up on asking for guarantees from our marketing consultants. That’s because, given what they do, it’s really impossible for them to guarantee results. Marketing is part art, part science, and part luck. It is little different from putting your money on a roulette wheel, other than the fact that you’re taking a more educated bet (and, at least to me, it’s more fun).
A good marketing consultant will explain the pros, cons, good, and bad of a marketing strategy. She will outline the best and worst case scenarios and help you evaluate the risk of a campaign. But, in the end, no one really knows if it’s going to so succeed or blow up. It would be nice to be able to pay our marketing people based only on the results of their projects, but that’s just not reality in this world.
Do not expect your firm to be your marketing consultant’s sole focus.
In a perfect world, your marketing consultant would be devoted to you 24/7. But, if you’re paying that consultant a mere one or two thousand a month, that’s not going to sustain her for very long, is it?
The reality is that your marketing consultant, in order to make a living, must have other clients. Which means she’s going to be pulled in different directions, have conflicts with your work, and may not be available as often as you’d like. If, like me, you’re running a small business, then this is the pill that we both have to swallow.
A good marketing consultant will be communicative and responsive. She will make you feel like you’re her only client on earth. She will only mention her other clients when there is something to be learned from what they’re doing. But even the best consultants can get tied up or become unavailable because they’re dealing with other clients. So we have to deal with that, too.
Finally, do not expect a good (or bad) marketing consultant to be cheap.
In this world, you get what you pay for, and good marketing consultants are no exception. Most consultants bill by the hour and many also bill on a project basis. Of course, just because a consultant charges a big fee doesn’t necessarily mean she’s the right fit for you and your business, or that she’s even good at what she does.
Keep the consultant on a short leash initially, with very small projects and very few hours in the beginning until you get a better idea of her capabilities. But don’t cheap out. Don’t try to negotiate her rates down. Don’t complain about how much she’s costing you. Why? Because you don’t particularly like it when your customers do the same thing to you, right?
In the end, if the marketing consultant is worth her weight, then you should be happy to pay her exorbitant fees. It’s all about return on investment, and there’s no better return than lots and lots of leads generated by a good marketing adviser.
In summary, I have some clients who treat their marketing consultants with the same level of respect and professionalism that they do their attorneys and accountants. These are smart clients. They know that a capable marketing consultant will contribute significantly to their company’s long-term success.
Just make sure you enter into the relationship with realistic expectations. Even the very best ones are professional marketers, not mind readers.
My husband and I are planning to start a business and we are looking for advice to make our tasks easier. You made a great point when you said that a consultant will be able to bring you new ideas and help you focus on the marketing activities that make the most sense for your company. I will definitely make sure that I follow your advice so that we make our business activities faster.
Thanks for the comment Megan! We reached out through email to see if you’d like to be on the SBA podcast.
While not a “marketing” consultant, but a consultant, I would also add that a consultant is expected to offer advice and as such, may challenge the client’s approach, objectives, systems, etc in order to make sure their overall needs are met. More experienced clients appreciate that and actually highlight that in a good consultant while less experienced clients seem to see it as challenging their role. Sometimes when this happens, the consultant needs to step back and see if a restructuring of support to the client would be best to make everyone more comfortable.
Great points! The second one — do not expect your marketing consultant to take responsibility for the grunt work — is especially important for budget conscious small business owners. As a marketing consultant, I often explain this to clients. Yes, I can do these things, but that would cost them more than it should since my time and attention is more expensive. They’d do better to maintain my focus on strategy and rely on internal resources or less expensive specialists for execution.