The Five Things to Consider Before Hiring a Marketing Consultant

You may be looking for a marketing consultant now or some time in the not too distant future. How do you find one? And once you do, how do you qualify them for your project or specific marketing challenge?

The first step is to organize your thoughts and lay out the task at hand. Once that is done, then the job of finding a consultant becomes second nature. You ask your business friends and other contacts if they know of someone who might best help you with your project. Or even a web search can quickly round up some likely candidates.

Look them up on LinkedIn for credentials and referrals, do an Internet search and start the process of culling down the filed to those who can do the exact task you have in mind.

But what I have found is that most successful projects begin with good planning on the client's part. So the rest of this post deals with helping you, the company in need of a consultant, prepare for a successful search

1. Determine what you want a consultant to help you accomplish.

You obviously want them to help you achieve your sales goals. But that is far too general. So get as specific and quantitative as possible.

For example, we have determined that we need to increase sales by 10% in the following target market over the next 12 months for a total of X. We have X dedicated sales people who need a lead flow of 2 appointments per week with a sales conversion rates of 20% for X number of new customers.

All objectives whether big or small should specify volumes if at all possible. Otherwise, how are you determining whether the consultant or your decision to spend the money worked?

Determine what success is before you enter into a contract relationship with a consultant.

Other legitimate objectives might be to make it easier for people to find your website or improve the effectiveness of your existing programs. But again, you should determine this as far as possible before you begin your search.

2. Help yourself and the consultant by defining your perfect prospect

If you have a business to business market, define your perfect prospect. Who makes the final decision? Who are the decision influencers in a typical prospect company? What industries are you most interested in attracting as new customers? How many employees do they have? Are they startups? New companies? And so forth.

For business to consumer, give the marketer a feel for who your best customers are, where they live and something about their demographics and lifestyles.

This gives the marketer critical information about how to approach your challenge.

3. Evaluate the marketing consultants based on the questions they ask during the initial interviews.

Are they results oriented? Are they interested in making money for you? Do they ask penetrating questions about your business, your customers, your prospects and your competitors?

4. Are they objective about their recommendations?

My first comment to this heading -- is that even possible? says: "You want them to be 'marketing tactic neutral' meaning that the person understands and appreciates all the different marketing tactics (email marketing, direct mail, advertising, PR, trade shows and events, social media, online marketing, web sites)."

But I've found marketers tend to recommend what they know best.

I have yet to find a marketer with 100% objectivity. All are influenced by past experiences of what worked and what didn't. And no two marketers come with the same backgrounds or experiences.

So what do you do?

It helps if the client has some idea about what they want to do to accomplish their objectives. That's why preparation prior to looking for a consultant helps so much. As the marketing consultant searcher, you know what you are looking for.

Do you want to sell primarily over the Internet and believe your ultimate sales goals can be achieved by maximizing your website, then look for a Search Engine Marketing (SEO) specialist to help you build your Internet reputation and organic search.

If you have a highly defined decision maker in specific geographies that are targetable, then you should consider a direct response specialist to help you generate leads and sales from them rather than waste money trying to build awareness.

PR, image advertising, Search Engine Optimization, direct marketing, sales promotion and so one are all valid approaches, but marketers who know all of these areas equally do not exist. Nor will they all recommend the same approach.

5. Should you elect a consultant with specific industry expertise?

Not necessarily. I would focus first on someone who has the marketing expertise you need.

Selecting someone with specific industry expertise does have some benefits.

The upside is that they know the regulatory and competitive environment or other quirks about the industry. This could make them more efficient in some cases.

Consultants who sell vertically within the same industry makes some clients uncomfortable. They can take what works well for one competitor (and that may be your firm) and duplicate it across the board if it is transportable. If it's not, then why hire them in the first place?

Another problem is that vertical marketing specialists tend to bring inbred marketing ideas with them rather than cross-pollination from multiple industries.

More important is to hire a marketing specialist who may have little to no experience in your specific industry, but brings depth in the specific marketing specialization you have identified as a need.

Asking a marketing generalist who knows your industry inside and out to handle your direct marketing program will likely not do nearly as well as a direct marketing specialist with no comparable industry experience to handle the same program.

Marketing expertise trumps industry expertise when it comes to marketing.

What other things should clients consider before looking for a marketing consultant?

Posted on September 18, 2011 and filed under Consulting, Recruiting Talent.