Posts filed under Consulting

Direct Marketing Consultant Reveals Top 3 Response Killers

Photo by Imilian/iStock / Getty Images

Direct marketing (or any marketing effort) suffers from these barriers in client companies. Most of them fall within the realm of common human weaknesses. They may hurt the whole business enterprise and not just the direct marketing program.

1. Worshiping at the idol of the status quo

Clients often fixate on the status quo despite evidence that shows the need for a new direction.

This management flaw remains the biggest response killer for almost all marketing programs. But the idea that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" serves to restrain growth.

Successful direct marketing programs need a lot of work to remain successful. No matter how successful, direct response rates will drop over time. Direct marketers understand that their job entails ongoing program replacement. 

This means frequent testing designed to beat existing controls. 

Managing effective direct marketing programs over the long term requires controlled risk taking. 

2. Working in the haze of routine

Human nature has a way of lulling managers into a dangerous comfort zone.

Here's what I hear from clients who face clear evidence that they need to upgrade their processes.

- "We've worked with this vendor for over twenty years. We're not going to consider other vendors."

- "Our internal database procedures cost us new sales and opportunities. But we don't want to outsource the work. That move makes us uncomfortable."

- "Taking production outside will cost much less and deliver superior print quality. Outsourcing the work would help our customer image. But we don't want to reallocate internal jobs."

- "We don't think our prospects want to read a letter. All we've ever done is send postcards because they are less expensive than other formats. So we don't want to test other options."

3. Not challenging the company's direct marketing efforts

Clients should never assume that their vendors or staff observe best direct mail practices. Yet many clients rarely challenge the marketing work so long as it is profitable. 

Perform these evaluations at least once every one or two years.

- Audit the database and direct mail deliverability levels.

- Audit all direct mail production to assure quality and competitive pricing.

- Check internal procedures for accurate database input processes.

- Review inbound telephone scripts, inquiry response procedures and  accurate response tracking.

These three response killers do not go away. These are not tactical issues but strategic management issues. If left alone, they will kill long term marketing success.

Experienced consultant may attempt to correct these issues. But it is a waste of talent and energy without CEO support.

Have you found ways to overcome these barriers in your company? If so, how did you do it?

Posted on June 10, 2016 and filed under Planning, Direct Marketing Strategy, Consulting.

"We Did What You recommended, But It Failed"

Have you ever heard these words from a boss or client at some point in your career? "We did what you recommended, but it failed." I suspect you have. If not, then it's a matter of when and not if. No doubt that in some cases, this indictment reflects the truth. But more likely is an accuser who has ignored key elements in your recommendations that you warned would make or break the program.
Posted on August 31, 2013 and filed under Consulting, Direct Marketing Strategy, Planning.

Clients Shoot Themselves in the Foot

Have you ever interviewed a prospective client only to find that they think they know what their problem is but they really don't?

Agreeing to the principle that understanding the problem is the first step to solving it does not work -- unless we realize that it applies to every problem.

Here's a good example of what I mean.

A leading competitor and founder of the idea that a lot of people want cash now for their settlements was no longer number one in the market. J.G. Wentworth was taking over the market from my prospective client. They brought me in saying that their direct mail was no longer generating sufficient leads to keep up with their younger competitor companies and wondered how I might help.

We went through my questions and theirs trying to nail down what needed to be done to compete with their direct mail program.

They showed me their direct mail packages, list selection criteria, results over the last few years and readily answered my questions. They also listed their foremost competitors.

I went back to the office and contemplated what we should do to reverse the tide.

Their in house direct mail was weak and the results reflected it. They believed this was their biggest problem and that correcting it would get them back on course.

Unfortunately, the client failed to look at the big picture of what was happening. Their competitors were taking their business away with multi channel strategies such as DRTV, direct mail, digital and every known medium was explored and used heavily.

So I returned proposing a full solution including testing other channels -- especially DRTV -- as well as bringing additional talent to bear on their direct mail program.

They decided instead to hire a freelance copywriter to work with their in-house copywriter to improve the creative product. Never mind that the freelancer was not even a direct response specialist.

But I mentioned that this did not scratch the surface of what needed to be done to increase their growth and slow down their competitors as needed to recapture their lost market share.

This prospective client responded by saying that no, they knew what the problem was and countermanded my recommendation for testing DRTV. They had tried it several years ago and they could not make the numbers work.

This event happened three years ago and J.G. Wentworth's DRTV program has grown unabated.

I never was able to help my prospective client compete with J.G. Wentworth. Why? They had the money, the infrastructure and everything else except an open mind.

They failed to look at the big picture and made the false assumption that J.G. Wentworth did not know what they were doing.

The take away here is to never make the assumption that you have the problem nailed down without an objective and knowledgeable outside voice chiming in. Spend money and thought on what the problem is and season it with a heavy dose of objectivity and humility.

Posted on November 23, 2011 and filed under Consulting, Direct Marketing Strategy, New Business.

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?

MarketingZone.com 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.

So You Want To Become a Consultant? Join the Crowd

Having practiced as an independent direct marketing consultant for about 15 years now, I receive a number of requests from employed and unemployed professionals of all sorts who want to become consultants.

Some want to know if they can earn enough money to make it worth their while. Others exude confidence in their professional expertise believing that companies will come knocking at their door for help.

Usually, most people who are used to getting that twice a month check have no clue about the struggles of building a successful consultancy.

But I understand their desire for independence and breaking the stranglehold their employers have over their lives. Freedom offers an almost irresistible attraction.

To be honest, I now believe that the security offered by full time employment is an illusion.

You have read the headlines.

CEO tenures have dropped steadily for years to an average of less than four years and CMOs to an even lower level. Some of my peers and I have lasted for as little as six months or less in organizations that merge, sell themselves to the highest bidder or simply demonstrate little regard for their employees' financial or emotional welfare.

So working for the other guy promises fewer rewards than when our parents worked for employers. In the not too distant past, employers respected and appreciated great work. Jobs offered real stability. But no more.

In the process, employers lost seasoned employees. And companies now show a willingness to hire expertise on a contract basis.

Hence consulting and other skilled contract labor has grown at a prodigious rate.

In one article from Assessment.com, a MAPP publication says this about the growth of independents. 

Bill Sweney of Resource Associates Corporation stated: "someone who works outside the company would do 50 percent of all jobs performed. In the U.S., this contingent workforce consists of approximately 45 million, which includes, temporaries, self-employed, part-timers, or consultants. This number has grown 57% since 1980."

In one of my responses to an inquiry from my website, a customer veteran with 10 years of experience asked for input on their money making potential working as an independent consultant.

You can earn quite a bit as a consultant. But it's a rough ride finding clients who will hire you for more than just miscellaneous projects. Monthly fee accounts are the way to go, but hard for clients to justify. Getting the work is the hard part.

Here is my answer to her question.

You can earn quite a bit as a consultant. But finding enough clients to support yourself is hard. Monthly fee accounts are the way to go, but difficult for clients to justify. So you should understand that getting the work is what sinks most people entering into the independent consulting field.

You should address these issues before you leap into the high risk profession of independent consulting.

  1. Why would someone hire me on a part time basis instead of giving the work to an internal employee?
  2. What do you do exactly? Be focused. Customer service is far too broad. What problems do you solve for a client? Give a case study or two of problems you solved and the results.
  3. Learn how to price your services.
  4. Become an expert networker. For example, leverage LinkedIn to the hilt.

You will have to sell what you offer. Plan on spending 3 days a month or about a day a week on the phone and in person building networks, presenting proposals and meeting with people. That activity never ends.

Enhance your marketing to include a self-modifying website (as opposed to static) and do some decent SEO on it.

Ask for invitations to speak. Consider writing a blog that demonstrates your capabilities and positions you as a master at solving the types of client problems your clients are experiencing.

Expose yourself to potential clients any way you can.

The work is fun, but for most consultants, the marketing is tough. It's like trying to get a new job on a continuing basis. So be sure you are ready to put out the effort.

May I ask you, dear reader, what advice you would share with individuals who aspire to become successful consultants?

Posted on May 3, 2011 and filed under Consulting.