Everybody’s a Marketing Consultant

Marketing Consultant

Sometimes job titles become so commonplace and broad that they lose their effectiveness for identifying the exact nature of the position. The term “marketing consultant” has definitely reached this level of ubiquity.

Anyone can call themselves a marketing consultant. There are no educational requirements, governing boards, professional designations, or other bonafide prerequisites that must be met to hang out a shingle and start advising people. And perhaps this is perfectly fine. After all, there are plenty of professions that have such requirements and oversight that are filled with incompetent practitioners. At the same time, there are a lot of fantastic painters, handymen, babysitters, graphic designers, CEO’s and, yes, even marketing consultants that learned their craft through real-world experience and may have never been willing or able to pursue it had there been significant barriers to entry.

So if you are a business owner looking for help with marketing strategy, how do you go about identifying someone qualified and able to successfully diagnose your challenges and provide effective solutions?

The obvious answer would be to do a thorough review of the candidate’s qualifications and experience. How long have they been doing this? What clients have they worked with? What is their track record of success? And while these are all important issues that should be addressed, there is actually another critical question that should be asked before any other: What are they selling?

You see, in many industries “marketing consultant” is thinly veiled code for “salesperson.” Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with this. For one thing, marketing consultants have to sell their product just like everyone else. And there’s also nothing wrong with a salesperson positioning himself as a marketing consultant; the good ones really do try to provide helpful information. But if you are a business owner looking for quality, unbiased advice about how to grow your business, you should understand that if a marketing consultant’s compensation is in any way tied to the sale of a particular advertising product, you are at risk of receiving tainted information.

No matter how altruistic the intent, a “marketing consultant” paid via commissions on the sale of billboards is always going to strongly encourage solutions involving billboards. The same thing goes for newspaper ads, search marketing, radio ads, cable TV ads, SEO programs or any other advertising vehicles represented by salespeople. If the person you are talking to earns their pay through the sale of an advertising medium, you are talking to someone that is incentivized to give you recommendations utilizing that medium.

The advantage of hiring a marketing consultant that is un-tethered to a specific product or service is that they are free to advise you based on what the best solution is rather than the one that will generate a sales commission for themselves.

True marketing consultants should be paid for their knowledge and experience. This could mean that they receive an ongoing monthly retainer, hourly fee, or a flat fee for a particular project. It could also mean that they generate income from the training and seminars they conduct or educational products they produce. There are myriad ways that experts can be fairly compensated for their services. The important thing for you as a business owner to determine is if your prospective marketing consultant is absolutely free to recommend any valid solution or if they are directing you towards specific advertising products or vehicles they have a financial interest in selling.

Become a Part of the Process

Some products are designed to be bought on impulse – chewing gum, magazines, and keychain flashlights for instance. But unless your product or service is an inexpensive commodity available at the checkout counter of your local convenience store, your customer’s buying process is probably a little more complex.

Most people do some research before they buy. They look on the internet, read product reviews, scan catalogs or brochures, and ask friends, family, and co-workers  for recommendations.  Depending on the price and complexity of the product, they may drag this process out over weeks, months, or even longer. By the time they call or come in to your store for the first time, they’re probably 90% sure of what they want and whom they plan on buying it from. At this point in the process, the negotiation will be centered on price and there will be very little that you can do to influence the buyer’s decision.

Although most business owners are aware of this process, many continue to focus the bulk of their marketing efforts on the last stage, where the costs are highest and the success rate is lowest.

Why not approach things differently and direct 90% of your marketing efforts towards customers that haven’t already made up their minds? Why not become part of the buying process instead of hoping that the process leads to you?

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