How To Choose The Right Marketing Consultant

How To Choose The Right Marketing Consultant

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So you’ve taken the big step and decided to get outside help to improve your marketing. Well done, you won’t regret it. Now how do you find the right marketing consultant or advisor? Someone who ticks all (or at least most) of the boxes.

Choosing A Marketing Consultant

There’s no shortage of businesses willing to take your custom –  traditional full service agencies, niche experts focusing on a discipline like social media and independent consultants. Impressive reviews and testimonials abound but so do horror stories and high charges.

So, when you’ve looked at websites and shortlisted a few businesses to call, how do you decide? What should you be asking them? Here are four pointers to help you on your way:

Does The Consultant Understand You?

They’ll no doubt claim to, otherwise you wouldn’t have shortlisted them. But don’t be afraid to ask them about the types of work they’ve undertaken that are relevant to your particular situation.

Ask them how many clients they’ve worked with in your industry (or a closely related industry) or to address a particular challenge. Get them to explain to you some of the challenges that clients have faced and how the consultant helped to overcome them. They’ll usually be happy to talk at length on this but, if you find them struggling to answer basic questions, they may not be the right consultant for you.

Not having direct experience in your particular niche isn’t necessarily the end of the world (sometimes it’s useful to get a completely fresh pair of eyes) but at the very least you may want to see that they’ve worked on something which targets the same sort of client or customer – if not then they may struggle…

Assuming all is well, take a more detailed look at the firm’s website. Find any relevant case studies and see whether the outcomes achieved match your expectations. Look for testimonials. But go a stage further. Call the client! Check that the testimonial is genuine and see if the client is willing to provide any other information that could sway your decision one way or the other.

Who Will Do The Work?

Surely it’s the person you speak to, right? Not necessarily.

You may be impressed by a Director in a large agency who has over twenty years’ experience in a broad range of industries. What you need to know is whether that Director will be actively involved on your account – or whether they will pass it over to a more junior Account Manager (perhaps even a trainee or Account Exec) and simply ‘sign it off’ at the end. If you’re happy for work to be done by someone else, that’s fine. However, you shouldn’t be paying Director rates when 90% of the work is done by an Account Exec. More on costs below.

How Will They Do The Work?

Expect to be asked questions. Lots of them.

A competent marketing consultant will, at the beginning, expect you to do most of the talking. They will want to get under the skin of your ideal clients/customers and really understand the benefits that your products or services provide. They may not necessarily understand the finer details of your product or service from the outset but should make it their priority to get a deep understanding as a matter of urgency.

They’ll also ask you about the outcomes you expect to achieve and the challenges or obstacles you may face along the way. It’s only by gathering that information that they can begin to work with you to develop an effective strategy.

If, on the other hand, the adviser shows little interest in understanding the finer details of the challenges your clients face and your unique ability to solve them but instead simply sends you a ‘Marketing Plan’ solution with most of the content already filled out it’s highly likely that they’ve copied something from a previous client and just made a few tweaks.

What’s even worse is if they start suggesting tactics, like Google Ads, Facebook etc without spending any time on developing an effective strategy unique to your situation. Sounds like you’re faced with a one-trick-pony who’ll do their best to convince you that your problem is a nail and they have a hammer*

* Shameless paraphrasing of an Abraham Maslow quote for all you Marketing geeks…

Anyway, ask previous clients, who have provided testimonials, how the process was for them. Did the consultant show interest in obtaining all the details or did they seem more eager to rush through the process to get it off their desks and raise the invoice? Did they explain the factors that may affect the success of the campaign in advance?

How much will the work cost?

Ah, Price. The all-important question?

Don’t decide purely on price as rates vary considerably. The cheapest option may not always be the wisest. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the most expensive option will carry significant additional value over less expensive alternatives. Marketing consultants have traditionally been shy about discussing costs. That is beginning to change but, if the consultant doesn’t say anything about costs during your initial chat, make sure you raise the subject!

What you should look for is transparency in the pricing structure. Firms may offer an hourly rate, a  day rate or value based pricing reflecting the anticipated return on investment achieved. Marketing consultants who offer only an hourly rate option should generally be avoided. The project that should take seven hours from start to finish can easily double in length (and cost) if there are a few hiccups along the way. And you really don’t want to feel you can’t pick up the phone to discuss a pressing issue because there’s a meter running in the background.

Go for a fixed fee option. But make sure that there are no hidden costs. The letter of engagement should set out the full scope of the services that are included. If anything is missing or unclear, pick up the phone before signing.

Final Words

Choosing a professional marketing consultant can be challenging for small business owners. However, the decision can be made much easier by ensuring that the firm you choose understands your situation and the challenges you’re facing, you’re clear about who will be doing the work, you’re happy with the way they’ll do it and the cost is transparent & fixed.

Small Business Big Ideas provides in-depth strategic marketing advice to SMEs.  If you require further information, please call 0191 432 5480 or email