One thing that bugs me is how loosely the title "consultant" gets used in the local media space. It seems to be everywhere, especially in Marketing. Everywhere you look there is some type of "marketing consultant."
But how accurate is the title consultant? Are these "marketing consultants" truly advising their clients, usually an SMB owner, to efficiently and smartly utilize their (tight) marketing dollars to what benefits them, the client? Or, are these "consultants" simply sales people pushing their medium's products and services, or worse, slinging the package du jour in hopes of making a quick buck or meeting their quota for the month?
I think most SMB owners are quick to red flag those who are simply seeking a commission check. However, it is my opinion that the title consultant should be used more sparingly and that a title should reflect what it means to the client. You sell, well fine, be called a Rep. You advise, control and allocate, then you are a true consultant.
Now make no mistake, "selling" is a large part to what a consultant must do to get a client on board, but it is the next steps after a client is on board that truly separates a sales rep from a consultant.
To help any SMB owners out there reading this to identify a true local marketing consultant and evaluate if that individual will have the capacity to authentically help their business, I have identified 6 key criteria for a local marketing consultant's role:
1. Media Agnostic (They should be able to provide access to more than their own media outlet)
The quickest way to identify a consultant from a sales rep is to ask yourself "where does my money go?" In other words, when you cut a check or provide your credit card number, are your marketing dollars going to one place, or is it being used across multiple media outlets. For example, a newspaper rep may be well-versed in talking about print, digital and direct mail advertising, but if the only thing they can offer is access to just their media company, there is limited potential to influence a complete marketing plan. They have a say in only one piece of the pie, and obviously they want their piece to be bigger than anyone else's.
Seek out a partner who has access to multiple channels, like being able to manage your Search Engine Marketing not just on Google, but Yahoo, Bing and others; able to get your message on any major publisher you want, whether it be your local newspaper's web site or even something like ESPN.com; and have the ability to maintain all of your social media pages, like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. These are ideal situations, and if you have a partner who can do all of this, bingo...you have found a long-term partner!
A true local marketing consultant should also be like a good accountant or financial advisor you may have on retainer at your business. You should be able to pick up the phone or send an email and get questions regarding your broad marketing plan and goals answered. The ideal beyond that is by writing one check each month, and you cover it all, and even better is getting an "ad agency" and "PR Firm" rolled into one, but without the agency fees! It’s possible.
2. Consultants Don't Have Quotas
Simply put, quotas are for pure sales people. They're dictated by people above them and influence (sometimes negatively) on how they approach your marketing plan. In some desperate situations, meeting their quota for the month could be the difference between paying off their credit card or making rent that month, or not. When their actions are directly tied to financial incentives, whose interests do you think they are trying to serve?
True consultants are running their own business in sorts. They do not get directed by quotas. True consultants know there are financial rewards by managing their clients well and establishing long-term relationships. Income is an after effect, not a pre-cursor for making sound business decisions and delivering results for their clients.
3. Access to Real Data
Bottom-line, you don't have time to look at canned PowerPoint presentations or media kits that have fluffed data that makes their company look better than the next guy's. You need access to real data that shows actual results for a business like yours, a smart plan and what you can realistically expect from working with the consultant.
You're seeking real answers to "how do you bring me more qualified customers/clients/patients" and "what does it take to make that happen?” At the end of the day, this is what makes the cash register ring, not rating points, circulation numbers, statistics, blah, blah, blah. You need fresh ideas, a sensible plan and actual data that support why the plan is good and a smart investment for your business.
4. Use of Technology
It's easy to see how technology has changed our lives and how it is impacting the business you run.
If you haven't read it already, check out "Business As Usual Has Changed- 8 New Norms"
Businesses who leverage technology will be the ones thriving tomorrow. If you don't embrace that, well, you probably wouldn't even be reading this post in the first place. Link up with a consultant or company that can bring unique technology to the table that makes a positive impact and can help you leap frog your competition.
You should be able to Google your consultant's name and in 30 seconds easily establish a favorable impression of him or her. You should be able to easily access videos, reviews and testimonials about that company or consultant without having to ask or wait for it. We live in the digital era. If they're good, you should be able to discover it right now.
6. Avoid Anybody Claiming to be an “Expert” or “Guru”
Another pet peeve is self-proclaimed “gurus,” “experts” and “ninjas.” If someone is truly great, they don’t need to label themselves with these ridiculous titles. Their results and clients will speak on their behalf. If they are a self-proclaimed “guru,” it’s a sure tip-off that you’re likely dealing with a small fish.
In today’s world there should be no sacrifices- you should be able to have access to both a large company (and leverage all their assets) and also be able to consult with a local person face-to-face. Don’t fall in the trap that because someone is right in your backyard you will receive better client service. In fact, their resources will likely be very limited. Will they have a support team behind them? Do they have proprietary technology or anything unique that differentiates them from any other “guru?” Do they have others smarter than them looking at and managing your campaigns?
Conversely, there is nothing more frustrating than dealing with someone thousands of miles away, even with all of today’s wonderful technology. There is still something comforting with face-to-face interactions that give you certainty that the consultant does know your business, your target market and how to address your specific needs. You can have, and deserve, the best of both worlds.
I am a consultant for Local Online Marketing and Technology powerhouse ReachLocal, whereby I help businesses with established web sites efficiently acquire, manage and retain qualified customers/clients/patients in their target market(s) by leveraging our extensive publisher partnerships, proprietary technology and smart services.
Photo Courtesy of Johnson & Moo