Here’s a pro tip for you: don’t bring in an outside marketing expert unless you’re prepared to listen to them and act on their recommendations. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time and money.
I’ve been on both sides of the consulting fence for B2B marketing.
Either as a consultant or consultee, I’ve realized over the years that a consultant can only be as good as they are allowed to be.
That’s right, when it comes to consulting, the customer is definitely NOT always right, especially when they have no clue as to what they want to accomplish. Also, to be fair, the consultant is not always right either!
A recent email from Mike Shreeve, founder of The No Pants Project (yes, I was originally attracted by the name and I’ve stuck around on his newsletter because he usually shares good advice), got me thinking about this.
Here’s the quote from his email:
You are ONLY as good as your client allows you to be.
You are only one half of the success equation. Your client is the other half.
It’s a symbiotic partnership. Like coral and algae.
The better and more supportive and more capable your client, the better and more supportive and more capable YOU will be.
This was from an email dealing with a common issue among freelancers — the fear of charging our value. Setting aside that issue for another day, back to how customers do, sometimes, suck.
As a consultant for smaller organizations, I’ve experienced both good and bad. Let me share some of my experiences as giver and receiver of consulting.
Let me reiterate: consultants are rarely always right. I’ve been wrong before. I’ll be wrong again. I. Am. Not. Perfect.
Right? Off we go.
Great Advice Doesn’t Work When Not Accepted
On the receiving end of consulting work, I’d like to share two stories, one of which personally continues to sting even 12 years on. Both are from my time at AIIM.
In the early 2000s, AIIM was at a crossroads. There were some strategy and management issues. The board approved what was a six figure consulting gig from a major consulting group (cannot for the life of me remember who it was, Delloitte? Dunno.). No one in the mid-tier of staff ever got to see it (officially that I know of). I did see a copy left on my boss’ desk. Honest, I wasn’t looking. I was putting some documents for review on his desk late on a Friday.
There it was.
Given many of us had been interviewed, I was justifiably curious. The results were roughly along the lines of “good, dedicated staff with some tension in the exec team that’s harming implementation”. There were recommendations for fixing things that existing staff could have put together over the weekend for pizzas and beer (because I didn’t see anything in there that hadn’t been talked about around the proverbial water cooler).
What changed? Not a damn thing because it would have entailed senior team getting their shit together. Basically, 100k and staff time wasted because leadership didn’t want to look at themselves and make changes.
Similarly, and more directly, we underwent a magazine audit from outside experts, Fiore and Company.
The editorial results were shared with me: strong editorial team with the ability and vision to move the magazine where we wanted it to go (yeah, that was me!). There were some critiques as well about editorial (justified, I might add), but overall, was positive.
A few months later I was demoted and a new editor brought in. Oddly enough, I STILL ended up filling over half of the magazine (while also running the webinar program and writing two newsletters, I was a good value as an employee).
Huh, I thought. I did eventually see a copy of the full report that had been left on the copy machine. What I hadn’t seen is that sales and marketing had been hammered for having neither a sales nor a marketing plan to grow the subscriber base (this is before I started doing inbound marketing).
Instead of changing sales and marketing, they added an editor. The magazine folded about 18 months later in part because there was still no sales and marketing plan (and, also, while talented and a good guy, the new editor got ahead of our audience, my opinion).
Both consultants did a great job of surfacing real problems in the organization and providing steps to address those problems.
The advice was mostly ignored.
If you hire a consultant in an attempt to improve your business, you need to be prepared to change. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your money.
Hero Or Scapegoat
Most of you know the aggravation of getting ahead of a trend, bringing it up to senior team, and being ignored.
Until! Those same execs hear the same idea from an outside expert or consultant. Suddenly, that idea is gold (those ideas also have a tendency to suddenly be the exec’s idea, but, hey, whatever, right?).
Companies shouldn’t use consultants as either hero or scapegoat. It’s simply bad for morale to have your own ideas parroted back to you after someone in leadership hears from an outside expert.
Using a consultant as a scapegoat for failures might keep you in the good graces of the board. However, assuming the advice and recommendations were good; the business suffers.
Magpie Syndrome and HURRY UP!
We were engaged by a copier dealer to spread the word that they also offered managed IT services, where they had near-zero recognition even in their customer base.
After telling them it would take some time to get traction, after four months they were pushing to see results. By this point we had created and just launched a lead generation campaign, with blogs and assets based on the questions they told us customers were asking (reinforced with persona research). Because it takes time to write, design, set up, etc. an inbound campaign.
Once launched, then the question became — well, what about our copiers? So we had to split our focus for that. And then further into a few other product lines they had.
Looking back, we were at fault here too — we should have made our point about focusing more forcefully and provided better recommendations for doing so. I also struggle with magpie syndrome and thought it was a good idea to do a few blogs on their core business, copiers (which worked, a number of their copier-related blogs we wrote were ranking top 1 or 2 on the Google machine when they took their inbound in-house).
This happened with a few other clients as well. Just as we were gaining traction . . . BOOM!, we need to focus on THIS instead.
If you can’t focus, neither can your consultant!
Tell Your Agency What’s Going On
Consultants aren’t mind readers. We can’t help you if we don’t know what you’re doing.
For instance, one of my past clients had a yearly event. The first year, we didn’t even know about it until about a month beforehand.
The second year, we were able to help slightly, but they never would fully bless a full event marketing strategy. And I begged them, repeatedly, to mingle and get customer testimonials on their phones, do a simple recording of the presentations they gave, write down the audience questions so we could answer them in blogs and we got zip.
For all of our clients, we asked in our regular meetings about any events or particular sales pushes they were planning on making. We’d sometimes find out after the fact about them anyway.
I can’t help you if you don’t help me understand you.
A consultant needs to know your goals and objectives to truly help you.
Any previous marketing successes, failures, half-successes . . . anything that can be used as a baseline to establish where we are and where we want to get to is also helpful.
Without stats, we’re starting from scratch. That’s fine, but it’ll simply take a while to identify what’s good, bad, or meh. Again, be patient.
Being honest also will help you find the right inbound marketing partner. Marketing encompasses a metric shit-ton of expertise. SEO, writing great content, email marketing (nurture, drip, lead generation), websites, inbound and content strategy, HubSpot (or other marketing automation platform) expertise, and more.
Not every consultant is going to be great at everything. I know the basics of SEO, but you would not want me creating a pay-per-click campaign. I can handle the back-end logistics of HubSpot, but I’m horrible at managing the partnership between a company and HubSpot. I’m a good writer (most days), and can write most anything, but I’m currently fairly hopeless on anything but basic video content.
By sharing your goals openly and honestly, a smart inbound consultant will bow out if their expertise and your goals don’t align.
I’m in the process of finding someone to very slightly upgrade our master bathroom. One of the guys I talked to said, “Nope, that’s not what we do. In the past we tried to squeeze the margins to make it work, but that just lead to frustration for us and our customers.” At this point, I wished we were doing a full remodel so I could’ve worked with him.
Can You Accept a New Way of Marketing?
A successful content marketing engagement is founded on one fundamental idea: you need to serve your customer.
If you aren’t willing and able to place your customer at the center of all you do (in reality, not lip service), a content marketing (or any marketing) strategy will always be less effective than it could be.
If you’re unwilling to change, or impatient, or hop around from thing to thing like a cat on a hot tin roof, or disengaged; even the best consultant (marketing or otherwise) is going to fail or be less successful than they could be.
I’ll wrap up with this: don’t waste the time, energy, and money hiring an inbound/content marketing consultant/agency only to ignore what they advise you to do. It is insane to do the same tired marketing over and over while expecting results to improve.
There is nothing more frustrating than beginning an engagement with the bold claim of “we need to change our marketing” and then have the client respond to recommendations for a different marketing approach by getting cold feet and going to a corner to suck their thumb to whine about how different content marketing is.
Do you need help creating and executing your content strategy? Either via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (301-275-7496), I welcome an honest conversation with you.
I admit to having brought consultants in to “better frame” the message I’d been having no luck communicating. I also spent six years as a consultant, delivering the advice I’m sure many of my clients already knew. We are a curious species, Bryant
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LOL. “A curious species.” Amen to that.
Yes! you are right. I totally agree with you.
Oooo, I love any comment that totally agrees with me! Thanks for the kind words.