Marketing consultants are a hot commodity. They can cost upwards of two hundred dollars an hour and they are responsible for driving your business success. Yet, hiring a stellar consultant is hard to do. Do you look for an experienced practitioner or an educated speaker? A doer or a teacher?
In a nutshell, the role of a marketing consultant is twofold; they are an advisor and a service provider. Therefore, it is crucial to look for someone who possesses both soft skills and solid experience. An eloquent, confident voice cannot mask a lack of street smarts. And a soft-spoken approach cannot convey authority. One of these skills can be taught. One is only learned through practice in the field.
The Importance of Communication
There is no doubt that marketing consultants, or any consultants for that matter, need to be good communicators, skilled listeners, and articulate conversationalists. Their job is easier if they are able to build an amicable relationship with their customers while also maintaining a high degree of professionalism. However, a great consultant does more than simply lecture -- they are also attuned to the needs of others because they listen and ask the right questions.
Can it be taught? Yes.
Effective communication skills can be learned in a variety of ways. For example, universities offer communication courses tailored for leadership, international business, and content creation. You can also take improv workshops, join your local Toastmasters chapter, or job shadow someone in a customer-facing role.
The point is, some soft skills (like the ones listed above) can absolutely be developed. Others cannot. Great marketing consultants need to be fiercely passionate, undoubtedly credible, and possess a razor-sharp mind that solves creatively for each customer instead of employing a cookie-cutter approach.
And these things only come with good old hands-on experience.
The Necessity of Experience
Consultancy is essentially the process of giving advice to clients based on the consultant’s practical experience. When you bring someone on board to provide insight to your marketing team, take a hard look at your consultant’s portfolio of work. How much marketing/business experience do they have? What types of projects have they initiated or led in the past? Do they actively participate in the inbound marketing community?
In other words, does the seller actually believe in the product they are selling?
Can it be taught? No.
Business wisdom and acumen only come with time and practice. Marketing is a unique industry. Although you can learn marketing theories from textbooks, you cannot become proficient without participation in the field. As Seth Godin says, “If you want to learn to do marketing, then do marketing.”
The Best Consultants Lead by Example
Hiring marketing consultants is a significant business decision and it’s vital to remember the duality of their role as both an advisor and a service provider. They will need to act as a coach and command the attention of your team, so communication skills are important. Conversely, they will also need to solve innovatively for the unique challenges your company faces and sometimes step in to show you how it’s done.
In the hunt for rockstar consultants, pay attention to a person’s soft skills, but don’t fail to do a proper background check. Remember, you’re hiring a role model.
You may have heard of an infamous quote that goes something like this, “Those who cannot do, teach.” This is the wrong approach to take when choosing a marketing consultant. If I were to rewrite this quote it would go, “Those who do first, teach better.”
How to Consult by Example
One of the biggest risks a marketing consultant faces is falling out of touch with trends because the marketing industry changes rapidly, and consultants spend more time on the sidelines. How can consultants continue to practice when their main responsibility is to consult? How do they prevent their skills and business sense from going stale?
Here are some strategies to stay current and sharp while still acting first and foremost as a consultant.
Demonstrate vs. Lecture
Somewhere along the consultancy road, people can fall into the habit of lecturing at clients instead of working with them. A mutually beneficial consultant-customer relationship should be a combination of teaching and demonstrating. Think more along the lines of, “Let me tell you, let me show you, now you try, then I’ll review.”
Read and Write
The internet is full of content and information. As simple as it sounds, reading blogs, news, and trend reports can help marketing consultants stay in the loop. In addition, providing insightful commentary on personal blogs will help them practice their written and analytical skills.
Fluid Creativity vs. Rigid Methodology
While it’s imperative for marketing consultants to have an organized approach to their consulting, avoid the pitfall of an overly rigid methodology. Each client is unique and therefore, consultants should use creativity to solve for them instead of regurgitating tired strategies. This innovative mindset will force consultants to think differently and keep those brains keen as can be.
It’s All About Passion
Choosing marketing consultants can be a tall task because you must learn to balance communication prowess with practical, real-life experience and find the perfect combination for your team. Naturally, however, as consultants spend more time consulting, their communication skills improve while their experience erodes -- unless they stay involved in marketing. And remaining an active marketer is not as hard as it seems. All you need is passion for your profession, because passion equals energy.
So, should marketing consultants practice what they preach? Absolutely. But what do you think -- what do you look for when hiring a marketing consultant?