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or read on below to understand how we approach the challenge of marketing a consulting business.
Now, why would anyone hire you and your firm?
Consultants just steal your watch and then tell you the time!
Ever heard that said?
I don't know if the term existed before 2005 when Martin Kihn published House of Lies, but I certainly remember hearing both clients and colleagues use the expression when I was a management consultant working in financial services in London.
On the one-hand, I get the sentiment. Often clients leverage consultants to see the wood for trees, despite the solution being perhaps obvious to everyone else. Or they engage a consultancy as an insurance policy. Someone to point the finger of blame at if things go wrong later.
I actually think both of these are perfectly valid reasons, but I'd like to think there's also much more to it than just that.
Selling something that's intangible
The biggest challenge in selling consultancy is that the services are intangible, the fees are high, and you'll want at least some of them up-front.
This means that, from the buyer's perspective, the risks are very high. Especially from the perspective of the client who might just be betting their career on hiring your firm!
This is where marketing comes in.
Not just to get the attention of your prospects in the first place, but to smooth the way from initial contact through to deal closure. And ultimately, later on when it comes to (hopefully) future engagements with the client and referrals.
The way in which you smooth the conversation is to build trust. But you already know that.
However, in the distant past there was sufficient time and resource capacity such that you could build trust purely through face-to-face interaction. But in most circumstances those days are history, especially more so with the recent pandemic.
Not only is more difficult to face-time with your prospects, but central procurement teams have significantly more say in decisions than they used to. With decisions made by committees it's simply not feasible to build 1-2-1 relationships with everyone involved in the decision making process.
Digital marketing afford you the opportunity to be in many places at once!
This means that you can scale... you! And your wider team. Digital marketing will enables you to build trust and smooth the buyer journey.
What about referrals?
You need to build trust as without which the sales conversation may never happen. This is why referrals are so important. They short-cut trust building as you inherit it from the referrer.
But few firms are able to grow on referrals alone. And even referrals can benefit from a helping hand, for instance, a good website with engaging content that demonstrates your expertise.
Of course, nothing builds trust more than having a face-to-face conversation with someone. Which is why you mustn't limit your marketing to being digital-only. You need to utilise both digital and traditional marketing channels.
What your marketing must do is reduce the time spent with tyre-kickers. It should qualify whether it's worth your time getting face-to-face in the first place.
The rules of effective marketing
Whilst there are digital marketing channels and traditional marketing channels, we also categorise individual channels as inbound and outbound.
An inbound marketing channel is one in which your prospects are encouraged to engage with you. For example, your website might have a contact form and embedded online calendar where prospects can schedule a call with you.
Outbound marketing is where you directly approach your prospects. For example, cold calling or business exhibitions.
The reality is that you need both inbound and outbound strategies, as well as traditional and digital methods.
What's more important is to follows the rules of marketing. I say rules as marketing is really a game. A game where you try to idendtify potential buyers and channel them into a conversation with a someone responsible for selling.
At the same time, there are competitors in this game. Your opponents. And you have to beat them. Not through underhand tactics, but through skill in the game. Remember, most consulting firms are rubbish at marketing because they don't practice it often enough!
Now, let's briefly explain the simple rules of the game of marketing...
The Game of Marketing
There are 5 rules which must be followed to win at the Game of Marketing.
- Embrace failure: Marketing is all about trying things out, not all of which will work. If you're not prepared to fail, you will lose.
- Stop talking about yourself: Problems and opportunities are marketed, services are sold. Don't make your marketing all about you and your firm as your prospects don't care. Market your business as experts in overcoming the challenges your ideal clients are facing.
- Build trust: Marketing a consulting business is all about building trust, not funnels.
- Be omni-channel: A single marketing channel is not enough. You must deploy multiple channels across traditional and digital, and ensure that they work in harmony.
- Every single marketing channel can work if..: you commit to being consistent, persistent and patient.
Now you know the rules of the game - which puts you ahead of the vast majority of your competition - let's look at how we can help.
Our Services, Your Solutions
Our approach to helping out follows a process of initial evaluation, through to strategy development, design of each individual marketing channel, and finally implementation and launch.
Each of the steps is laid out in further detail below.
Former American President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, once said...
I assure you that it is our desire and intention to keep the doors of consultation always and fully open. There must never be a final word between friends.
And so too is that our desire.
Before formally engaging with any client we first have a consultation. On the call we want to establish an understanding of such things as:
Some of the people we speak to have very clear ideas on these. Some do not. What's important to understand quickly is:
- 1Whether investing in marketing would make sense for your business?
- 2Where you're currently at?
- 3How ready you are to move forward?
The consultation covers a lot of this, but we also perform a rapid 52-point audit to gain an outsider's perspective on your business. This can be completed either before or after the consultation, depending upon how much we can glean about your business beforehand.
Regardless of the outcome of the consultation, and regardless of whether or not we decide to work together, we'll provide you with an output from the audit on request. This will help you to gain a better understanding of what you're currently doing, and where quick-win opportunities might be present.
Nobel laureate, John Steinbeck, said...
To find where you are going, you must know where you are.
This rings very true for marketing too. Before you determine a strategy, it is first necessary to understand the current lay of the land.
What I don't mean here is a quick view as to whether you do or don't market. That's not the prime concern. The Kickstart Workshop is about getting clarity on your business.
Here are just a few of things we'll work through in the workshop:
Some consulting firms simply take the view that they don't market. But this simply isn't true.
Even if you're wholly reliant on repeat business and referrals, you must be doing something to make those happen. That's marketing.
The aim of the Kickstart Workshop is to gain absolute clarity on your current marketing position, your value proposition, your business strategy, and what value any change in marketing approach might derive.
At the end of the workshop we typically arrive at one of 3 conclusions:
- 1No changes are required: Your current marketing approach is sufficient to achieve your business strategy
- 2Simple changes are required: All you need is a few tweaks to maximise and exploit your current marketing approach and channels
- 3A fundamental shift is required: New ways of marketing need to be introduced to make significant progress
We recognise that the answer isn't always to define a grandiose marketing strategy. This is why we do the Kickstart Workshop up-front. To ensure that your marketing investments are proportionate to your level of readiness, and to avoid pouring valuable revenues down the drain!
Kickstart Workshops are undertaken either face-to-face (social distancing permitted) or via video-conferencing (over Zoom). They work well in either case and both approaches benefit from broad involvement of business stakeholders.
American football coach, Vince Lombardi, said:
Hope is not a strategy.
Yet hope is the strategy many consulting firms deploy. They hope existing clients will renew. They hope people will be referred to them.
And, the truth is, you can maintain a firm for many years with the simple strategy of repeat business and referrals.
The challenge, however, is that it's: a) very difficult to grow a firm in any kind of sustainable manner with that approach, and b) so unpredictable that it really does cause sleepless nights!
For a consulting firm, your marketing strategy needs to be focused on building trust. You want your prospects to self-identify. To put their hand up and say that they need your help.
To achieve this the mantra we always use is:
PROBLEMS are for marketing, SERVICES are for selling.
Yet most firms start marketing by focusing on their services. Or more precisely, on themselves. Their services. Their client list. Their case studies.
What they don't do is put their prospects front and centre.
If you've completed a Kickstart Workshop with us you'll be very aware of the problems that your clients are facing. Once you know this you can set about defining your Marketing Strategy. It will establish:
- 1The business goals that you want to achieve (in line with your business strategy)
- 2The specific marketing channels that you will deploy to gain the attention of your ideal clients
- 3How your marketing channels will be resourced (internal/external resource blend)
- 4What the measure of success will be
Chinese general, Sun Tzu, said:
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
Marketing Channel Design is about determining the exact tactics. How each of your chosen marketing channels will be implemented, managed, monitored, and reported upon. And more importantly, how they will be integrated to work together as a whole.
Based on our years of experience in marketing professional services, we have developed a set of 8 design principles. They are as follows:
Depending on your chosen marketing channels, there can be a lot of work that needs to go on behind the scenes to complete the design and implementation. Typically this will also require the implementation of a marketing automation solution, and may also require a new website or enhancements to your existing website.
We utilise a suite of different tools to achieve this, some of which will attract additional licensing fees. The duration of this phase will vary too dependent upon the effort involved.
Sometimes referred to as 'the ultimate entrepreneur for the information age', author and entrepreneur, Seth Godin, said:
There's no shortage of remarkable ideas, what's missing is the will to execute them.
The problem is, when it comes to marketing, too many consulting business dive straight in at the execution end.
They don't bother trying to understand themselves first. Their strengths and weaknesses. Their clients. The value they provide them, and the services that they offer to deliver that value.
They often don't feel there's anything more to discover about themselves - heck, they've been doing it for years anyway!
They don't bother with strategy. They see strategy as theorising. As lacking action. They want to people doing stuff.
No time to design. Just "do" marketing.
I can spot these people quite easily because they say things like,
We tried social media but it doesn't work for our business.
or they say:
We don't waste time and money marketing because we don't need to - all our leads come from referrals.
or my absolute favourite:
We're the best kept secret in the business!
Just how much food are these businesses leaving on the table?
I get it though. Marketing isn't easy. And, unless you're a marketer yourself, you probably never intended to spend all your time marketing!
Marketing is challenging, especially as the usual metrics such as ROI hold limited relevance. But, whilst the technicalities of marketing can be complex, the fundamentals are remarkably simple.
To be successful at marketing, you just need to be:
The Launch phase is the culmination of all of your efforts up to this point. It's exciting. But it's also the start of a long journey of discovery. Finding out which channels work best for your business, and gaining an ever deeper understanding of your clients and prospects.
The biggest mistake people make here is inconsistency.
Without consistency the knock-backs or failures - of which there will be many - erode your persistence. That leads to impatience.
I see it so often. Firm leadership teams and marketers try something, it doesn't work, so they stop. They give up. They declare the marketing channel doesn't work for them.
We prefer the concept of Marginal Gains, created by Sir Dave Brailsford of British Cycling:
The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.
Now, if I told you marketing was a quick win - which is probably what you want me to say - I'd be lying to you. But if I told you that the medium and long-term gain is second to none, that would be wholly truthful.
Our approach is to relieve you of a lot of the burden. We can do the things that you can't. But there is one thing that we can't do, and that's match the expertise that you and your team have in your chosen field.
So our approach is to work in collaboration.
You bring your unique expertise in your industry, and we'll turn it into marketing assets that drive prospects to engage.
Together we'll turn strangers into your clients!