How to Hire the Right Marketing Consultant


Hiring a marketing consultant is often a leap of faith.

You’re hoping their expertise and experience fills gaps and make things happen.

But a lot of consulting engagements don’t work as well as expected.

- There’s misalignment on expectations.

- A lack of engagement and collaboration (no partnership)

- Not enough clarity about what success looks like.

- A lack of commitment to actually do marketing (more talk than walk)

When I lost a client recently, some of these issues reared their ugly heads.

To get some more perspective, I talked to Kevin Whelan, who helps marketing consultants improve their businesses.

A key theme was how companies need to hire consultant and, as important, how and when consultants should take on clients.

Consulting is a two-way street.

Both parties need to agree to work together. It’s there’s a good fit, that’s a great start.

High. It's Mark Evans and you're listening to marketing spark. As a marketing consultant, it's rewarding when what you do delivers value and helps you be more successful, but sometimes engagements don't work out for variety of reasons. I recently parted ways for the client, which was disappointing, although not terribly surprising given the red flags that were popping up. But it got me thinking about how company should hire marking consultants and, in turn, how and why marking consultants should take on engagement with clients. In an ideal world, you're looking to create a win win proposition. The company gets what they need strategically are tactically and the consultant performs and gets compensated. To get some perspective, I reached out to Kevin Whalen, a marketing consultant who also teaches other marketing professionals how to build and run a profitable marketing advisory practice. Welcome to marketing spark, Kevin. Thanks Mark, nice to be here. Before we get started, I should be transparent. Kevin and I have been working together for the past year. Kevin is my business coach and he's had a huge impact on how my strategic advisory business operates. The Roy has been tremendous. So, Kevin, I want to start with the basics. It sounds like a softball question and it is, but I think it sets the stage for our conversation. What is a consultant and what should a company expect them to do and, as important, not do compared with an employee, especially with the rise of fractional talent? Great question and there's a lot of parts to that mark. I think ultimately, the end of the day, a consultants job is to help a client get from point a to point B, whatever that whatever that transition looks like. That's their first and primary objective. But but secondarily, their job is to provide risk mitigation and to make sure that things don't fall off the rail. So anytime someone hires a consultant, the first thing I want to know is, okay, how do we not screw up what's working and how do we then also achieve our new objectives in our new goals? So really the consultant has two main jobs, which is one to reach for the stars and they help achieve those things. Usually there are things that are higher risk or maybe not bet the business, but potentially a shift in positioning or an expansion into, say, a new market or a new product or service line, something that is generally inherently risky and or difficult and that they, the the company themselves, don't have a lot of experience in. So that's sort of what a consultant does, and that could even be as simple as let's build an effective marketing program just so that we, you know, we have more structure because we are really stressed out or disorganized or can be a number of other things depending on the context. I think you got a second part of that question around employees and how they sort of different from a consultant exactly. So the engagement that I was in I felt not like I was being treated like an employee, like I was in some respects and order taker from our conversations. There's a difference between hiring a consultant and hiring and a full time employed. Maybe you can elaborate on how you delineate and how should how should each party view each other, given the fact that it's not a full time engagement? Yeah, I think a lot of it is just understanding sort of the definition or the the objective of a consultant. So really, consultant isn't an employ even by legal definitions. You know, in consultant us to use their own tools. You can't tell them sort of exactly where it to go and when to work and how to do things. Ultimately, a consultant or any kind of a contractor needs to have some sort of autonomy to accomplish their goals and they're not just taking orders and that kind of thing because, frankly, that's just not the way a consultant agreement of structure. Secondly, your higher you don't hire consultant and tell them what to do. You know, Sept typically they have more experience on the subject in which you're being they're being hired for and if you're looking to just sort of hire consultant have them be a set of hands, you're better off working with a parttime...

...employee or, you know, sure, maybe some contractors are just going to follow some tasks, but ultimately they're in the business of helping you accomplish a result. So at the end of the day, that's that's really important. Distinction is that you have to be ready to kind of submit to their process and to sort of be bought into their expertise before you even work with them. And as the consultants job up front to set those expectations that Hey, I'm going to take you on a journey, I'm going to take in your input and we're going to go with the best way that I know how to get you to that destination, and I need to be able to steer the ship and you need to be able to give up the reins for a bit as we go, as we navigate these things. Now, one of the wild cards within the consulting world these days is the idea the fractional executive, a fractional CMO, which is what I do, fractional revenue officers, fractional chief financial officers. How does that change the dynamic and and how should companies view fractional executives and fractional leadership people? And they should view them as as consulting engagements from first and foremost. There might there might be a task component to it. You know, fractional CMOS typically also have a bookkeeping component, but that's usually handled by someone on the team and not usually the fractional semo of themselves. So just the same way, or CFO in that case, just the same way. You wouldn't have your chief marketing officer writing tweets and proof editing blog posts and choosing colors and uploading content on a website. You nor would you have a chief fractional chief marketing officer of fractional CMO do those kinds of tasks either. So the way you want to be approaching this is what would you know? How do we bring someone in at a high level so that they're going to steer the ship? They're not going to be the engine, they're not going to drive projects forward, they're not going to be project managers, even necessarily. They're facilitators. They remove role blocks. They ultimately their jobs to get a result. However, however, they can and need to be done. A lot of people in the Higher Fractional C Moo, or at least when they consider hiring one, are really thinking they need basically a part time marketing manager. So that to me, I define that as sort of a managed advisory services or sent of a kind of a contract marketing position, and that's just different. That's just someone to basically be a set of hands with some level of experience or expertise, tactical or otherwise. Yeah, I ultimately you want to be thinking about at a higher level with a fractional CMA, which is ultimately an advisory role. Here's another softball question. When and why should a company higher marketing consultant? It's a question I wonder about all the time because I'm always trying to solicit companies that are looking for consulting help. But I am curious about when can a company justify hiring a consultant versus hiring a full time employee? Yeah, I mean that's a really great question. Generally speaking, when you were I mean we have a lot invested. When you're spending ten plus thousand dollars a month, basically you want to manage that invested spend as effectively as you can, and I can it to you know, if I were to do, say, home renovations on my house every single month the rest of my life and I wasn't at really an expert on everything from paint colors to choosing suppliers to knowing how to design a space or something, basically I'd be out of my depth and that would be every single month forever and ever, because that's not my core competency. So when you bring in a consultant their jobs to be a steward of your resources and to be a steward of your company and your goals and to help you sort of accomplish the outcomes you're looking for through management of the resources and by removing the roadblocks necessary to do those things. Now you can hire a an employee to do that for you. They just tend to not have the level of seniority that, to say, a fractual SMO or a marketing advisor would have, and obviously this will vary on a person by person basis. Who should do your own due diligence regardless, but that's sort of the main difference. A consultant will have a real like a rolodex of freelancers, developers, contractors, people that they can bring into do, I execution work. They'll have worked with several different clients and several different either in your industry or in similar or related industries, and they bring a wealth of experience that you get to have a piece of. You know, these would be multiple six figure a year salary type people, professionals that you would get for the...

...price of, say, a marketing coordinator. So really it's when you need that high level expertise when your business really demands and you expect reducing the risk of hiring someone who's less qualified to do tactics. That's when you want to bring in a consultant so that they can bring in that experience to the table. Let's drill a little bit deeper into that hiring process. When a company goes through the consulting review process, when they're looking at their different options, and there are many options when it comes to consulting business, what are the key questions to ask? What does a company need to know or understand in terms of how it consultant operates, their track record, the kind of companies they worked within the past? I'm trying to get a sense of the due diligence that a company needs to go through to make the right marketing consulting higher. I think you should never really hire a consultant unless you have familiarize yourself with their thinking. And what I always is if someone comes to me and they're looking for you know they're looking to hire me, and they've never read an email or blog post of mine. I write daily emails and all kinds of things. I'll basically say, hey, why don't you just read my content for a bit learn, you know, learn what's going on and really kind of get a sense for how I think and if you want to pay for my thinking applied to your situation. Ultimately, that's what it's there for. So when picking a consultant, I mean referrals can can have a big impact. You know, I just recently, recently was referred to a client. There's a lot of trust that gets transferred because the person referring me knows that I'm competent and actually the last two clients I got were referrals. So that's a good sign. But if you don't have that, the first thing you should look at as the content does a resonate. Do you like their way of thinking? Do you like the way they're marketing themselves, because that's going to be a potential reflection on how they're going to market you. And then, in terms of asking questions, you just want to know, hey, what are you going to do? What's your process, what's your thinking? You know, they should be willing to share a little bit of their strategic thinking about your situation and help you paint to potential picture what it'll be like to work together. So you can ask them many questions like. Have you worked with companies like mine before? What kind of results of you gotten? They may have a case study, but at the end of the day it should be really obvious that they're able to provide value, that they can do so in the sales conversation, regardless of the questions you ask. The consultant should be asking you most of the questions and providing you what you need to to to succeed and then painting the picture of what a successful engagement will look like. But ultimately, in terms of what you ask a consultant. That's what can I expect over the next six or twelve months and and see if you like it. Let's flip the coin in terms of the questions that a consultant should ask a potential client, because it is a two way street. You're forming a partnership. It's not like hiring an employee where they're just going to do what you tell them to do. What should the consultant be asking a company? What should they be telling them in terms of how they want to work and their processes and the steps that a consultant wants to take or need to take so they can be successful with the clients? I mean like anything else, the consultants job is to get really clear on what the goal is of the client. What does success look like? And so I use the analogy of Hawaii, for example, and I say, well, were you trying to go? And okay, we're trying to go to Hawaii. Okay, well, that tells us a lot. So you know, when do you hope to get there, while I hope to get there by tomorrow and I want to take a train. Well, let's just not going to happen. First, by identifying the goals and the timelines and what does a home run look like and what's realistic, then you can start to work backwards from that and say, is this goal reasonable and and ultimately, can I help you achieve that objective? At the consultant should also be checking in, and then this goes both ways, with how they feel during the initial sales conversation. If one person feels overly intimidated or doesn't quite feel comfortable with with the kind of working conversation, that may be assign that you're working engage and will be great long term. Other things that a consultan might ask are, have you worked with a consultant before? Because, unlike working with employees, unlike working with freelances or even agencies, a consultant is basically selling you access to their thinking and maybe a few other benefits, like like training, resources and content and structure and other things that's ultimately paying someone for. So No, no, it's a great question because and when I look at the...

...client that I just part of the ways with, I'm kicking myself, or maybe it's not kicking myself, but I am disappointed that I didn't ask them all these type of questions. For example, have you worked with the consultant before? That would have given me a lot of insight into how much I needed to educate the client as far as how I work and how the consultants work and what actually consultants do. The second one would have been what a success look like and be fundamentally clear on what do they want to happen over the next three, six nine months? In the final one, and this is one I think every consultant needs to ask, is what are your priorities? What do you want me to do right now, versus in a month or two months from now, verse six months now, because when a company hires a marketing consultant or consultant, any kind of consultant for that matter, there's a gap that they're trying to fill or a pain that they're trying to resolve and while you're trying to build a long term plan and build a solid foundation, there's low hanging fruit that needs to be picked which gives the client confidence and validates the buying decision. So I think these are all things that, in hindsight, I'm going to ask blatantly, not just so suddenly, but it's going to make them out and say you have to answer these questions and I, alas, I get the right answers, then we're not going to be six us for working together. You have to say, like why, like you have to basically try to UN sell them into working with you as well. So why even work with me? Why not do this yourself? Why not just try this with the freelancer? Why not just hire an agency to do everything for you? And I think you have to really uncover why they're coming to you and there needs to be a good reason about why you versus anyone else and why you as a consultant versus anyone else. And then how do you how do you envision success? Looking in terms of our relationship. How do you envision? You know, what do you imagine I'm going to do and what do you think you need to do in order to meet these objectives? So those kinds of questions can really help and pushing back and saying like, why don't? What's the real business case here to work together? What's the value of achieving the goal in working together? You know you want to grow by ten percent or you want to bring okay, you want to bring structure to your marketing program what is that? What is the business value of doing that? What's the risk of not doing that? And I think that's where a consultant really has to uncover what is the true business case of working together, and that only comes by pushing back and kind of playing devil's advocate about whether they should even work with you in the first place. And I will add that the dynamics of working with a strategic market and consultant versus someone who's focused on tactics are completely different, because if you're really good at putting together facebook campaigns or social media updates or advertise rising on Google, then there's a specific reason why you're hiring them and they've got a job to do and you can assess pretty quickly whether they're successful or not. When your higheringness, your teacher market consulted. It takes time and strategies evolve and it may take time for results to emerge. And it lends itself to the next question I want to ask you. But the but the length of an engagement. Now, some marketing happens quickly. You can see the results right away, you can gage whether Roy is happening, but a lot of marketing takes time to develop, evolve and produce results. Is there a sweet spot as far as the length of a consulting agreement with a marketer, specially one that is focused on strategy as opposed to tactics? I mean, yeah, like when you when you talked with the difference between strategy and tactics. In and of itself, there's no point of being the best facebook ads manager if your business is position poorly or or if your target market isn't clear and therefore you don't even know if they're on facebook. You know. So those are the kind of you know a good strategic marketer and I'll get to your question. But a good strategic marketer will ultimately be the difference between whether you're kind of succeeding or not. And sorry, could you rephrase your question just a little? What? I'm just trying to get a sense of how long a consulting negation should be, because a lot of a lot of companies they expect instant results. So they want to hire you for a month or two months and as that realistic or your are you really entering in to a long term relationship? Yeah, I mean no, change really happens fast. So when...

...people come to me, a red flag will be I need to grow like by Black Friday and this is the beginning of November and all those kinds of things. Real results, sustainable results, happen over several months to several years. So I have clients my minimum engagements about six months and I have clients that have stayed with me for going on five plus years, and that you know. Usually engagements will last for me twenty year and two years, sometimes longer and sometimes less, and that's because really, when they by the time of client is come to hire you, there's so many layers to marketing and it's like building up a steam engine, like it's going to take it's going to take a little bit of time to build momentum, to get get things moving and and if you expect full speed by month six, but you haven't done anything in your track record up to that point to get up to full speed already, then you're going to really you're not going to achieve what you want. So it's really when you're hiring a consulting unless you're going in for one specific surgical move, you want to be thinking at least in terms of three to six months minimum, depending on the project. But if you're thinking about hiring a fractionacy Moor Market Advisor, it should be, you know, six months, a year sort of minimum. And then the payoff really the the tactics that you work on, the things the projects are working to, tend to come together and can jeal around six months and then you start to really get traction around twelve, you know, eight to twelve months. So then the question is, do we stay working together or do we part ways after six or twelve months? Have we accomplished the mission we set out to do and have we reached the end of that consultants expertise? And usually that's not the case. Usually they're able to hire in house. They get the systems, you set up going and at some point they no longer need you, and then that becomes fairly obvious. Let's take a step back. So Your Company and you've done your due diligence and you've reached an agreement with a marketing consultant. Everyone's excited to get started. What needs to happen next? How do both parties articulate how they're going to work together, the expectations and the goals? I think all those things should be set up before you even get started. You know, that's stuff should be kind of super clear from the minute you hit go, and if you're kind of just figuring that out once they think is dry and then you're kind of already kind of flat footed. So I think ultimately it's about getting clear on all those things right off the bat, rating before you begin get going, so that the vision is clear as that, when the ink is dry, you're basically running on a predefined trajectory. Not that I want to focus on the negative, but what happens if the engagement isn't working as well, as it isn't working at all, or things aren't getting done? I'm I sort of have a fresh wound right now this client. So it is very relevant question. What do you do, like how do you get realigned with the client to make sure that you're on the same page when it comes to how you're going to work together, what the expectations are, what needs to get done, because if you don't do that, then the relationship is going to sour and then no one's going to be happy, and the last thing as a consultant that I want is an unhappy client, because unhappy clients meaning no referrals the engagements over. The question is, how do you mitigate engagements that may not be going as well as you expected? Assuming you've done your upfront work and you have pre qualified people and just established to fit and established a good, positive, trusting relationship, then you shouldn't really run into that many problems later on. But they do, they do occur. Sometimes you get into the middle of things and that happens. So it's really the responsibility. First of all, a consultant should be a fiducier. They should be your advocate, more so, even in addition to all their expertise, they should be looking out for your best interest, in acting in your best interest at all times. So things aren't working together. It's the job of the consultant, a to be willing to have hard but tactful conversations, to address things head on, whether it's how people are, you perceive people are feeling, some behaviors that are maybe happening, or some some expectations that aren't being met, either on your half or their half, and ultimately, just addressing it head on and just being ready to put things on the table so you can deal with them objectively and if, ultimately, if it's not working, you need to be ready to...

...part ways. Both both parties. Even if there is a commitment period, you should try to work through it as long as there's reasonably a fit and figure out here here they get it, get those expectations realigned. But if, but if they're not going to get back on the track, then you probably would just want to say, you know, we're obviously not a mutual fit for one another. Why don't we part ways and save ourselves headache, because it just is not worth the stress for either either of you and it's not at anyone's best interest to keep working together when you do part ways. Is that that easy? Is just a matter of being honest about the fact that there are probably not getting what they expected and you're not being able to deliver the value that you want to do and just call it a day. or I'm just trying to figure out how you and engagements in a very respectful and civil manners, so it's kind of like no harm, no foul, even though they made page you a little bit of money. Like you don't want the company going away thinking I got ripped off or this person misrepresented themselves, and at the same time you don't want a client to think they didn't engage with me, they didn't do what they promised they would do, and I wasn't it was impossible for me to do what I that I that, but why they hired to do the job. Yeah, I mean, at the end of the day it's just about having the maturity to kind of call things for what they are and just and ultimates about the the business case of working together, so you can say you know it looks like. And thirdly, taking responsibility in your end as a consultant, even even if you're not fully to blame to some degree. You signed on with this client, you said the expectations or not with the client and then during the engagement the rather meeting those expectations that you agreed to, either in writing, you know, in my writing, in my contracts, I say your are here, are your responsibilities as a as a client of mine as well, and then just being mature enough to say, you know what, I must not have managed expectations clearly enough. Or it appears, though, that you're not able to execute on some of these ideas in the way that we had imagined and I can't see the business case of continuing to work together and unless we make some sort of a change. So either we reduce the scope of our involvement to be more aligned with what's realistic and possible with you, or we potentially part ways. But you just do that in a way that takes full ownership, that claims it and says it's all about the business case. If you don't see the financial business case of working together, it's not a clear win for both parties. You just want to say look, you, how are you feeling? And I always just really be honest, like how how are you feeling with the engagement? Do you feel like we're moving too fast, too slow, or what have you, and I'll ultimately that's going to be the difference between positive exit or not. And the last thing I'll say is if it feels like like if you're stressed out as a consultant or even as a as a client about the engagement, that's a sign that you have to just communicate. And you had to say this feels like it's not working. What can we do to turn it around? And if not, I totally understand, but right now this isn't really working and I don't want to waste anyone's time or money, and that's kind of the approach. But ultimately you do it with tact and you take as much ownership as you can and let one another save face to the degree that you can, because burning bridges is not going to really benefit anyone and holding people the contracts that they don't want to be in is not going to feel good for either of you either. It's not going to work. I want to circle back on something you said about consultants having a producery duty. One of the realities as a consultant after you've won an engagement, after you've gone through this sales process, you want to keep the client like the last you want to do as a count insultant is lose a client, there's a tendency to go into pleaser mode. But what I've learned over the years is that the best consultants push back. The best consultants hold to their principles and hold to the way that they do things successfully, and often they'll they'll have the courage or the experience to say that's not how we do things. If you do this thing, we're going to move in the wrong direction, and I think a lot of consultants are afraid of doing that because they think if I behave that way, then the client will think think of me in a negative way and then they could fire me and they live in fear as opposed to moving forward when confident. That last part...

...of your point kind of reinforced. But I was thinking as you're saying that, which is, as a consultant, you can't you can't be desperate. As soon as you're desperate, if meaning like you know you need the money, then you're already putting yourself and you're client at risk that you're not going to act in their true for douciary interest and part of their froduciary and truth, producier interests. Means you're looking out for their best interests over yours, right, which is one of the reasons I don't mark up people's time when I make introductions, why I don't charge for any execution work. It's all in the limited fixed feed kind of stuff. So, you know, as long as you're not desperate, then you can say things the way that need to be said. You have to be frank and honest and you have to check in with yourself and saying am I doing work in service of their best in trust, or do we need to be do we need to have sort of a conversation about it? Yeah, it sounds kind of weird because I I love having those kind of conversations with clients. I feel like that delivered the most value when I'm telling them what not to do or how not to spend their money, because ultimately I feel a responsibility for their success. They hired me for that, to help them become more successful, and I would be doing them a disservice if I just went along for the ride, if I didn't raise my hand and say I don't think this is the right thing to do. I think we should do acts rather than why. It feels very empowering as a consultant to have that kind of freedom, because I'm not unemployee, I'm not paycheck to paycheck and if they let me go, they let me go, but at least I've done the best job possible, or I've tried to do the best job possible, and that's a really great place to be as a consultant. Yeah, you have to be able to fight for their interests regardless of your position, even if it's hard, even if it means that you should let me go and go spend this limited money you have on other things. You Do, and the many you stop, the many you stop speaking your truth, the many you gloss over something and let it go, is the minute you shouldn't be a consultant. Final question. When you look at the marketing landscape over the last eighteen months, especially in the BBBB SASS world, a lot of companies thought that covid was the end of the world, and often the first thing that goes is marketing. So they all scale back their marketing operations, only to discover that marketing mattered and they had to do marketing because the market was really doing well. But I've noticed a lot of companies hiring in house again at the same time, a lot of x fulltime marketers have hung up their shingle and consulting has become a very popular way to operate, and that's why I'm seeing a lot of people embracing the fractional mantle. I'm curious about your take on the marketing consulting landscape. Do you think there's more opportunities than ever as companies look to fill gaps with specialist or do you think that we're heading back towards big in house teams? Or maybe there's there's middle ground that that a lot of companies are exploring? That's a great question and I obviously can only speak from personal experience. What I see happening is, though, is there's a lot more of a distributed sort of a marketing team. There's about like eighteen different specializations within marketing, everything from graphic design to content writing, copywriting, you you name a web development. So there's so much they can be done. So what I'm what I'm seeing is that they typically have kind of a rock a person in houses, a marketing manager who is sometimes junior, depending on the size of the marketing budget, or intermediate and sometimes even senior, and they can basically they're basically their job is to produce results. Now, sometimes that means they also bring in an admin person or a secondhand person to do execution tactical stuff and they focus on the bigger projects. But a surrounding those people, as I'm noticing with my clients, and maybe this is a bias because they're working with the marketing advisor instead of an inhouse CMO of some kind, but what I'm seeing is that they're they're outsource in the web development, they're outsource in the graphic design, their outsource in they're sometimes like content, they tend to bring in house because that tends to be very close to the brand and the voice. But I'm seeing a much more distributed, you know, on demand, flexible model that is centered around someone to someone to produce an execute and...

...ultimate project manage, someone like an advisor to really bring in that fractional expertise just to make sure that the guard rails are up and then we're headed in the right direction and somebody who sees inside businesses all days is keeping us on the right tracks so we're not misspending money and we're investing in the development of our systems and processes and building a marketing campaign. Everything else can be outsourced. You know, web development you can get over in the Philippines for twenty five bucks an hour. You can, you can, you know, you can work with ads folks from all of the world, specialists in their craft. It doesn't make sense to hire one person who's really only going to be capable at one or two things to try to execute on all the things, unless they've no choice in the small budget, in which case, yeah, I mean personally, I think the marketing consulting landscape, the marketing landscape, is really fascinating right now because the rules are changing, the rules of engagement are evolving. Where people work, how people work, is being turned upside down and I think two thousand and twenty one, two thousand and twenty two, is going to be really interesting and I'm excited to be part of it. Capable, thanks for the excellent and inspiring conversation. And where can people learn more about you and what you do? Thanks. Mark. Probably the best place is my website, Kevin Dot me. I have some consulting services there and that are sort of general and then some some everything. All the content pretty well these days, is focused on helping marketing consultants and advisors build a profitable advisory business, so that's where they can go to find out most things about me. Thanks for listening to another episode of marketing spark. If you enjoyed the conversation, leave a review, subscribe by Apple Podcasts, spotify or your favorite podcast APP, and share via social media. To learn more about how I help bbsass companies as a fractional CMO, strategic marketing advisor and coach, send an email to mark and marketing spark dot com or connect with me on Linkedin. I'll populator.

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