By Brian H Meredith
From the NZBusiness Magazine"Marketing Maestro" Archive.
First published November 2010
A sign of the times, I know, but the past 12 months has been characterised by a weird and wonderful selection of experiences related to the wants, needs and behaviours of potential clients talking to my Consulting Practice. All of these experiences can be broadly grouped under one heading – “How can I get more for less?”
However, the ways in which this overarching question has manifest itself are continuing to intrigue (nee confound) my colleagues and I.
One new client, for example, insisted we work on hourly rates and not on quoted Assignment Fees (which are undoubtedly fairer and of greater value to a client). The reason became clear in week 6 (about half way through our work together)- they stopped all work because “we’ve run out of money”.
Another wanted to retain us to lead them in the development of a Business & Marketing Plan for a business currently turning over $15 million p.a. “We value your expertise and your depth of skills and experience” they told us. “We are sure you are the guys to take us to the next stage of this company’s development in these challenging times” they said “But, by the way, can you reduce your fees from “x” to “y”?” (a reduction that equated to 65%!)
I was contacted a while ago by a couple starting a new business. They were in a hurry. Within a few days I had met with them, been hired, agreed fees and terms and moved heaven and earth to free up two days at very short notice in order to meet their requirements.
Following our meeting, I had emailed them an Agreement for Services for their signature, together with two invoices representing the fees and payment terms that we had agreed upon.
The next day I received an email, the nub of which was to say that, as they did not know me (they had approached me, not the other way around) and as my references were “inconclusive” (they explained that I was not listed in Yellow Pages nor was I known to some unnamed “business organisations” that they had contacted), my fees were “too expensive”. They had clearly not read, or had chosen to ignore, my CV and my client list (both of which are, I humbly submit, blue-chip).
They counter offered (notwithstanding the agreement we had entered into the day before) Yep, despite their proclaimed concern at my “inconclusive” references, they were clearly prepared to entrust the strategic planning for their fledgling business to an “inconclusive” and “unknown” bloke, just so long as he was cheap – very cheap.
In fact, the fee they offered was just 21% of the fees that we had agreed and shaken hands on. I declined and wished them well.
So here are some basic guidelines for selecting a Marketing Consultant:
Prepare a Shortlist of Potential Consultants.
Do not rely on Yellow Pages. Rather, talk to business people that you know and/or admire and seek referrals from them.
Prepare a Written Brief
A Brief should introduce your business, articulate what it is that you think you need help with, outline any terms that are important to you and describe what it is you think you are seeking in a consultant (e.g. specific skills, specific industry experience etc)
Contact Your Shortlist
Don’t contact more than 2 or 3 potential consultants or you will end up participating in a turkey shoot. Send them the Brief and ask if they are interested in meeting.
Meet With Your Shortlist
Be prepared to be questioned on your Brief, perhaps extensively, whilst the consultant seeks to gain as clear a picture as possible of who you are, what your business is about and what help it is that you appear to need.
Ask for a Written Response
Close the meeting by confirming the consultant’s continued interest and ask for written details of how they would approach the answering of your brief, what the fees and disbursements would be, what the payment terms are and what the timeframe will be.
Make a Decision
But remember, you are not looking to marry your consultant, just to extract the very best possible interventions from them to enable you to achieve your objectives. It is this consideration that should be paramount in your decision set.
Agree To & Pay Their Fees
In return for bringing my three decades of experience and expertise to bear on my clients’ businesses, as well as an absolute commitment to helping them achieve their objectives, I have two fundamental requirements of my clients.
The first is that they pay the fees I ask for, when I ask for them. There are many so-called consultants who will offer you the world for the price of a bottle of whisky and a packet of fags – avoid them like the plague. This is a world where you will only ever get what you pay for.
Take Their Advice
My second requirement is that Clients take my advice. This is not as arrogant as it might sound – if you choose not to take your consultant’s advice then, presumably, you know better than they do and you should fire them.
In my humble opinion, every business, however large or small, should invest in an outstanding marketing consultant. Their expertise and independence cannot be replicated inside your business and without sound, solid marketing thinking, there is no business.
And the returns will likely far outstrip the cost.