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Evaluating Marketing Consultants: Questions to Ask and the Answers to Look For

Published on Jul 13, 2012


Read our article, 'Evaluating Marketing Consultants: Questions to Ask and the Answers to Look For' at 'Time to Start Up,' the small business blog by BizFilings.
By Matthew Toren As a small business owner, you probably find yourself inundated with salespeople trying to get you to buy everything from copiers to disability insurance. Among those pitching to you are people who try to convince you that they can help grow your business. They may be selling radio ads, direct mail campaigns (say no to that one!) or general consulting help to develop and execute a marketing plan. Some of them will have fancy PowerPoints that talk about the Boston Consulting Group matrix and micromarketing. Others will go the pizza-box flip chart route and promise you will increase your sales by this much with their customer incentive plan. So, how much do you know about marketing? For most small business owners, the answer is not much. Well, this discussion is not a quick marketing 101 session. This is a consulting 101 session. Use these questions to help separate the wheat from the consulting chaff. And there’s plenty of chaff to discard. That’s step one in the consultant evaluation process. Assume the consultant has nothing to offer you. If someone wants to meet with you, say no unless they will provide:
  • A one-to-two-page written proposal of who they are and what value they can add to your business.
  • A simple plan of execution including a timeline and milestones.
  • A basic estimate of costs -- including payment to them and any additional expenses -- broken down by category.
  • Several current references with contact names and phone numbers.
Any competent marketing consultant should be able to research your industry and put this together. You may want to let them email any questions they want answered to customize the proposal. But here’s the good news: at least 90 percent of those consultants will never call back or send you anything. So with minimal effort, you have eliminated those people who have nothing real to sell and who would let you down when it came to completing any real projects. For the other ten percent, take a look at what they send you. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Does the proposal make sense for your business?
  • Is the proposal well-written and straightforward?
  • Did they do any homework about your industry or your business or is it a canned package?
  • Are they a one-trick pony, with one approach, tool or toy for everyone?
  • Do they give examples of successes with other companies and those references you asked about?
  • Are prices in line with comparable services in your experience?
If the answers to these questions are yes -- or mostly yes -- the next step is to call at least two of the references. Ask questions about what the company did and how it worked. Check pricing. Also, ask them for website addresses or check in other ways to make sure the references are legitimate businesses, not just friends of the consultants. Chances are this process and these questions have weeded out most or all of the scammers and unskilled hopefuls. Your next decision is whether the approach and the firm is a fit for your business. It’s time to meet with them. Remember, you control the meeting. Send them an agenda and get their approval beforehand. Set a specific timeframe for the meeting -- no more than an hour. Here’s what you want to know:
  • Does their product or service fit with your brand’s reputation and your marketing plan? (Don’t have a marketing plan or an awareness of your brand? Then you may not be ready to meet with consultants.)
  • Can they come up with an initial small test of their recommendations or services to see if they can make a difference for your business?
  • How will their efforts integrate with the daily operations of your business? (For example, if they want you to do couponing, how will your employees learn about what is planned and when?)
  • How does their approach fit with the demographics and characteristics of your customer base?
  • Do you think you would be comfortable working with these people? (Ask yourself, are they condescending or fawning, are they friendly, would you be comfortable having them in your office, do you trust them?)
  • Do you think their overhead is adding too much to their prices? (Do they have an office in the swanky part of town? How many people are on their staff? Also, check to see what kind of car they drove to the meeting. If it’s lots better than yours, think twice.)
There was an engineer who had a small solar energy business. He knew nothing about marketing and would choose to buy different marketing approaches with no plan. None of them worked, but he kept trying and trying and wasted thousands of dollars. Don’t fall into that pattern. Take the time to develop an effective evaluation process, and you can seriously improve your chances of finding consultants that can make a difference for your business. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- matthewPic-1Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of the award winning books, Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right. Their latest project is a free classified ads network called: iSell.com.