“Consulting” has long been one of those nebulous words to which many ascribe their own meaning – often a pejorative one. In the broadest sense, to consult is simply to give professional or expert advice. But in the world of B2B marketing consultants play a critical role for organizations, and they put their heart and soul into it. We hustle. Hard. When we’re recommending a B2B marketing strategy, we’re answering three core questions for a client: Who is the target customer? What keeps them up at night? How do you solve that problem better than anyone else? Then we develop a plan to communicate that message and generate leads. Ultimately, consultants consistently leverage their acumen to build brands and grow revenue. While it may sound like a role anyone with a marketing degree and an internship under their belt can handle, it actually takes a wealth of experience in the field and some very important soft skills to do well. The specific skills needed to best make a difference for clients? Let’s dive in.
When you’re a consultant, your job is to ask tough questions and use the answers to make strategy recommendations. Marketing missteps?Profit margins? Brand identity issues? If you’re not putting it all on the table, you are not earning your seat there. It can be hard as a consultant to tell companies how to spend their money, especially if they’re emotionally attached to a course of action. But even top executives can have blind spots. Marketing consultants must be able to respectfully challenge even the CEO, even if it feels a little uncomfortable. Because if you’re not helping them make adjustments to produce better results, what are you doing there? Find your voice– the one that will allow you to confidently yet diplomatically convey the kind truth that could change their business.
As you might have guessed, clients don’t always like being challenged or hearing the tough truth. They know on some level that a marketing consultant is just doing his or her job, but may not take it well when you tell them it’s time for the product line they’re most passionate about to ride off into the sunset. Just as you are challenging your client, they will challenge you. Fiercely. Whether grounded in emotion or logic, clients will come at you with responses that cover the spectrum from “We’ve tried that before” to “Why aren't leads coming in faster?” In Texas, we’re very familiar with a little creature called an armadillo who thrives in the heat and wears armor to protect himself from the elements. Remember that the client ultimately knows their business better than anyone else – even you - and give their feedback the weight it deserves. Channel your inner armadillo and let it bounce off your back.
The importance of data to a marketing consultant cannot be overstated. Key performance indicators, or KPIs, are just that. They are what tells you how your tactics are performing, and they’re how you can confidently prove it. A marketing consultant must first be able to determine which metrics are the most accurate indicators of success, and then monitor those metrics and make adjustments if the numbers are not where they should be. In marketing, we know that not every purchase decision can be attributed to a single tactic. But we must know how the tactics are working together for success, and if one of the toys needs to be thrown out of the sandbox. Whether you consider numbers your friend or your foe, get comfortable in establishing a great working relationship with them.
BlueByrd’s Ian DeRanieri likes to say that “tactics are how you win the battle. Strategy is knowing which battles to fight.” This is a great analogy for describing what marketing consultants do, because in the battle for market share, you can’t have a war on so many fronts that you’re not truly gaining ground on any of them. And sometimes you have to lay your weapons down when the landscape changes, because as strategy expert Michael Porter has noted, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” For example, a number of medical device manufacturers across the globe are currently deciding whether or not to continue selling certain products in the European Union, as the Medical Device Regulation standard set to be effective by 2024 means tremendous time, cost, and documentation to remain compliant. Is this a market the company wants to stay in? Do they want to remain in the market but deprioritize the EU against other markets where regulatory compliance is not as expensive and onerous? Or is the effort and expense worth the potential financial gain as competitors choose to exit? This important strategic questions must be answered with the guidance of an experienced marketing consultant who has taken the time to understand the shifting sands of this particular battleground, and provide a recommendation on whether or not to plant a flag there.
Just as a marketing consultants must always be willing to ask the right questions, they must also be willing to listen to their clients. One of the most important pieces of a consultant’s job in all stages of a client engagement is the very active process of discovery. Since the client knows their products and services better than anyone else – including you – every opportunity should be taken for the type of thoughtful inquiry that plumbs the information you need to make recommendations about both strategy and tactics. And it’s okay that you don’t know it all and need to ask questions. One of the permissions BlueByrd asks for as we enter into partnership with every client, from a workshop to an FCMO engagement, is the permission to ask dumb questions. It’s often in listening to the answers to our “dumb questions” that we gather the client history and industry knowledge consultants need before they can ever recommend a specific course of action on the marketing side. It’s been said that we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak. An effective marketing consultant will take this proverb to heart in all client interactions.
At BlueByrd, we work with a variety of clients across all industries, from oil and gas to medical devices, investment banking, software, chemicals, and many others. Which of these is not like the other? All of them. This means that for almost every client, we enter an engagement and learn about an industry we’re not familiar with. And because we’re good at asking questions, we’re digging in and gathering all the information we can to know how the industry works and how our client should position themselves in it. On a call with a client a couple of weeks ago, I asked, “Can you describe a day in the life of a chemical being transported?” And you know what? Despite it not exactly being a glamorous industry, the answer was extremely interesting because I learned something. It’s a job of really leaning into the process of seeking out and assimilating new information daily. And while you may be able to slog through it if you’re not intellectually curious, your job satisfaction will probably not be very high. Marketing consultants could specialize in one industry and hop from client to client in it, but where’s the fun in that?
With the continual advent of new technologies enabling different ways to reach target audiences, the marketing world is one of constant adaption to change. When you feel like you’ve mastered a set of effective tactics, a new one comes along requiring more learning and a potential shift in tactical execution. Or a bold new entrant to the industry begins to capture market share, and you must chart unfamiliar ground with a counter-positioning message. Perhaps there’s a change in your client’s business strategy that propels a change in the marketing strategy to align with it. If you ask a marketing consultant to describe a typical day at work, you’ll often receive a laugh and shake of the head in response, because no day is ever the same. New learnings always keep it interesting, but not at all predictable. It’s a daily game of professional Whack-a-Mole, but we love the challenge of consistent change.
So, do you still want to be a marketing consultant? We believe in you. It’s not always an easy ride, but it’s a very worthwhile one if you’re passionate about the business. Just make sure you put on your learning hat, get ready to ask some tough questions, and arm yourself with the thick skin you’ll need keep going when the answers challenge you. The axiom that the only constant is change may seem trite, but it’s a certainty as a marketing consultant. Take a deep breath and get to work – it’s a whole new world every day.
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