You Have to Be a Little Crazy to Be a Marketing Consultant

05/19/2015 06:38 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2016

A marketing consultant has to sell a product that most don't understand, to people that are not sure that they need it, and are skeptical of its value. So why would anyone want to do marketing consulting? Good question. There are many answers, but for marketing reasons, I will limit mine to three.

  1. Marketing is a critically important function of a business.
  2. The most important things in life are rarely easy, and many in marketing love the challenges.
  3. There is nothing more exhilarating that achieve something that is difficult at the same time it helps people.

To convince skeptics of these three reasons as well as provide a foundation for solving the problem, they require further explanation.

Marketing is a critically important function of a business

Since my saying this might lack credibility (some might find it self-serving), I need to quote someone whose credibility is beyond reproach. The late, great Peter Drucker was a management guru, professor at the Claremont Colleges, and considered the father of management consulting. Drucker placed marketing on the highest pedestal possible. He is quoted as saying, "Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two -- and only two -- basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business."

In the same vein, David Packard co-founder of Hewlett-Packard famously said: "Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing people."

David's quote emphasizes marketing's importance at the same it criticizes most marketers for not knowing their subject well enough.

The most important things in life are rarely easy

If you have ever built a successful sustainable business, raised children, or taught people useful skills, you know that what is most important is not easy. Convincing people they need help with their marketing when they really don't understand it is extremely difficult. Many equate marketing with advertising or sales. For whatever reasons, too many think marketing is a touchy, feely, "your guess is as good as mine" soft subject. Those that understand it deeply, know that nothing could be further from the truth.

Exhilaration from overcoming challenges to help people

The most difficult step is convincing skeptical executives that their company will be better off hiring you to help them. This is not just a problem for marketing consultants. It's a problem for all consultants. In fact, too many believe the following joke: "Consultants borrow your watch, tell you the time, and charge you for the information." Knowing how to sell by focusing on the benefits to the client while providing supporting data (including testimonials from previous clients) will help you to overcome this hurdle. If you have a deep understanding of marketing, the easiest part is doing it. What complicates doing it, however, is companies typically have employees that feel threatened by outsiders. Why? They figure that if top management has to hire outside consultants to help with marketing, they (the marketing employees) will look bad. As a result, some will do what they can to sabotage, or interfere with, the work of the marketing consultants. To overcome this problem, consultants need to (1) sell these employees that they are there to help them succeed, (2) document everything, and (3) give visible credit to the employees that do help with the process.

Proving the value

If you are crazy enough to do marketing consulting and you have successfully overcome the hurdles delineated above, you are not out of the woods yet. You have to do a competent job. However, that is still not enough. You have exceed client expectations and prove that you did an exemplary job. You prove your case by building a marketing information system to measure the success of your work. In its simplest form, you code everything so that you can automatically measure the results of the marketing strategies you recommended. This is the part that too many marketers leave out. They are not able to prove the return generated by the company's investment in their services. You have to do this.

Case history

I will give you one example. I was hired to help a company that was a leader in its market. While it was making money, its sales were flat for 20 years, and its nearest competitor was gaining market share. It took a year for this company to hire me. Two warring families owned the company 50/50. One family wanted to hire me because they were not happy with the way the other family was running the business. While they both had family members in the management, the CEO and head of manufacturing came from the dissenting family. As you might guess, (1) the second family did not trust anyone recommended by the first family and (2) did not want any outsider coming in to suggest they might be doing something wrong.
After a year of back and forth and a lot of selling on my part, there was agreement (I am leaving out a lot of juicy details). I did the market research, created a marketing plan, and helped to implement the plan. Within the first 90 days of implementing the plan (and after 20 years of flat sales), sales and profits climbed over 30 percent.


So why should anyone believe this story? You shouldn't. That's where the proof comes in. After completing the project, the CEO sent me a letter. I have redacted some information to protect the company and individuals involved and provided only the first two paragraphs so you'll have less to read.

Dear Ira,

I am writing this letter to thank you for the marketing assistance you have provided to (company name) over the past two years.

I have been with this company for 18 and one-half years. During this time our sales have been virtually flat. In just the first quarter since we began to implement the marketing plan you created for us, our sales are up considerably. It is the biggest quarter in our company's history! What is even more significant is that sales of our more profitable higher-end (products) have grown at an even higher rate.

If you want to join those of us that are a bit crazy

So if you want to join those of us that are a bit crazy and become a marketing consultant, I wish you the best of luck. In addition to luck be sure to remember that you have to (1) understand marketing really well, (2) do competent work, (3) know how to sell, and (4) prove the worth of the work you did. Best of luck.