Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Winning Clients

When I tell people I'm a marketing consultant I usually get one of two responses:
1. What the hell does a marketing consultant do?
2. How the hell do you get customers to work with you?

One of the things I've found over the years is that most people have very mixed ideas about what a 'marketing consultant' is or does. You see, being a consultant is really about giving companies an independent viewpoint - an objective view of the business, along with ideas and strategies for improvement. There's nothing terribly magical about this - the real skill is in being able to assess a business, from the 'big picture' of what they are trying to achieve right down to the 'nuts and bolts' of who is doing what on a day to day basis. However, many business people have a jaded view - they tend to equate 'consultant' with someone who charges enormous fees for telling them how to run their business and telling them things they already know. To be honest they're not far wrong! When you introduce yourself as a consultant, then you need to qualify it very quickly with real business benefits that you can provide. For example I have used a line like '...many people struggle to choose between the many ways of promoting their business - advertising, direct mail, email, getting referrals and so on. I help companies sort out which tactics are going to be most effective in increasing sales and profits.'


The best prospects come from getting out there and meeting people. Go to breakfast clubs, seminars and other business gatherings whenever you can. Contact your local business advisory services (here in the UK it's BusinessLink or the Chamber of Commerce). Suggest they host briefings at which you talk about your field of expertise. Ask for a business card from everyone you meet and offer to send them some information on the latest marketing techniques. Email is a great tool for this but don't ignore printed newsletters too. Keep your website up to date. It sometimes feels like a worthless chore, but many people appreciate being kept informed of what you're doing and what you can offer. Consultancy work is often about timing - being in the prospect's sights just at the right moment when they have a problem to solve. Maintaining regular contact will ensure this.

The next thing is to get the prospective client to agree to meet. Suggesting an open meeting, or to show them your 'portfolio' isn't enough. You need something that will get people excited or intrigued enough to want to meet with you. For example, suggesting that you 'have recently put together a step-by-step programme for increasing sales through referrals in your industry,' would get most people pretty interested. Then offer to 'meet for 20 minutes so that I can tell you about some of the techniques that other companies in your industry are using to improve sales and performance.' If necessary describe one or two of the most unusual techniques to wet their appetite. Any sensible business person is unlikely to refuse that meeting. Virtually all the ideas and techniques you need to present at that meeting can be found in some of the excellent torrents on this site.

The third and final element is to be very clear in your mind what exactly it is you want to get from the meeting and then make that absolutely clear to the prospect. A lot of consultancy-type businesses offer too wide a range of services and tend to 'wait to see what the customer needs.' This often won't work. It is much more effective if you have a planned outcome for your initial meeting. For example, a low-cost business review that you conduct, a test campaign that you propose, a short-term contract with pre-agreed objectives (say for 3-6 months). Being absolutely clear about what you offer, how much it will cost and what the key return for the prospect is going to be, will give them a much clearer decision to make.

As many gurus will tell you, be prepared to give away lots of information. I think a lot of consultants starting out are afraid of giving too much away - but in fact, it is better to give as much info away as you can. It is amazing that even when you tell a company exactly what they need to do and how to do it, they will still come back and ask you to do it for them!


Charges are always tricky in the consulting field. There are no 'hard or fast' rules about how to charge for your time. I used to charge a day rate for my services and tried to get clients to agree a contract for 1 or 2 days per month. It worked well for bigger companies but not for smaller businesses and individual traders. They need to see a definite outcome from your work. Usually there is something within the business you can identify as needing improvement. For example, in the service trades it may be referrals. Most individuals understand the benefits of getting more referrals. So if you can offer a structured programme for increasing referral business then they will understand that. Quantify it with figures like 'if you got 10 new referrals per month, that's worth £XX to your business over the course of the year'. It's an easy way of justifying your fees.

People tend to choose a consultant based on his/her experience, reputation and what is on offer. Price doesn't come into the equation much. That's why I'd urge you to price yourself at the higher end of the scale. If you think typical consultants are charging £200-£600 ($400-$1200) per day then offer yourself at £500 ($1000). DON'T underprice! Once you have estalished a rate with each client it will be very difficult to increase it. Better to lose one or two clients than to end up working for £200/$400 a day and being frustrated.

More and more consultants are proposing joint ventures and/or residual commissions with clients. This allows you to charge a basic fee but get commissions from profits. These kind of contracts can be complicated to set up but are worth looking at, especially if you are confident that you can significantly increase their business. I currently have several joint ventures with clients - I provide the marketing and development services, they do the work and support their customers. It requires a high level of trust and clear agreements but it can be very lucrative.


The big, big hot button at the moment is 'risk reversal'. It's not a new idea - Jay Abraham was championing the concept of no-quibble money-back guarantees a decade ago. But more people are looking at ways to make their offers to customers as risk-free as possible. Clear statements like 'if your product fails we'll replace it free of charge' or 'if you find the same product at a lower price we'll refund the difference' are becoming more common place. Alternatively look for a unique offering that differentiates your client from his competitors. Sometimes offers like this can be underwritten with an insurance policy so the client won't lose out if something goes wrong.

Similarly offering a guarantee for your own work can convert clients very quickly. Something like 'if I can't double your turnover within 12 months, I'll refund all my fees' could be the incentive for businesses to give you a try. It keeps you on your toes too, since there is a strong (!) incentive for you to succeed! It's scary to offer but in practice it ensures that you pick and choose your client's carefully. It's also rare for people to measure the 'doubling' part. As long as your work improves their sales, they are likely to be happy and not come asking for anything back.

Consulting is a great way to make a living. You meet and hopefully work, with a wide range of clients and remain at the forefront of your industry or service. You'll also be preparing yourself to become one of the future 'gurus'. Now THAT's success!

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