This might sound funny, since I head up a boutique digital marketing agency, and depending on how you look at it, internet marketing consultants might fall under the category of competition for us. Fortunately, I’m more of a “rising tides lifts all ships” kinda guy, so I see plenty of marketing opportunities for everyone—but I digress.
By hiring an internet marketing consultant, you gain the expertise and objective insight of someone who knows how to help companies like yours accomplish its marketing and business goals. It is, therefore, necessary to put serious time and effort into finding the right person, especially if you’re a small or mid-sized business with a limited budget (that’s most of us). The price of a consultant isn’t the only thing you should consider; when looking for the right consultant for your business, it’s important to focus on their process, and the results they’ve had—and what they commit to doing for you.
Below are a few tips I hope help you stay focused on finding a consultant who can provide the results you want, at a price you can afford, plus a few other bits of advice to help guide the hiring process. In addition, I recently had the chance to bounce this topic off of Leslie Posten, CCO Story Engage, and Co-founder Buoy Up, and she was able to lend us some pro-level perspective.
Strategy for Hiring an Internet Marketing Consultant
The first step in hiring a marketing consultant is finding someone with a proven ability to think on her feet and strategize. This doesn’t mean the person is a miracle-worker who will transform your company’s digital marketing overnight. But it does mean your consultant should add considerable value to your company through a directed effort.
According to most consultants, this is no small task. Consulting Magazine reports that only 55 percent of consultants at the renowned Boston Consulting Group described their effort as always having a positive effect on clients’ marketing goals.
In other words, if you don’t do your due diligence, your consultant might have the same chances of succeeding when flipping a coin. Your expectations should focus on what strategic strengths they bring to the table, and whether or not they’re able to deliver on said strategies.
Leslie had this to say:
“It can be nerve-wracking for a small to medium business to figure out which marketing consultants are the real deal, and which are well-oiled scam artists. I’d recommend looking for these markers of success:
For B2C consultants: Do they have recent B2C case studies they can share? Are they asking you deep, valid initial questions before even presenting a bid – questions that indicate they understand your industry and goals? Do they have referrals from happy clients? Can they present a road map of projected growth for your business?
For B2B consultants: Can they point to real metrics from recent projects that show quantified success? Do they have testimonials available to you, or a client you can speak with about the experience of working with them? Does their proposal include incentives for metrics-driven, tangible results?
For both B2B and B2C, be wary of self-promoters. With rare exceptions, people who endlessly self-promote or focus on buzzwords like “hustle” may not spend as much time and effort grinding it out in the trenches with you. If they are all about the hustle but you still want to work with a “name player”, verify who on their team you would actually be working with and vet that person as you would the consultant who approached you initially.”
Also, look for someone who can start strategizing immediately. Any worthy consultant will have reviewed your business’ website and other applicable materials before the interview, and can deliver a few initial marketing suggestions off the cuff. Don’t ask the person to audit your entire website; a few key tips or observations can give you a better understanding of the person’s potential.
A Question of Strategy vs. “Getting S#*% Done”
One area you’ll absolutely struggle with is the difference between a consultant with strategic capabilities vs. someone who can execute. Typically, someone with enough arrows in their back, feathers in their cap, or years in the trench to provide strategic value and guidance will have moved away from day-to-day execution-based activities. On the other hand, someone who’s focused on execution: managing social media accounts, creating and sending emails, or writing and updating the blog, won’t have the experience—or time—to take a long-view of marketing strategy. They’re just too busy getting S#*% done to spend 6 – 8 weeks developing a marketing plan.
This isn’t to say that it’s impossible. What you need to decide is what you’re looking to accomplish. If you’re looking for in depth business planning, product development, segmentation, vendor management and guidance, you’ll want someone with more strategic experience. If you already have most of this in place (or aren’t in a position to dig deep here), and you want someone to manage your social channels, blast out emails, and update your website, you’ll focus more on a production consultant.
According to a recent study by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a high percentage of U.S.-based companies agree that analytics is a vital tool in achieving a competitive advantage. However, a mere 2 percent of these companies say they’ve enjoyed a positive, broad impact from current analytics investments. Whether this is due to poor performance from internet marketing consultants is unknown, but these statistics emphasize how critical it is to find a consultant with a deep knowledge of analytics and the various tools marketers use to gather data.
In this case, surface knowledge and experience won’t be enough. The trick is to hire someone who understands how to utilize analytics to the fullest advantage and has a proven track record (a portfolio of cases where analytics were used successfully) to ensure your company isn’t investing in hot air.
Companies that recognize analytics as valuable tools and hire people who understand how to use these tools are the ones that will pull ahead of the competition in today’s market.
Let’s face it: some folks have a hard time writing a complete sentence; writing sentences people actually want to read is taking things to a whole new level.
The ability to write well and engage the reader is a gift, and something your marketing consultant should be able to offer your business.
Your consultant should know how to make content and advertising copy sing in your organization’s unique voice, as well as stand out from the competition. This includes writing attention-grabbing headlines and subject lines, interesting blog posts, and interest-piquing landing pages, and interacting on the fly with tweet-worthy social media posts.
Consultants that easily dismiss the copywriting aspect of their positions should be considered with caution. To say that everyone can write is a gross misrepresentation of a job freelance professionals take very seriously.
Choosing keywords is imperative to any digital or content marketing strategy, as they enable customers and clients to find your business on popular search engines like Google. Any internet marketing consultant worth her salt will be up-to-date on the latest keyword discovery practices and related search trends.
This element is considered one of the most important aspects of SEO, as it directly affects traffic, conversions, and ultimately your bottom line.
Specifically, your marketing consultant must have a thorough and up-to-date understanding of your market’s relevant keywords. She should know about long-tail keywords in addition to short, “regular” keywords, with an understanding of when and how to use both effectively.
Plus, as voice search becomes an increasingly popular method of obtaining information, consultants will need to be prepared to take on evolving technological challenges.
Marketing Automation Technology
Another important element to look for when sifting through consultant resumes is the ability to set up basic marketing automation technology. Marketing automation refers to technology that allows your company to automate, streamline, and measure both marketing tasks and workflows. The idea is to increase revenue quickly by improving your company’s operations. Marketing automation is applicable to any business model, including B2C and B2B companies.
Common channels for marketing automation include email, landing pages, social media marketing, campaign management, marketing analytics, lead management, and CRM integration, among others. B2C marketers using automation have enjoyed conversion rates as high as 50 percent; and according to Nuclear Research, 95 percent of companies using automation reported at least some degree of marketing improvement.
It’s important to remember that marketing automation is not synonymous with email marketing—and your consultant may not be an email marketing expert. It is not a standalone strategy that benefits marketing exclusively; rather it benefits marketing in combination with sales to increase revenue.
Remember, small companies are taking advantage of marketing automation just like their larger counterparts. If you’re operating a small to mid-sized business, it’s worth finding an internet marketing consultant who will happily (and knowledgeably) set up a marketing automation system for you.
Conversion Optimization Experience
Experience in conversion optimization is something you’ll want your internet marketing consultant to have. Conversion optimization refers to increasing the number of engagements, or actions, taken by visitors to achieve a number of online objectives. This includes sales conversions, like when a prospect becomes a paying customer, as well as actions that are of a social or communicative value to your brand.
Ultimately, this skill focuses on boosting sales within the existing traffic your site is receiving and growing that traffic over time. A reputable internet marketing consultant will evaluate your website and determine the best strategy for improving specific functions.
To do this, consultants should have experience with A/B testing or similar practices that allow them to monitor results and pick new strategies that are proven effective over time.
It’s not good enough for a consultant to simply make suggestions; what you’re looking for is someone who will take ownership, based on analytical data, regarding what site configurations, experimental ad copy, and images in emails work best at inciting specific actions from your audience.
To the layperson, creativity is subjective; it’s difficult to measure it, or distinguish one creative source’s superiority over others. And remember, creativity is also an exercise in problem-solving, not just writing pretty words or designing flashy websites.
When it comes to your consultant’s creativity, focus on her ability to think outside the box. To get to the root of creative characteristics you want present in your internet marketing consultant, try to challenge the consultant’s creativity using hypotheticals to drive spontaneous answers during the interview process.
If you’re looking to learn more about how to tell how creative someone is, Leslie Wilson, Ed. D., outlines behaviors, characteristics and traits/states of creative individuals.
Also, be sure to ask for previous work samples to further investigate the candidate’s creative breadth. In addition to showing you more of his creative mind, it will give you a better sense of how long it takes each applicant to solve creative problems. You shouldn’t be looking to see if the consultant was designing brochures, ads or emails. But they should be able to work with a designer to integrate creative with marketing to drive successful campaigns.
We know Rome wasn’t built in a day, but you should be looking for someone who can balance time with results. And since consultants are often paid by the hour, you’ll get a better idea of which hires you can afford and how much you’re going to need to budget to get the consultant you want.
While it’s hard to quantify, experience is one of the factors that consultants will site when negotiating a price, so it’s important that we recognize experience as a factor to consider in your hiring process.
First, you may want to look for a consultant who has prior work history in your market or industry. If you’re on a tight budget or timeline, this may help you eliminate a large portion of applicants quickly and easily. The drawback to this approach is that you may not get a “fresh set of eyes” on the problem. Someone who has a lot of experience in the space may only bring old tricks to the table. On the other hand, you won’t have to invest in bringing them up to speed on your market.
Depending on your business’ needs, you might not require a 30-year veteran, who likely charges an arm and a leg. Take inventory of your needs with a critical eye and pair those needs with a candidate who has the right level of experience.
This is particularly important for small businesses or medium-sized companies. When your budget it already stretched, it’s hard to justify bringing in a consultant that you can’t afford. Mitigate this burden by evaluating experience levels fairly. Like the saying goes, you get what you pay for; but if your company doesn’t need all the skills and experience a consultant is bringing to the table, then there is little point in paying for his services.
Lastly, a consultant might say she’s experienced and knows everything there is to know about internet marketing. But can she prove this experience to you plainly and without much fuss? A consultant that leans on experience should be able to provide a list of previous clients, testimonials about her work, and a portfolio that illustrates her work.
An experienced internet marketer should have an online portfolio/website with previous work samples. It should go without saying that if a consultant can’t market his own experience as a selling point, how in the world can he market your products and services effectively?
Because consultants are free agents, they’ve got their hands in a lot of different cookie jars, and it would be easy for them to scratch one client’s back with the hand of another.
Unfortunately, when you bring in a third party to manage your marketing strategy, you have to be on the lookout for this kind of nefarious behavior that leads to no direct benefit to you or your company. Instead, the consultant is the one who benefits, and you might not realize it until you spend money on ad space for a particular media outlet or a pricey endorsement from a public figure.
Seek out a consultant who doesn’t have any strings attached. Probe for any ulterior motives that might conflict with your company’s plans, and don’t be afraid to ask who else the consultant is currently servicing. You deserve an objective consultant that won’t take advantage of your businesses or brand.
During the Interview
Once you weed through the applicant pool, narrow down your selection to a few good consultants and start making some calls.
During the interview process, there are some signs you can be on the look out for that indicate a strong candidate. They’ve been highlighted in this Inc. article, but here is an abbreviated version for you to use immediately:
“I Don’t Know.”
Consultants are the people we call when we don’t know how to get something done. So, it’s easy to see why it would behoove them to avoid uncertainty. If they don’t know how to do something, they must be terrible at their jobs, right?
If a consultant is willing to take a risk and admit to you when he doesn’t know something, that’s a good sign. It means he’s willing to ask the hard questions to get the job done right. Plus, they get bonus points if they follow up an “I don’t know,” with an “I’ll find out.”
“Implementation will be difficult.”
When consultants are asked basic questions, they’re more likely to tell you what you want to hear in an effort to secure the job. This makes your job hiring a lot harder.
Overhauling your internet marketing strategy with the help of a consultant will not be easy. It will be messy, and there will be problems; it’s the consultant’s job to make life easier when all the moving parts start to explode.
If a consultant is willing to admit things will be more challenging at first, then he’s a straight-shooter with obvious experience digging in the trenches.
Saying “no” is hard for lots of people, but especially consultants who make their earnings off what they offer to their clients. When a consultant says “no” he could be admitting to limitations, and letting you know upfront that he can’t solve a particular problem, or that he might need some help.
While disappointing, this response shouldn’t be viewed as inherently negative; rather, it’s a sign of forthrightness that could save your company time and money. As long as they are honest, and have a plan for figuring out a way to turn that “no” into a “yes” this can be a positive.
Find Your Marketing Consultant
Internet marketing consultants can offer valuable skills to companies in need of dramatic recovery, or those simply wishing to get ahead of the competition. What they bring to the table is more than select skill sets; it’s a fresh perspective on your company’s marketing that you would be hard pressed to find from someone already working within the company.
Seek out candidates who are confident strategy builders, analytic whizzes, and automation pros. Don’t be afraid to challenge creative thinking and the importance of good copywriting skills. Stress objectivity and protect your company from predatory practices. And when it’s time to sit down and talk, be sure to lookout for cues that indicate integrity, forthrightness, and a willingness to accept personal limitations.
There are plenty of talented consultants ready and willing to help take your internet marketing to the next level. With a little due diligence, you can find these consultants and avoid the people who are all talk and no walk.
If you’re hiring an internet marketing consultant, have you invested the time in figuring out whether it makes more sense to hire internally for the position, or even to hire an agency that can deliver a higher level of expertise across the board in a shorter amount of time? Have you worked with an internet marketing consultant before? What has your experience been?