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A More Powerful Way to Communicate Your Consulting Firm’s Promise

Is your consulting firm like toothpaste? In case you’re scratching your head, trying to figure out where this is going, there’s an easy answer: No. Of course not. Your offering isn’t creamy and there’s no limit to how much consulting you can bring on a plane.

But adopting a classic marketing strategy used to sell toothpaste will help your consulting firm grow.If you’ve read any marketing or sales how-to book, you’ve been exhorted to “find your customer’s pain” and to explain how you can resolve that pain.

That’s sound advice for marketing your consulting firm. Zero in on your prospects’ unsolved problem or unachieved aspiration.

Following that sound advice positions your consulting firm to hit solid singles and doubles. If you want to hit grand-slams with your consulting firm, move past the basic “market to a pain” approach.

The Model

Imagine yourself back in 1979, when hurricanes wore exclusively female names and posting a note required tape or a thumbtack. Your weekly episode of Dallas was interrupted by a commercial showing two women approaching a supermarket shelf:

Exasperated mom: “I don’t care what everybody’s doing. You’re using a fluoride paste to fight cavities.”

Demanding teen daughter: “Mom, I need this gel for fresh breath.”

Nosy lady who’d get arrested for HIPAA violations in today’s world: “My family uses double protection Aquafresh.”

Reassuring announcer: “Aquafresh gives you all the cavity fighting fluoride of the leading paste, and all the breath freshener of the leading gel.”

What’s going on in this commercial that launched a new toothpaste into the top ranks of the category? In a word:


The advertisers didn’t simply highlight a pain (you’re at risk of cavities, halitosis or both) or an aspiration (you want fresh breath and strong teeth). They dramatized the conflict: a cavity-fighting paste is not a breath-freshening gel.

Your consulting prospects always have a conflict. If there were no conflict, then your prospects would have already achieved their goals.


Your problem-based sales and marketing might utilize a Fishing Line such as, “We work with chocolate chips manufacturers who are struggling with throughput.”

If you’re of the aspirational ilk (like most consulting firms), your Fishing Line sounds like, “We help chocolate chip manufacturers increase throughput.”

But if you’re focused on conflict, then your entry point is: “Chocolate chip manufacturers know that increasing throughput causes the chips to melt.” Then, after your prospect nods his head in agreement, you bust out your toothpaste conflict-resolving promise: “We work with manufacturers who want to increase throughput costs without chip melt issues.”

Solving a problem is good consulting.
Resolving a conflict is great, consulting firm marketing.

Your Next Steps

Improve your current Fishing Line and your other  marketing communication by following these three steps:

  1. Provoke the Pain – Don’t be afraid to needle the sore spot. Make the pain or obstacle your consulting prospects are facing more salient, scary, and concrete.
  2. Deepen the Desire – Paint a more vivid picture of the dream you’re promising. Focus on the soft benefits and emotional wins.
  3. Call Out the Conflict – Loudly echo your prospects’ “this isn’t possible” beliefs. The more intractable you make the conflict appear, the more attractive your solution becomes.

Have you used conflict to market your offering? If you haven’t, how could you?

  1. David Burnie
    March 27, 2019 at 7:16 am Reply

    Great article. Thanks David. Too often we leave it up to our clients to “connnect the dots” and figure out how our services can help them. Articulating the pain points more clearly and then directly addressing how we can solve them is a great approach.

    • David A. Fields
      March 27, 2019 at 7:29 am Reply

      Excellent point, David. Rather than striving to be clever in our communication, we should be ensuring our prospects expend the smallest amount of brainpower to understand why they need us and want us.

  2. Carl Benfield
    March 27, 2019 at 7:31 am Reply

    Brilliant! Yes, this adds very nicely to the standard value proposition of identifying pain.

    • David A. Fields
      March 27, 2019 at 7:37 am Reply

      Yep, those ol’ marketing and advertising folks were brilliant indeed.

      In our eagerness to throw out the bathwater of previous generations’ values, we too often throw out the baby (great ideas, approaches, techniques). This is just a case of catching the baby… or something like that! Thanks for contributing your reaction, Carl!

  3. Mary Ann Dekker
    March 27, 2019 at 8:15 am Reply

    Me: “World-class consultants know that acronym-“spelling” errors and erroneously conceived comparisons cause healthcare-based deals to fail.”
    You nod your head in agreement.
    Me: “I work with world-class consultants who want to attract healthcare-based clients by using accurate acronym-“spelling” and concept clarity.”
    Am I on the right track, David? I love opening your weekly emails! Your presentations are delightful and help me with my work enthusiasm. If you’re interested in securing your healthcare-based clientele, let’s chat sometime about HIPAA and its parameters in regard to privacy issues.
    Thank you for all you do for us!

    • David A. Fields
      March 27, 2019 at 8:22 am Reply

      With all the consulting firms I work with that target healthcare, you’d think I’d spell HIPAA correctly the first time! Thanks for pointing out the typo in a funny way, Mary Ann.

  4. Chris Doig
    March 27, 2019 at 10:37 am Reply

    David, as you know we help clients select enterprise software. Our previous fishing line was “Minimize the pain of major software purchases” but we recently changed it to “Navigate software selection to business success”.

    The key word here is “navigate” which implies software selection is a dangerous journey for an organization. It also discourages them from trying to do the work themselves because they will run aground. The “to business success” paints the picture of our promise. It is also slightly broader than software selection alone by allowing us to include things like software strategy that supports the business strategy.

    When talking with people I have found that the new fishing line “clicks” much faster and more often than the old one. But it’s still not perfect… we are constantly looking for improvements and I am going to try to incorporate your conflict ideas. The trick is keeping the fishing line short enough to be memorable.

    • David A. Fields
      March 27, 2019 at 3:01 pm Reply

      Chris, you’ve surfaced an important nuance: the approach we’re talking about is not only about your Fishing Line. In fact, you can leave your Fishing Line as is and still use conflict in your marketing communication.

      Remember, your Fishing Line is the shortest articulation of what you do–the target and the problem you solve–and it’s meant to start a conversation. Including the entire conflict would probably make your Fishing Line too long. However, as part of a conversation, conflict becomes and entry point to a powerful, compelling discussion.

      Thanks for creating an opportunity to explore that distinction, Chris.

  5. Dan Markovitz
    March 27, 2019 at 1:27 pm Reply

    How did you ever remember that Aquafresh ad????

    • David A. Fields
      March 27, 2019 at 3:03 pm Reply

      The real story is less impressive than you might have imagined. Aquafresh was a Beecham Products brand. (Beecham became part of what’s now called GlaxoSmithKline.) I cut my marketing teeth at Beecham working on brands like Aquafresh. I remember it because I’m old!

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