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Why Marketing Won’t Work for Your Consulting Firm. Or Will It?

Many consulting firm leaders think marketing their consulting practice is like baseball:

  1. You get up to bat with your articles, or blogs, or tweets, or speeches (a.k.a. your marketing).
  2. At some point you’ll hit one out of the park; i.e., one of your marketing tactics garners a passel of viewers or readers or listeners.
  3. Your hit drives in a client, or multiple clients.
  4. The crowd roars its appreciation.

[Warning: there’s a fair chance this metaphor will go astray because: 1) You may not know much or anything about American baseball, and 2) the truth is, I don’t know much about American baseball because… well… it’s not hockey.]

In fact, marketing your consulting firm is a bit like baseball, except the rules you think apply are a myth. In reality:

  1. Instead of four bases between you and a new client, there’s about 45 bases. Or maybe 85. The number’s tough to determine.
  2. Runners you hit onto base tend to wander away from the game.
  3. The home run fence isn’t 400 feet away. It’s about six miles over the horizon.
  4. Oh, and there’s no one watching from the stands.

If one of your LinkedIn posts’ views inexplicably skyrockets from your average of 8 to a record-breaking 800, in all likelihood no one will call you to inquire about your services. That’s also true if your viewership reaches 8,000 or 80,000, or even if your article snags you two minutes on TV. (Sorry.)
However, if you continue to market your firm consistently, registering occasional hits, at some unpredictable time in the future, a client will stride across your home plate.

Consider most of your ongoing marketing as reminder advertising, not persuasion advertising. When your reader/listener/viewer experiences the problem you solve, they’ll reach out to you if they remember you. And they’ll remember you if they’ve interacted recently with your marketing.
What about your home run marketing?
It’s absolutely possible you’ll hit a home run. Not likely, though, and you don’t need it. Most $50 million consulting firms have never produced a bestselling book or a viral video. That definitely holds true for $5 million consulting firms and $500k solo practitioners.
To win consulting clients through marketing, in addition to those you earn through high quality work and referrals, build five attributes into your marketing efforts:

Quality – Hit the ball hard when you connect, with content and delivery that’s good and occasionally great.

Frequency – Step up to the plate often. Repetition, short of being a pest, ensures clients remember you when their need occurs

Duration – Play the game month in and month out, rain or shine. Consistent effort over the long run is your ticket. Driving a new client home requires a marathon, not a sprint.

Format – Choose heavy-hitting marketing vehicles like speeches over low impact vehicles such as social media.

Groundwork – Hit singles relentlessly through one-on-one contact via networking and outreach.

You will experience visibility spikes now and again as you market your consulting firm. When that lightning strikes, what should you do?

  1. Cheer and feel good about yourself
  2. Follow up with anyone you can identify who viewed your materials. (Capturing names is half the battle with marketing your consulting firm.)
  3. Write, post, speak, participate, etc. again. And again. And again.

The myth of marketing consulting firms is that it’s easy and short term. The reality is it’s extraordinarily effective only for those who play the long, long game.
How has marketing worked for your consulting firm? Please share–other readers want to learn from your experience.

  1. Mark Prus
    May 9, 2018 at 6:51 am Reply

    So true…squirrel!

    • David A. Fields
      May 9, 2018 at 7:42 am Reply

      Exactly. When your readers don’t have the urge or attention span to write a comment on your article, can you really expect…
      …oooh, shiny!

  2. Philip Sorrells
    May 9, 2018 at 8:32 am Reply

    I am on board with your observations and suggestions. One area that I struggle with is finding the right trade associations. There are so many out there! Is there any best approaches to finding the ones to engage with? Of course, other than the obvious one of being where the fish are!!

    • David A. Fields
      May 9, 2018 at 9:15 am Reply

      There are a lot of trade associations, aren’t there? You’re dead on with the first criterion being a trade association that is filled with decision makers who are likely to have the problem that you solve and want to solve it. (Fishing Where the Fish Are.) If there a bundles of those trade associations, then look for one that has conferences and publications. Select one that appears to welcome smart consultants like you as a speaker/writer by looking at who spoke at their prior conferences or is scheduled to speak at upcoming conferences and who contributes to their publications. Then reach out and create a relationship. If they give you the brush-off, move on to the next trade association on your list.
      Thanks for the insightful question, Phillip!

  3. Marie
    May 9, 2018 at 8:33 am Reply

    True…not only for consulting firms though, but pretty much for any business – services as well as consumer goods in my opinion.

    • David A. Fields
      May 9, 2018 at 9:40 am Reply

      You’re probably right, Marie, that the principles apply across many businesses. That said, consulting is definitely more relationship driven than, say, toothpaste.
      Also, some companies blow their entire, annual marketing budget on a single TV ad run during the Superbowl. I don’t know whether that’s effective or not for them, but it wouldn’t work well for a consulting firm. (If you were thinking of dropping a million bucks on a TV ad, I just saved you a fortune.)

  4. Mike "The Inventory Guy" Ryan
    May 9, 2018 at 9:05 am Reply

    Thank you David for your insight. Persistence, and consistency in message, is key to becoming “that guy (or gal)” in solving problems and creating value for your client. “Never, never, never give up” – Winston Churchill
    and it’s modern corollary, “What I do have are a very particular set of skills” – Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills in ‘Taken’
    Bonus Quote: “Chocolate is happiness that you can eat.” -Ursula Kohaupt

    • David A. Fields
      May 9, 2018 at 10:25 am Reply

      Nice injection of quotes, Mike! Adding relevant “as so-and-so said” support is always fun. Plus, if you happen to get a citation wrong, you can always refer back to Tevye from Fiddler On the Roof, “Well, it doesn’t say exactly that, but somewhere it has something about a chicken!”
      Bonus points for your bonus quote, Mike.

  5. Robin M. Nagel
    May 9, 2018 at 10:24 am Reply

    David, and also Marie: yes and yes.
    A reflection on joining/attending trade associations, from experience: become involved in leadership even if you a) don’t think you have time for that, and/or b) doubt you have the expertise. Neither is true. Learning by doing is where it’s at, especially with and at the elbows of more seasoned colleagues or even potential clients. By extension, ask for speaking opportunities through existing clients and their trade associations or informal interest groups. “We long for frictionless technological solutions. But people talking to people is still the way that norms and standards change.”

    • David A. Fields
      May 9, 2018 at 11:29 am Reply

      100% agree, Robin. Trade Association participation is one of the Five Marketing Musts, and the only way to make it work is to participate! Becoming involved in leadership and/or a committee is generally an effective way to get involved.
      Thanks for sharing your experience and success, Robin.

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