7 Questions You Must Ask When Hiring a Marketing Consultant (and What The Answers Reveal)

Hiring a Marketing Consultant

Last summer, we wrote a post about how to know when it’s time to outsource your marketing. Now, we’re going to talk about seven questions you must ask the marketing consultants you interview and how to evaluate their answers.

Question #1: Describe your marketing firm, the types of clients you work with, and how you work with them.

Why it’s important: OK, so this isn’t a question per se, but it’s an important piece of info and one you should open with.

How to evaluate the answers: Here’s the information you’re looking for: how big is the marketing firm? It’s certainly OK if the firm is owned by one or two people, but the real question is this: does the firm have a “stable” of creative people to handle all of your needs (e.g. graphic design, website programming, social media, PR, copywriting, and so forth)? Your best contenders should be able to handle all of your needs “in-house” (even if they’re outsourcing the work to their stable of freelancers).

Does the firm have experience with clients in your industry? This doesn’t need to be a deal breaker per se, and it will depend on your industry. But if you own a b2c organization and the firm you’re talking to has only worked in the b2b space, then this might indicate a potential disconnect.

The other bit of info you’re looking for is how the marketing consultants work with clients: do they come into your office? Do they handle everything virtually? Is it a combination of both? Do they use any sort of project management software (such as Basecamp) to oversee the work they do for clients? There’s no right or wrong answer here: you need to decide how YOU want to work. Some businesses like to have an on-site marketing presence, even if it’s only a couple of times a months. Others are fine working virtually.

Question #2: Marketing has changed so much in the last ten—even five—years, thanks to social media, mobile marketing, and the fact that every “serious” company has a website. How has your marketing philosophy evolved, and how does it change/react to new ways of doing things?

Why it’s important: There are lots of “old school” firms out there that rely on their longevity and, sometimes, a well-known name. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to be the most effective firm in today’s climate.

How to evaluate the answers: You do NOT want a firm that dismisses things like social media or mobile marketing. Consider that a big red flag. Sure, marketing fads come and go, but social media and mobile are not two of them. Instead, look for companies that show a willingness to change their position or that provide examples of how they’re embracing and educating themselves on the latest methodologies.

Question #3: How do you measure success?

Why it’s important: You have marketing goals, and we imagine one of the top goals is generating more leads. You need to know how the firm will measure whether it’s been “successful” for you—and if you agree with its methods for measurement.

How to evaluate the answers: The marketing firm’s success is directly related to your company’s success and whether you’ve reached the goals you’ve outlined. So somewhere in the answer, the firm should mention how it will strive to understand your goals, create programs that will attempt to reach those goals, and implement ways to measure the success of those programs.

Question #4: If a marketing program doesn’t perform as expected, what adjustments do you make?

Why it’s important: In some ways, this is a trick question. Beware the company that promises you the moon and that it guarantees x, y, and z. Some marketing programs won’t perform as expected—or as hoped. That’s a fact. How a firm responds to this reality is important.

How to evaluate answers: Be impressed with firms that acknowledge that some programs may fall short or fall flat. Then listen to how the firm makes adjustments after something like this happens. You’re looking for firms that understand the need for a solid Plan B and Plan C.

Question #5: Can you give three examples of marketing that you put together for clients that not only increased their leads, but also led to more sales?

Why it’s important: Obviously, you want to see examples of the firm delivering. A reputable firm should be able to show you at least three examples. And it’s important to include the sales discussion. Most firms can probably deliver more leads, but it’s the quality of those leads that matters.

How to evaluate answers: How innovative are the programs? How different are the programs from one another? What can you tell about the clients? Are they in an industry that’s similar to yours? What was your gut reaction to the program? (Listen to your gut – if the firm did something that feels spammy, for example, and it makes your skin crawl, then listen to your intuition.)

Question #6: What do you love most about your job?

Why it’s important: This question provides insight into their personality. You want to work with people who love what they do.

How to evaluate answers: OK, so we doubt you’ll come across marketing consultants who say they hate what they do during an interview. But you can read between the lines. Who appears genuinely excited and enthused? Who has made you feel special? Who has freely offered ideas in the spirit of building a business relationship? Again, listen to your gut.

Question #7: May I contact three of your clients and speak with them?

Why it’s important: You must check references!

How to evaluate answers: Write off anyone who hedges on this. Marketing consultants should be happy to furnish you with this info.

So those are questions you should ask during an in-person or phone interview. But there are some other ways to vet the firms/consultants.

  • Perform a Google search on the consultant’s name or firm’s name and see if any negative reviews pop up.
  • Check out their social media presence. A marketing firm and/or marketing consultant in 2013 must have some sort of presence. At the very least, they should be on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (how do you expect them to counsel you and your team if they’re not active themselves?).
  • Carefully review their website, especially portfolio sections. If they offer resources, such as white papers or blog posts, check them out. Do you like what they have to say? The way they say it? Have you learned from them?
  • Keep track of how and when they respond to you. How quickly do they get in touch after your initial inquiry? What’s the tone/style of their email communications? If you request a proposal, how prompt are they in delivering it, and what’s the presentation like?

Have you outsourced your marketing? Are you happy with the firm or consultant you use? What sorts of questions did you ask during the interviewing process? We want to hear all about it. Share in the comments.

Chris Wallace

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