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19 Tough Questions To Ask A Marketing Consultant Before You Write A Check

by Trey Ryder

QUESTION #1: Which type of marketing do you recommend for me: institutional marketing to build my image -- or direct marketing to generate inquiries from prospective clients?

ANSWER: If the consultant prefers institutional or image marketing, you should be aware that his marketing program may not attract inquiries from prospective clients. If the purpose of your marketing program is to improve your image and not generate inquiries, then an institutional approach might be all you need. But if you want calls from prospective clients, make sure the marketing method you choose is built on sound, proven principles of direct marketing.

QUESTION #2: Which marketing method is better for me, selling-based marketing or Education-Based Marketing?

ANSWER: Without question, the better method to use is Education-Based Marketing. Here’s why: Clients are tired of selling and sales pressure. They’ve learned they can’t always trust a salesperson. So if you choose selling-based marketing, you shoot yourself in the foot in two ways. First, you’re not giving clients what they want. And second, you hurt your credibility when you take on the role of a salesperson.

Most of the marketing we see today is selling-based marketing, designed to sell a product or service. And you know what happens when we see an ad in the newspaper -- we turn the page. When we see a commercial on TV, we either hit the mute button, change the channel or go to the refrigerator.

I once saw a comic in the Sunday Funnies. A man was watching the Super Bowl on TV and he got up to leave the room. The voice on the TV said “Hold it! I paid $1,000,000 for this commercial. Now you sit down and watch it.”

One reason lawyers get such a poor response from their marketing is because they’re not giving prospects what they want. Prospects want information and advice, which is the foundation of Education-Based Marketing. And until lawyers realize what consumers want -- and give it to them -- attorneys will continue to get a poor response to their marketing.

So, which marketing method is better for you? Education-Based Marketing because it gives your prospective clients what they want: information and advice. And because it doesn’t hurt your credibility by casting you in the role of a salesperson.

QUESTION #3:Which type of marketing do you use more often for your clients -- selling-based marketing or Education-Based Marketing?

ANSWER:Lawyers often ask how many other attorneys a consultant has worked for in the same business or profession. Yet, another question is much more important. I suggest you ask which type of marketing the consultant uses more often, selling-based marketing or Education-Based Marketing. You see, a marketing consultant can apply his type of marketing to any area of the law. But if the consultant typically uses selling-based marketing, you can expect him to suggest that you use selling-based marketing, too.

In my case, I work exclusively with Education-Based Marketing because it consistently brings my clients the results they want. And, as you might imagine, the marketing program I design for one client will have similar components to the program I design for another. Not because the clients are similar -- but because I use similar methods for both.

QUESTION #4:How will you direct my marketing only to prospective clients so I don’t waste money reaching the wrong people?

ANSWER:The marketing consultant will likely ask you -- or at least, he should ask you -- the type of clients you want to attract. After you define your target audience, then the consultant should tell you different ways to reach those people. For example, if you’re looking for high level business executives, you might reach them with direct mail, feature articles and display ads in trade publications, and interviews on radio and television shows directed toward business executives.

On the other hand, if you want to reach a broad-based consumer audience, you might reach them through interviews on radio talk shows and television newscasts, and by advertising or getting articles in general-interest newspapers and magazines.

QUESTION #5:How will you get my prospective clients to call me?

ANSWER: People often hesitate to call a lawyer they don’t know. So I encourage you to offer free written information, which you’ll mail to anyone on request. This gives your prospective client a non-threatening reason to call. He simply calls and asks your receptionist to mail him a free copy of your materials. That’s when he gives your receptionist his name and mailing address. In this way, your prospect gets information to help him solve a problem -- and you get a mailing list of prospective clients.

QUESTION #6: What college courses have you taken in marketing?

ANSWER: A few years ago I hired associates to help me serve my clients. When I interviewed prospective associates, I was surprised to learn that many people who call themselves marketing consultants have never taken a single course in marketing. Can you imagine a person claiming to be a lawyer without ever studying law -- or claiming to be a doctor without ever studying medicine? College courses alone will not create a competent marketing person. But it’s at least a step in the right direction.

QUESTION #7: Have you ever owned and marketed your own business?

ANSWER: The only way a marketing consultant can know what it’s like to risk money on marketing is to have owned and operated his own business. It’s one thing to put a client’s money at risk. But it’s quite another to risk your own. I can remember many of my own marketing failures -- out of which I learned many expensive and valuable lessons. In my case, I had to learn each lesson the first time because I couldn’t afford to make the same mistake again. If I hadn’t owned and marketed my own business, I might never have learned those important lessons.

QUESTION #8: Have you yourself ever hired a marketing consultant or p.r. firm?

ANSWER: The only way to appreciate what it’s like to hire a marketing consultant -- to put your trust into someone else’s hands -- is to have done it. In my early years after college, I hired four marketing consultants to help me on my own projects. In coming years, my wife and I hired three public relations firms, after interviewing 14. More recently, I hired five marketing associates from over 50 who applied. After hiring a total of 12 different marketing people or agencies, I was pleased with the work of only two. That doesn’t speak well of the marketing profession -- but it does help me appreciate what you’re going through.

QUESTION #9: Have you ever worked in sales?

ANSWER: Working in sales is the best way to learn how people make buying decisions. I can remember sales lessons I learned in grade school when I sold Christmas cards and tickets to the Boy Scout Jamboree -- in high school when I sold candy and magazine subscriptions to pay for band trips -- and in college when I sold advertising for convention booklets. After college, I sold real estate. I imported and sold precious gems. I started and operated two mail-order businesses. And in the process, I learned a lot about people: how they think, how they solve problems, and how they make buying decisions. Unless your marketing consultant has spent time in sales, you’re at a serious disadvantage in today’s competitive marketplace.

QUESTION #10: What is your marketing background?

ANSWER: This simple question can uncover a host of problems with the person you’re interviewing. Some people crave to be involved in marketing. I have seen men and women who fabricate a list of marketing experiences just so they can call themselves marketing consultants. Frankly, it’s scary. Just remember, marketing has no licenses or recognized certifications. All it takes to be a marketing consultant is a business card.

In addition to the phonies, you’ll likely encounter another group of people. They may or may not call themselves marketing consultants, but their work can have a positive effect on your marketing results. They may be:

  • Writers, such as newsletter writers, free-lance writers and writers for newspapers and magazines;
  • Production people, including commercial and graphic artists, computer artists, offset printers, and audio and video tape production companies;
  • Public relations people, such as people who write news releases, and people who set up and promote special events; and
  • Others.

Some of these people may have marketing knowledge, but, from my experience, I would say their marketing skills are limited. Specifically, they usually know how to use their respective method to get the word out, but they don’t have the marketing knowledge, skill, judgment or experience to create a powerful marketing message that will attract the clients you want to reach.

What it comes down to is this:

Do you want a newsletter that simply puts your name in front of your audience -- or do you want a newsletter that reaches your prospective clients and reinforces the important reasons prospective clients should choose you over your competitors?

Do you want a news release that simply gets your name into an article in the newspaper -- or do you want a news release that generates a feature article in the newspaper, identifies the reasons prospective clients should hire your services and gets prospective clients to call your office and give you their names and addresses?

These examples show the differences in simply knowing how to use a method to put information in front of your prospects -- versus knowing how to use a method to deliver a powerful marketing message that will result in prospects hiring your services.

The two “m”s in marketing are the message and the method. Many people understand methods of communicating, but few know how to build a persuasive marketing message. The most powerful methods are of no value if they deliver a poor marketing message. Focus first on how to create your marketing message. Then look at the different ways you can deliver your message to your prospective clients.

The key parts of your marketing argument are your competitive advantages, which are the positive ways you different from your competitors. If you don’t carefully build your competitive advantages into your marketing message, your prospective clients won’t know why they should choose you over someone else.

Make sure the consultant you hire has in-depth experience in marketing. Because, while education may help, it’s no substitute for experience.

QUESTION #11: As a marketing consultant, do you usually work alone -- or as part of a team?

ANSWER: Make sure the consultant you hire has the skill and experience to provide all -- or at least most -- of the services you need. A few years ago, an artist contacted me because he wanted me to hire him to create logos for my clients. First, he told me the cost of designing a logo would be between $8,000 and $10,000. And the reason was simple: First, he proposed to bring in a top designer and a copywriter. The three of them would work on the concept and come up with a few rough sketches. When the client selected a sketch, then he would call in a production artist who would produce the finished logo. In short, this artist had never worked alone. He was always part of a marketing and design team. As a result, to get a finished logo, you would have to hire the entire team. You don’t need a team of people to design a logo -- unless you want to spend thousands of dollars to create a logo. And, no question, the more some people spend on their logo, the better they feel about it.

For most of my marketing career, I have worked alone. And I prefer it that way. My clients are important to me. No one I could hire cares as much about my clients as I do. The only way I can make sure you get the personal service and attention you deserve is to provide it myself. So I work alone.

Now, that’s not to say I don’t have support people who provide outside services. For example, I have three commercial artists I depend on, each of whom has a high level of skill in one area of specialization. I use one to design letterhead. Another to create display ads and fliers. And the third artist I use mainly for high-end brochures and educational pieces.

Naturally, I have other support people as well, including a mailing service, word processing service, photographer, printer, and so forth. Over the past 30 years, I’ve collected a talented group of service-oriented professionals who provide the services you and I need to carry out your marketing program.

In house, I do not have any client service managers, account supervisors, sales representatives, creative directors, art directors, or anyone else. In every case, you work with me - and no one else. This assures that you get the personal attention you want and deserve. And it helps prevent misunderstandings that result when you have too many people in the pipeline.

QUESTION #12: Besides marketing, in what other areas do you consult?

ANSWER: None. In fact, I limit my consulting to a specific type of marketing, a specific type of client, and a specific type of relationship.

I specialize in education-based marketing. I specialize in working with lawyers. And I specialize in working with lawyers who have the authority to make decisions and take action.

If you’re a lawyer and if you want to attract clients with dignity, then you may be a candidate for my method of education-based marketing - and I would welcome the opportunity to speak with you.

Marketing has branched into dozens of sub-specialties, much like law and medicine. When looking for a marketing consultant, you need to determine whether you want a marketing generalist, who is similar to a general practice attorney or doctor, or whether you want a highly skilled, highly focused specialist.

As a rule, the generalist has a basic understanding of marketing principles and applies them to a broad range of clients. The generalist usually has experience working with many types of clients, but often not many of any one type. As you might expect, the generalist’s fees are usually lower than the specialist’s.

Marketing consultants are often labeled by the type of clients they serve. They may specialize in insurance marketing, retail marketing or food marketing. Also, they are sometimes labeled by the methods they use to deliver their sales message. They may specialize in catalog marketing, direct mail marketing or telephone marketing.

Some marketing consultants are really business consultants. In addition to marketing, they may also consult in management, human resources, accounting or finance.

Frankly, I don’t know how they maintain their expertise in all of those areas because each area, if studied conscientiously, could consume their entire practice. It would be like the lawyer who wanted to become an authority on both tax law and personal injury law. Or the doctor who wanted to become both a brain surgeon and a foot specialist. If you invested the time to excel at either, it would be impossible to do both.

I specialize in education-based marketing, specifically, in the method of education-based marketing that I designed and created. Further, I specialize in working with lawyers on a one-to-one basis.

In my practice, I don’t have the time or energy to get into another field beyond lawyers who want to profit from education-based marketing. That relatively narrow area consumes every waking minute I can devote to it. The thought of achieving excellence in another area is beyond me.

Working with lawyers on a one-to-one basis means I don’t work with marketing committees or committees that oversee marketing functions. I have found this to be futile - a horribly frustrating waste of time because committees rarely reach agreement on anything that produces meaningful results. This is why, after a year or two, firms with marketing committees usually conclude that the committee’s efforts have been responsible for precious little progress.

Successful marketing requires a single quarterback who has the authority to call the shots. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a sole practitioner, senior partner, managing partner, or individual lawyer within a firm. The bottom line is that you and I, working together, need the ability to make decisions and take action for your benefit. In my 30 years in marketing, I have not found another model that has produced favorable results.

QUESTION #13: What’s the longest time you’ve worked with any one client?

ANSWER: If the marketing consultant provides ongoing services, make sure he or she has at least one client he has worked with for a minimum of two years. Few clients will continue to pay for a marketing program that isn’t profitable after even one year. So by screening out consultants who haven’t had at least a two-year client relationship, you protect yourself from folks who just dabble in marketing. (The longest time I worked with one client on a continuing, every-month basis was 5-1/2 years.)

On the other hand, if the consultant sets up marketing programs that are then carried out by in-house employees, it makes sense that the consultant might work with a client for only a few months.

QUESTION #14: How will I measure your marketing success?

ANSWER: Many marketing and public relations campaigns are designed without any way to measure results. Make sure a cause-and-effect relationship exists between your marketing program and your marketing results.

In addition, I encourage you to insist on complete accountability from your marketing firm. By using direct marketing methods, you can count the number of people who respond. And you can count the number who go on to become clients. Anything less than total accountability is not acceptable.

QUESTION #15: What is your biggest marketing failure?

ANSWER: All marketing consultants have had failures. But not all are willing to talk about them. Some failures result from personality conflicts. Others result from clients who won’t do what the consultant recommends. Still other failures result from the consultant’s lack of experience. You want my failures? OK, I’ll tell you about two:

Failure #1:Several years ago I was hired to provide marketing services to a plastic surgeon. The person who hired me was his business manager. The business manager wanted me to generate media publicity so the doctor could attract new patients through feature articles in the newspaper. The doctor wanted to use all of my method of Education-Based Marketing and didn’t want any publicity until my entire program was in place.

For weeks, the doctor and I meticulously wrote, edited and refined our materials. As we progressed, the doctor had some new ideas, so we edited our materials. Then the business manager fired me because I hadn’t generated any publicity for the doctor in the newspaper.

The doctor wanted to lay the groundwork first -- and then generate the publicity. But the business manager wanted media publicity right now.

Both of them came from an Army background. And both of them insisted on being in charge. Obviously, it was an impossible situation. And my marketing program never got off the ground because these two people couldn’t agree on what to do first.

Failure #2: My client was a personal injury attorney. He hired me because he wanted to use my method of Education-Based Marketing to generate inquiries from a large number of prospects, as I had done for other attorneys. We developed our educational materials and implemented his program. And, as planned, he started getting calls from people who had been injured in accidents. But he wasn’t happy.

He knew that one of the estate planning attorneys I worked with received as many as 80 calls per radio commercial. This personal injury lawyer wanted the same.

I explained that different areas of the law attracted different numbers of inquiries. A personal injury attorney will not draw the same number of calls as an estate planner -- any more than an eye doctor will draw the same number of calls as a foot doctor. In addition, the number of calls would vary based on the time of year, the number of people who see or hear the promotion, the number of attorneys competing for the same clients, and so forth.

The qualified inquiries he received weren’t as important to him as big numbers. And when he didn’t get the same numbers as some of my other clients, he fired me.

Comparing your results with someone else’s results is not a valid measure of success because the conditions under which you’re marketing -- and the services you’re marketing -- are not exactly the same as anyone else’s. So your results won’t be the same, either.

Later, the attorney told me that he really didn’t care about Education-Based Marketing. He didn’t care about marketing with dignity. He didn’t care about being perceived as an authority in his field. He just wanted big numbers -- and, I swear this is true, he told me he really didn’t care if his clients even knew his name, as long as they signed his fee agreement. Obviously, he and I should not have been working together. He is not a candidate for Education-Based Marketing.

To measure your marketing program’s success, ask these 3 important questions: 1. Are you reaching the prospective clients you want to reach? 2. Are you pleased with the number of prospects who are becoming clients? 3. What steps can you take to increase the percentage of prospects who become clients?

QUESTION #16: What part of your marketing program will give me the biggest advantage over my competitors?

ANSWER: A marketing program isn’t worth much if it doesn’t give you a competitive edge. My program has many advantages. Two important advantages are these: My method of Education-Based Marketing gets your prospective clients to call you during the first stage of their decision-making process -- usually before they call your competitors. And it educates your prospects about your competitive advantages so they understand why they should hire your services rather than someone else’s. What often happens is this: After your prospective clients call you, they conclude from your written materials that they don’t need to interview other lawyers. So they hire your services. Obviously, this gives you a significant edge./p>

What’s more, my method does much more than simply attract new clients. It also increases referrals, strengthens client loyalty and builds your image as an authority -- without selling.

QUESTION #17:How soon can I expect your marketing program to attract inquiries from prospective clients?

ANSWER: Look at the consultant’s answer from two points of view. First, if your consultant’s program won’t attract inquiries, then you need to find a program that will. Second, if your consultant tells you it’s hard to measure results, then one of two things is true: (1) Your consultant doesn’t have much confidence in his program. Or (2) Your consultant’s program isn’t designed properly. One of the key parts of any competent marketing program is the program’s ability to attract qualified inquiries from the prospective clients you want to reach.

What’s more, be careful not to fall victim to this ploy: At the beginning of a new-client relationship, marketing people often arrange for you to be interviewed on a radio talk show or the television news. This is done to make a fast and positive first impression. But this tactic often backfires and leads to problems because the interviews are done BEFORE your marketing program is in place. The result? Since you don’t yet have your educational materials, your prospective clients have no reason to call your office. This means this golden opportunity to get calls from prospects has been wasted. Or, you do get calls at your office but, without any written materials, you can’t move to the next step in the persuasion process. So, again, the opportunity to develop new clients is minimized. When a marketing consultant jumps the gun to impress you, you often lose an important opportunity.

QUESTION #18: How soon will those inquiries turn into new clients?

ANSWER: This depends on the type of services you’re offering, the prospective clients you’re trying to reach, and how long it takes those prospects to make decisions.

For example, estate planners who offer seminars often collect retainer checks within 24 hours of when they present a seminar. In this case, it’s just a matter of how soon they can schedule prospects to come into the office for a free consultation. At the same time, some of the prospects who attended the seminar may not make any estate planning decisions for as long as two years. That’s why it’s important for estate planners to keep prospects on their mailing list for two years, unless their mailing list becomes to large to manage.

On the other hand, if you’re marketing corporate law services to Fortune 500 companies, you need to start making inroads, developing relationships, presenting seminars, hosting executive roundtables, and so forth. While you may reach some companies that need your services immediately, you might also discover that this process could take several years before you get the results you want.

I’ve found that my method of education-based marketing attracts clients in all stages of readiness. Some will hire you right away or relatively soon. Others in the weeks and months ahead. Some may take years. And, naturally, some will never make a decision.

To encourage your prospects to make a decision, I build as much urgency into your program as I can. And while this urgency will speed along some people, others will still dally. Our goal is to generate an ongoing flow of new prospects, some of whom will make decisions immediately, so we don’t find ourselves being strung along by those who delay.

QUESTION #19: If your marketing program doesn’t work, what do you think would be the most likely reasons?

ANSWER: The answer to this question will help you determine whether the consultant will take responsibility for his efforts. If he answers by saying you have too many competitors -- or that no one wants to hire your services, then you can tell he’s obviously looking to shift the blame to someone else.

Here’s how I would answer this question: The four most common reasons for marketing failures are these:

REASON #1: You’re not reaching enough prospective clients. Marketing is a numbers game. And when your marketing program begins, you need to learn your numbers. For example, let’s say that you discover that one out of every ten prospects who calls your office becomes a new client. If you want ten new clients, then you need to get inquiries from 100 prospects. If, up to this point, you’ve received inquiries from only 15 prospects, then you haven’t yet reached enough prospects to achieve the results you want.

REASON #2: Your prospects don’t understand how you’re different from your competitors. The purpose of marketing is to show how you differ from your competitor. If your prospects don’t understand how you’re different -- or if they don’t attach any importance to that difference -- then your marketing message needs to be improved. If your message is off target, you won’t get the results you want.

REASON #3: You’re asking for too much too soon. If your prospective clients are like most people, they’re skeptical and cautious. If your marketing program gets to the bottom line too early, you may not have established enough credibility to overcome your prospects’ fears. Make sure your marketing program establishes your credibility and generates enough interactions so prospects feel comfortable with you and don’t feel as if they’re being pressured.

REASON #4: Your services aren’t packaged in a way that appeals to your prospective clients. This is called the “offer” -- what you’re offering your prospective clients. If the commitment you want is more than your prospects are willing to make -- if your fee is too high -- or if the term of the commitment is too long -- you need to rethink how you offer your services to prospective clients. To overcome your prospects skepticism, your offer needs to minimize your prospect’s risk. All of us are careful about how we spend money. If you want the person hiring your services to shoulder the risk, you can expect fewer clients than if you assume the risk by offering some sort of guarantee. The most successful companies in the U.S. are those that stand behind their products and services.

About The Author

Trey Ryder specializes in Education-Based Marketing for lawyers. He offers three free articles by e-mail: 17 Fatal Marketing Mistakes Lawyers Make, Marketing Myths Most Lawyers Believe, and 15 Business Card Sins Lawyers Commit. To receive these articles, send your name and e-mail address to and ask for his free e-mail packet of articles.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.