Why do consultants (marketing and otherwise) have such a negative reputation in the business world? Like any profession, you have highly skilled people and you have others who are not as skilled. No surprise there. But skills alone still don’t make a trusted adviser (the gold standard every consultant wants to achieve). Part of the problem comes down to people who simply oversell their qualifications but don’t have the skill to back it up. For clients, this smoke screen is difficult to penetrate but this is probably the primary driver of low satisfaction among clients. Ultimately, their experience with the consultant (or firm) is sub par which, in turn, reinforces the negative connotation of the profession.
However, there is another factor that generally flies below the radar – even good, highly skilled consultants fall into this trap. And the result is not good for anyone. The trap is “Let’s do what is easy instead of what is right for the client.”
I’ve become a fan of incendiary chef Gordon Ramsey. Not because of his obnoxious show “Hells Kitchen” (I hate that show) but because of his other show “Kitchen Nightmares”. Essentially, Ramsey is a consultant who offers tough, straight talk to turn around failing restaurants – typically due to the ownership and/or management who are not doing what is in the best interest of the business. He pulls no punches and cuts through the often sizable egos of his clients. Through all the f-bombs and brutal truth, you can see that Ramsey genuinely cares about the success of the business.
For example, I have worked with companies who were willing to spend money having consultants and outside partners do various marketing activities. Doesn’t seem like a problem, does it? The problem is that the activities were the whim of the president and not necessarily the activities that would actually fuel the company’s growth and success. Most were the marketing equivalent of busy work. There is no plan, no goals and the whims change direction constantly. Many initiatives that started are never completed. Not exactly a recipe for success.
Why would otherwise self respecting consultants go along with this? Because it is easier to take the money and go along with the flow. After all, that’s why we are in business, right? To go to the bank. However, this is not why the client hires outside expertise. They expect results. They may seem satisfied with the furious activity but at the end of the fiscal year, this satisfaction quickly evaporates because money was spent and goals were not met.
It’s difficult to push against this flow. In fact, you may even lose the business to other folks who don’t really care about the client’s best interests. The money is tempting. Nobody likes to tell a valued client that they are on the wrong path. There are many reasons to sit silent and play the easy game. But I believe that those of us in the business of helping our clients solve problems and create growth opportunities have a sovereign duty to always do what is right for the client – whether they like it or not.
Sure, it’s not easy. Of course they may not like it at the time. It may even require them to spend more money (Ouch!). But the fact is, they didn’t hire you to be a “yes man”. They hired you to solve their problems. Don’t be a wimp – do the right thing no matter what. And keep the swearing to a minimum.