Seven Key Questions Marketing Consultants Must Ask Their Clients

July 26, 2012 •

During a successful career that extends beyond three decades, I’ve owned and operated media companies, advertising agencies and marketing consulting firms. During this time, I’ve seen that the best sales and account managers I have worked with treat initial interactions with prospective clients as fact-finding missions rather than sales pitch opportunities.

The key to being a good consultant of any kind is to ask the right questions, dig deeper to get to the core issues, and then present how you are uniquely qualified to solve their marketing challenges. In an ideal world, each client should have a customized marketing plan, so priority one is to learn all that you can about each company’s business goals and marketing objectives. While this exercise of discovery can involve dozens and dozens of questions, I’ve narrowed down the list to seven key questions.

1. What is your company’s mission?  It’s amazing how many companies do not have this right. They may answer what they do or how they do it, but they don’t get to the essence of why they do what they do.  A properly framed mission answers the question of why from the perspective of the customer. In other words, what value does the company deliver to their customers? If the company doesn’t know the answer, it’s the consultant’s job to help them uncover it. Only after a clear mission is stated can a sound marketing and communications strategy be formulated.

2. Who are your ideal customers? Every business serves a variety of customers, but very few businesses take the time to understand who their ideal customer is. The answer to this question will help direct marketing activities, and should be stated in very specific terms. Where do they live or work, what is their education level, profession, job title, income and gender? Equally important, what are they interested in buying and how often will they buy? And, if a content marketing plan is part of the marketing solution, asking how and where their customers get information will give you a great head start.

3. What are the needs of these customers? Think emotional needs as opposed to rational needs. For example, the rational need for a new car is to get from point A to point B, but let’s face it, every car can serve that purpose. The emotional need is how that person wants to feel while driving the car. Some people want to feel like trendsetters and always want the latest and greatest. Some want to feel wealthy, powerful or important, leading them to buy expensive cars with a perception of luxury. Some people want to feel practical and sensible. The bottom line is, for every emotional need, there is a message that resonates most effectively to encourage people to take action.

4. Who are your top competitors and why? Understanding competitors and how they are approaching the marketplace is important to know. How are they positioning their company? How aggressively are they marketing?  What makes them better than your company? What makes your company better than theirs? Are there noticeable gaps in service that they can fill? Once a competitive analysis is done, it’s important to distinguish between your business and your competitors, which leads us to the next question.

5. What are the unique ways your business can satisfy your customer needs? Each and every business has its own unique DNA.  As such, asking this question helps you determine and articulate your customer’s unique selling proposition – what their business stands for and in what ways their business uniquely satisfies their customers’ needs. By taking a stand and choosing something that makes their business unique, they’ll become known for that unique quality and differentiate themselves from their competition.

6. What is the value of a new customer? This should be stated in terms of lifetime value, or at least annual value. Since many businesses will not understand this concept, it’s necessary to take them through the math. What is the average transaction amount? How often does the average customer make a purchase? What is the margin associated with each transaction? Once this is known, an acceptable cost per customer acquisition level can be determined.

7. How will we know if we’re successful? Time and time again, a marketing plan is put in place and the desired end results are not known. I always want to know how we’re going to measure results, so that there is no guesswork as to whether we’ve succeeded. As the old saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to get there? And if it can’t be measured, it’s not worth doing.

More Questions?

There are countless other questions that should get asked during an initial conversation with a marketing consultant, some of which are extensions of the questions listed above. We’d like to hear your thoughts. What are some of the other questions that you recommend being asked by Marketing Consultants?


About the Author

The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches. You can find more from Right Source on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

  • Jim Rafferty

    Excellent post, Michael.  I think the overarching point — and something that many companies fail to understand — is that really good marketing grows from a thorough understanding of your business.  Just as a good doctor (or a good salesperson) asks a lot of questions before arriving at a diagnosis, an effective consultant forces some introspection on the part of the business owner.  Well done.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Jim! We practice what we preach at Right Source Marketing, and that is that business understanding comes before marketing strategy, and strategy should always come before tactics.

  • Brilliant questions Michael.

    I would ad one question from the other side of the success continuum…

    What could be the consequences of a total failure of this initiative? What could be the consequences for you personally?

    I don’t want to be a scaremonger, but I think this question complements your #7, so the buyer becomes aware of both possibilities.

    Or am I going too far too soon?


    • Anonymous

      Tom, I’m not sure that failure is the right place to focus attention. Once the strategy is developed, it’s time to execute. Part of execution is evaluating results on an ongoing basis and adjusting the plan accordingly. With that in mind, there is no such thing as total failure, but there are opportunities to improve results over time through active management of every marketing initiative.

  • Anonymous

    Great questions! Thanks for sharing.

  • Jon Peters

    I’ve read a lot of these such articles online and very few of them seem to indicate that they knew what they were doing. Thanks Michael, your article bucks the trend and provides a great overview for people to work from.

  • marketingtrenches

    Thanks Jon. I find that many marketing consultants jump to conclusions before taking the time to conduct primary and secondary research. Research generates insights that should ultimately lead to a well thought out marketing plan; because strategy should always precede execution.

  • mteitelbaum

    Thanks Jon. I find that many marketing consultants jump to conclusions before taking the time to conduct primary and secondary research. Research generates insights that should ultimately lead to a well thought out marketing plan; because strategy should always precede execution.

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