two people talking marketing strategy

What is a marketing consultant?

Spoiler: Not necessarily someone who should be doing your marketing for you.

Just because they can, doesn’t always mean they should.

But, as with most things, it depends on:

  • the type of marketing help you actually need,
  • the type of consultant you require,
  • whether the latter unicorn is actually a consultant at all, and
  • where your business, product or service is in its life cycle (introduction/start-up, growth, maturity, decline).

What type of help?

I recently re-discovered a handy framework on consulting roles, which gives an excellent overview of the types of outsider roles a consultant can play.




Kiel & Mclendon’s consulting roles

The “hands-on expert” in the bottom right-hand block is the dream of every client who asks, “Will you do it for me?” – especially after years of marketing frustration, driven by a lack of time and costly activities with little conversion to show for it.

But, in our experience at Firejuice, the bottom right-hand block is hardly ever a true solution for small or medium-sized business.

You don’t need the hands-on expert.

Here’s why:

  1. No-one has done exactly what you’re doing. As a business owner, especially when you’re creating something new, you’re on a unique and lonely journey. Your business, your customers, your market environment, your type of people, your style of doing things, your brand. They’re all distinctive and so there’s no perfect “Let me show you how” help to be had ‘out there’.
  2. Because your business is your creation, your baby, everything’s personal. You’re probably going to want to be part of the marketing, at least up to a point. So, while you may think you can do hands-off, you probably can’t. Either the hands-on marketing consultant/expert will work with and take direction from you, or they’ll eventually get the boot.
  3. As a small or medium-sized business, it’s unwise to leave sales and marketing activities to someone else entirely – especially a third-party marketing consultant ‘out there’. By removing yourself from these activities, you’re stepping away from the coalface of market interaction, which is where the real learnings take place. The ones that make all the difference later.

There’s only one person who can be the CMO for a growth-phase company, and that’s the owner/CEO.

Contractor, not consultant

What about using a small agency?

This is where the difference between a marketing consultant and a contractor comes in, and this is why the right person for you is probably in the middle or bottom right-hand block of Kiel & Mclendon’s matrix.

When I refer to contractors, I have in mind someone who comes in to execute a well-defined job for you. After all, you already know:

  • who your target market is;
  • what your value proposition is;
  • your brand position; and
  • which channels to use.

All you’re missing is an execution partner.

At this point, it can be a good idea to get a contractor in to “Do it with you” (Partner) or “Show you exactly how to do it” (Modeler).

You may also need technical advice relating to tactical tools: how to leverage LinkedIn, how to make the most of SEO, how to produce a YouTube video, etc. But, this is contracting, not consulting. Implementation, not strategy.

Your product/service life cycle

Clients have excitedly contacted us, to tell us that they’re bringing in someone who was a successful marketer in precisely the same type of industry they’re in now. A retired packaged goods CMO to tell them exactly how to market their food start-up? Or an ex tech-CMO to tell them how to build their SaaS start-up?

This is a very solid option but here’s the thing: it only works when your company is not only in the same industry, but also at the same level of maturity as the one the successful outside marketer comes from.

If you’re a SaaS start-up, you’re not just a “SaaS business”, but also a “start-up”. Both classifications matter. And this brings me to the idea of a “fractional CMO” or outsourced CMO – a concept already well-established in financial circles in the form of an outsourced CFO.

Can marketing follow a similar model?

I think so, provided that your company is in the mature phase of its life cycle. At the risk of repeating myself, there’s only one person who can be CMO in the growth phase: the owner/CEO. Until the point of maturity, there is too much learning involved to completely outsource the marketing role.

What’s the answer?

At Firejuice, we think the answer is using the “consulting roles” model in tandem with your product/service life cycle (below), to determine your needs when it comes to outside marketing help from a senior expert.

Generic business, product or service life cycle

So when we get calls or emails that originate with a Google search for the phrase “What does a marketing consultant do?” and end with a conversation, most prospects say,

  • “Will you write my website for me?”
  • “Will you actually post the posts onto social media for me?”
  • “Will you find me new business and convert those leads into sales?”

[In short: “Will you do my marketing for me?”] We very often say “No.”

And, while unpacking what Firejuice will do for them, we explain this:

No-one can come in and handle all of your marketing for you. You must do it, with an outsider to help guide you. Find a good consultant with diverse experience to help you in the capacity of a teacher, a coach and a partner – someone to help you learn. 

Focus on finding someone who can walk the journey with you, show you the way and help you carry the load , not a “done-for-you” solution.