My law firm administrator once said to me, in exasperation, “Consultants tell you what to do, not how to do it.” And he’s right.
A consultant (from Latin: consultare “to discuss”) is a professional who provides professional or expert advice in a particular area or specialized field. – Wikipedia
A consultant brings wide knowledge of the subject matter to a firm on a temporary basis. The overall impact of a consultant is that the client will have access to deeper levels of expertise than would be feasible for them to retain in-house, and may purchase only as much service from the outside consultant as desired. The traditional job of the consultant is to advise, not execute.
But, let’s be practical…there are two sides of the house.
(1) The Ideas Side: Figuring out, for example, that one thing that you do better than anyone else.
(2) The Tactics Side: Knowing how to effectively communicate that to your clients and the hands needed to execute on the idea.
Truth is, you can’t have one without the other. Ideas need execution.
The good news is that today we’re seeing a hybrid develop—the “tactical consultant.” This hybrid has both the expertise to help you figure things out and more importantly how to execute on those ideas. Some will even be equipped to offer your in-house resources an extra pair of hands.
Managing your law firm’s expectations in this regard before you hire a consultant will eliminate heartburn.
The following are some practical pointers I’ve learned over the years in both hiring a consultant and being a consultant.
What is the endgame of the consultant’s involvement?
(1) What value will you have after the marketing consultant leaves?
- If you don’t have a clear picture, this is a great question to ask each consulting candidate you interview.
- If you do know the answer, you’ll want to make sure you are both on the same page—don’t be vague; spell it out in your discussions.
- Expect this to evolve once the wheels are turning.
(2) Make an honest assessment before you build the budget for your consultant.
- Do you have resources in-house to execute on ideas and advice provided by a consultant?
- If not, what are you willing to spend to execute on them?
- Perhaps you will need some tactical involvement from the consultant and some from internal resources. How much?
- Make this a part of your conversation during your budget discussions and also with the prospective consultant. They are likely to know based on their experience.
(3) Know what you are buying up front and avoid unpleasant discussions later on.
- It’s rare that a marketing consultant can be a “plug-n-play” adviser in any and all industries. There’s just too much to learn on the fly and you want that consultant to be teaching you more than you’re teaching him or her.
- Despite the bounty of creativity and freshness a consultant that has never worked with law firms might offer, if they do not understand how people buy legal services, it will be a long, arduous road. Been there. Done that.
- Ditto when hiring an agency to execute on ideas provided by your consultant. Be that a website developer, branding and advertising agency, SEO specialist, or even content providers—writers and editors. Those who have never before worked with law firms will probably need a lot of guidance that will burn up in-house resources, the least of which may be your time, which is better devoted to other work.
(4) Recommendations are not always an apples-to-apples comparison.
- Although you have likely compiled a short list of qualified consultants based on the recommendations of trusted colleagues, this does not mean that your needs mirror theirs or that you want the outcome to be exactly the same. In fact, it shouldn’t. Your law firm is unique and you don’t want a cookie-cutter solution. (And, there are consultants who know how to bake cookies.)
- It goes without saying…Google their name and/or their company.
- Read their website. (Look at their portfolio if applicable.)
- Read their blog.
- Even if the engagement isn’t related to social media, peruse their profiles, posts, and status updates. This will shed bright light on how they conduct themselves in public, which is also how they are likely to conduct their business with you.
During the Interview
- Ask the consultant exactly what he or she has been doing in the past year.
- Ask permission to speak with their clients.
- Get work samples if appropriate. This might include redacted reports or research instruments, as well samples of articles, websites, ad campaigns, slide decks, social media, etc. (Don’t assume that all their work will be on their website portfolio. In some cases clients do not grant permission to use work product in public promotions.)
- Ask directly about articles or books they have had published and whether they have had recent speaking engagements or news coverage.
- Not all the work of a consultant is client or project based. They have to market their services (and manage their business) just as you do, thus they speak, write and publish. At the very least these activities demonstrate that they not only talk the talk, but also walk the talk. If the publications and activities are credible, this will clue you in on their clout and authority—a safe choice when you need to back up their recommendations.
- Ask the candidate about the outcome that you can expect; including any follow-up, assessment, tactical advice, or assistance, required or recommended software, costs, etc.
(6) Ask about their competitors.
- A somewhat dicey and aggressive question, but not unfair. Ask them frankly, who do they consider to be their competitors and why should you hire them over the competition?
- The answer to this question often tells you how the consultant views him or herself. And/or reveals personality characteristics that may be important in the long run. Honest? Fair? Defensive? Boastful? Collaborative? Etc…
- The prospective consultant should have a clear and definable point of differentiation.
- If the consultant says he or she has no competitors, beware.
(7) Push for more information.
- Ask for a candid assessment of what the consultant thinks of your efforts to date in the area for which you are considering them.
- While you cannot expect a thorough assessment (that’s what they get paid to do), if they give you a fair and frank preliminary assessment based on publicly available information, you may have a good fit.
(8) Observe their manner.
- Take time for small talk. Hiring a consultant is a big decision. In the life of a law firm marketing consultant, the line between personal and professional is not buttressed by a corporate personality. They should be fairly transparent.
- The quality you are looking for, first and foremost, may be expertise, but chemistry is also a factor. Things like personality, communication skills, responsiveness, access, and energy are equally important as you and/or your lawyers will be interacting with this person for a period of time.
- Most consultants/tacticians are accustomed to a very loooong sales cycle when their prospective clients are law firms. They will be keenly aware of the approval layers and how hard the CMO/Marketer must sometimes work to get large projects approved—especially those that fall into the cutting-edge category. The way a consultant handles the “courtship” process may be important, or not, but it will give you some insight.
- I have found that some of my prospective consulting clients don’t mind if I check in with them on a fairly frequent basis. In fact, I’ve had some encourage me to do so. But if I get the sense that I’m being too aggressive, I will step back. When I was on the other side, the CMO, I didn’t mind at all if a consultant dropped me a line every now and then—a brief email, an interesting article, or even a quick phone call—during the decision phase. But I totally despised pressured sales calls.
- Either way, how the consultant handles the courtship will reveal something you may not want to miss. (Especially if there is no follow-up during the courtship!)
- Best advice is to be upfront with the candidate(s) about your expected decision time line and let them know if it is or is not okay for them to contact you. Especially if you reached out to them in the first place.
(9) Test the waters.
- Sometimes the best way to hire a consultant for the big project or the long term is to invite them in for a presentation to stakeholders. For a small fee you will save yourself big aggravation if you find that the message isn’t resonating with the most influential partners, from whom you definitely will need buy in.
- Video and telephone interviews are acceptable, especially if you’ve met in person before, but if there is a big number involved or the outcome riding on the engagement means you’ll have a job tomorrow, or not, bring the consultant candidate on site—even if it just for a walk through in one of your many offices. Observe how they interact with others. Listen.
- If tactical execution is part of the engagement, you might negotiate for a portion to be completed before you sign on for the full treatment.
(10) What have I missed?
- Comments are open below. Or, take the discussion to twitter.com/jaynenavarre @jaynenavarre or linkedin.com/in/jaynenavarre.
After 20 years serving law firms in both executive marketing roles and as a consultant and tactician, the most important thing I have learned is exactly what I stated at the beginning of this post:
Ideas need execution. Know what you are buying up front and avoid unpleasant discussions later on.
Want more? Read Part I of this series: Tips for Hiring a Law Firm Marketing Consultant: Part I – Specialists