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Commando Consulting, April 2012

14 Ways Consulting Firms Waste Their Marketing Budgets Part 1

By Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan, Organisational Provocateur


The marketing budget can be one of the most productive investments with the juiciest returns in consulting firms. Sadly though, in many cases, consultancy business marketing often is a waste of time and money of biblical proportions.

This month we look at 14 (seven in April and seven in May 2012) wasteful approaches, and how they can be turned around into some winning approaches.

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Do you know that centipedes have odd number of pairs of legs? And the number varies between 51 and 191 pairs. Although it seems that, through genetic mutation, some species of centipedes have developed even number of pair of legs.

This is what then University of Edinburgh ecology doctoral student, today Chris Kettle Ph.D. presented in 1999, at the 11th International Myriapodology Congress, in Bialowieza, Poland.

So, while in the centipedes' case, it was genetic mutation, consulting firms too have to go through some kind of mutation to spend their marketing dollars on marketing tactics that work and bring in new clients.

And consultants can achieve that without fiddling around with centipedes or even attending myriapodology conferences.

All they have to do is to see how buyers' processes to buy consulting services have changed over the years, and adjust their marketing and selling processes accordingly.

So, let's look at some ways how firms can waste their money when it comes to marketing their consulting services.

1. Doing what the competition does. Many consulting firms think competitors have already figured it all out, and by imitating them, they too can be successful.

But you've probably heard Professor Aaron Levenstein's (former associate professor emeritus of business at Baruch College, between 1961 and 1981.) saying about statistics and bikinis...

"Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital."

Or maybe we should listen to Sun Tzu in The Strategic Arts...

"All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved."

Tactical imitation of a competitor is not the same as strategic modelling of a worthy business either inside or outside of your own industry.

What is the difference?

It's pretty subtle.

The Matrix movies were modelled after the Star War movies, but they were no imitations.

The 1987 movie, Fatal Attraction, was a poor imitation of Clint Eastwood's 1971 movie, Play Misty For Me.


The 1993 movie, Point of No Return (also known as The Assassin) was a rather diabolical imitation of Luc Besson's 1990 film, Nikita.

We all have role models because we want to model them, not to imitate them.

When it comes to imitation, just look at the Big Four accounting firms. They look, feel, smell, eat and drink the same. There is no distinction.

If you need accounting or auditing work, how do you choose from PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte Touche, Tohmatsu, Ernst & Young and KPMG?

You can't. They are basically each other's imitators.

Henry Ford modelled his car production line after the overhead rail system he'd seen in Chicago's slaughterhouses, carrying carcasses from one meat cutter to the next. If Henry had imitated them, he would have built slaughterhouses not car production plants.

It's also important to mention that, consultants should look for new ideas outside of the consulting industry. Innovation almost always comes from the outside.

2. Marketing only after sales figures have dropped. This reminds me of a comment I heard a few years ago at a business networking event...

"Physical exercise is only for fat people. They can lose the excess weight and then resume their normal lives."


This is the same as a ship captain's saying that watching out for icebergs is only for ships that are already sinking.

Marketing must be an ongoing process, not a temporary project, and a marketing budget is one of the best investments consulting firms can make.

Peter Drucker wrote this in his 1954 book The Practice of Management...

"Marketing is the distinguishing unique function of the business. A business is set apart from all other human organisations by its marketing activities. Any organisation that fulfills its purpose through marketing is a business, and any organisation where marketing is absent or incidental is not a business, and shouldn't be run as such."

I believe good marketing is the best preventive action that can almost guarantee a firm's long-term success. I know nothing is 100% guaranteed in this world besides death and taxes, and as a former gravedigger and current taxpayer, I can vouch for both, but an almost guarantee seems to be good enough.

3. Hiding from the press and the media. Many consultants perceive the media as intruders, so instead of creating valuable media sightings for themselves, they choose alternative, and less effective ways to promote their services.

And since nowadays content is kind, as the experts say, it only makes sense to select the publications your target market reads and write articles for those publications.

That way, consulting firms can create their first exposures to new buyers through content not sales pitches.

Oh, yes, I know. Consultants don't sell. That's far beneath them. They hire call centres and junior associates to do the selling bit.

4. Ignoring crisp, clear and compelling copy. Visit 10 consulting websites, and what do you see? The home pages of nine out of 10 start with ridiculous capability statements.

"Gorgeous Geriatric Granny Hurling Corporation is the world's leading authority in organising extreme sports vacations for excitement-seeking grandmothers."

And then the bragging goes on and on and on. And the copy is as exciting as watching paint dry.

Any marketing collateral material should be designed and written in such a way that it can facilitate parts of the sales process. That is, the more of your materials people read, the further they should travel in your sales funnel.

Your copy, both online and off-line, should assist readers' decision-making towards a yes/no. Yes, I want to work with this firm or I would never work with this firm.

Good collaterals polarise the market based on your Perfect Client Profile, and that's good. After all, we don't have to do business with all Tom, Dick and harry. We can be selective. That is, we'd better be selective.

I know people say a picture is worth a 1,000 thousand words. Yes, but which thousand.

When you see a picture of a man dressed in a surgical scrub and gown with a scalpel in hand, what is he about to do? Surgery or autopsy?

I think you believe me when I say, it does matter. On the surface surgery and autopsy are similar procedures, but there are some vital differences.

And that's what copy does. Good copy, just like surgery, enlivens your message. But poor copy sends your marketing message to the proverbial morgue.

I know getting good copy written is pretty expensive , but if instead of the cost, you focus on what it can mean to your firm in terms of new profits, you'll see the ROI on it is pretty sweet.

This little chart below shows you what contributes to the overall success of your marketing.

Marketing Response Success Contributors

One of the major contributors is the people you send your messages to. The better you selection is, the better response you'll get.

The other major contributor is your offer. There must be explicit demand for that service.

Copy comes next. That is, how you put your offer into words before serving it to the market.

And then you have the graphical elements with their small contribution.

And now watch the dynamic of how many consulting firms create their marketing materials.

For a start, many firms employ have in-house full-time graphics artists. Why? I don't know.

For list, they market their offers to the whole world without any discrimination.

The offer is usually something bloody expensive that takes a bloody long time. It's a "hard-to-buy" service.

Then one of the partners with a delusion that he's (almost always guys with ego issues) a great copywriter writes some short and catchy blurbs.

Then all this stuff goes to the graphics artist to turn it into a brochure, website, etc.

And then it all flops rather miserably.

Realise that copy is your secret weapon, and maybe you'd better get an expert to craft it for you and teach you to shoot.

5. Doing printing on in-house printers. This is a double edged-sword. If you want to do some colourful materials, get them printed by pros on proper machines.

The other side of the same coin is that why on earth would you print colourful bits and bobs.

A plain white paper with black printing does the trick for almost anything. Also, due to the Internet, there is not much need for printed stuff. You can make everything in PDF, and you can make it colourful.

The way I see it, any spot where I could stick an image to is good enough to write some kick-arse copy.

Yes, some say, people don't read long copy. Really? Then how come so many people ready the Harry Potter books.

Good copy is a pleasure to read.

6. Haphazardly buying ad space in printed publications. Regardless of what the government, the unions and the UN say, printed advertising still works pretty well, provided it's done correctly. The problem is that many firms try it once, the ad flops and firm leaders declare that advertising doesn't work in their industry.

The possibility that it's their lack of expertise causes the problems doesn't even cross their minds.

What kind of advertising doesn't work?

The kind of institutional image advertising that Coke and many other companies use to advertise impulse-purchased commodities.

But there is a slight difference between buying can of Coke for less than $1.00 (impulse purchase) and buying a consulting engagement for $100,000 or more (considered purchase).

So, how can you spice up your ads?

Well, instead of advertising your services, advertise free but valuable information that will make your intended buyer's lives easier. This can be a white paper, CD, DVD, or some online audio or video.

Attention Coffin Makers!
"11 Little-Known Facts and Insider Secrets to Finding, Attracting and Retaining Top-Notch Clients For Your Coffin Making Business.
Download FREE Special Report, "Script from the Crypt" by emailing"

This ad selects the market and explains the kind of information it offers. This ad is applicable to you if and only if you run a coffin making business AND struggle to acquire great clients.

The ad's writer also knows that at this point readers are very sceptical and suspicious of the advertiser's motive, so, she doesn't try to sell an appointment in the form of free consulting.

Besides, everyone knows that free consulting in most cases is a covert sales pitch.

Also, free consulting would mess up this coffin maker's "expert" positioning and would turn the business into a replaceable vendor.

After sending out this report, the seller can start the communication process with self-selected buyers. It's this simple.

In your communication, you provide opportunities, and buyers decide which one, if any, to take. It's not so much of a persuasion process but a compelling process.

What is the difference?

Persuasion is when the buyer gets persuaded by the seller to do something that is usually beneficial to the seller. That is, give us your money because we need it. It happens when the seller directly manipulates the buyer. The seller adjusts his next move based on the buyer's last response.

In the compelling process the buyer convinces himself that he wants or needs something. In compelling, sellers create a compelling environment. And when the buyer enters that environment, e.g. reads a good article, white paper, sales letter, etc., he persuades himself that he wants or needs the seller's product or service.

7. Publishing only one issue of a newsletter on a "Let's see" basis. This is the approach those people take who don't want to give it a fair try.

I think if people got married on a "Let's see what happens" basis, there would be many more divorces.

I think, realistically, we can do the "let's see" bit after checking interest over an extended period of time. A newsletter must be at least quarterly, but monthly publication is even better. A lot better. Besides if your level of belief in your own business is just a "let's see", maybe you had better pack up the business.

People who are engaged in this kind of practice also jump all over the place to "check" a little bit of everything.

But in most cases, they never pass the "checking" stage, so they never really achieve any success with anything.

You can recognise this problem in clients who are in search of silver bullets. They ignore principles and practise from the real world, and demand instant gratification.

Realistically, a newsletter takes a bit of time to kick into action, but then it kicks into high gear. And when that happens, it's one of the best tools to communicate with your market.

But until you have a reasonable list, the newsletter falls on deaf ears, but it's still important to publish them.

Next month, in Part 2, we'll discuss seven more mistakes many consulting firms make about their marketing budgets.

Come and let's discuss this newsletter issue on my blog...


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Copyright 1997-2012 Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan. All rights reserved. You are free to use this article in whole or in part. One favour though: Can I ask you to you include complete attribution, including a live website link. Also, would you mind letting me know where you plan to publish the article?

The attribution: This article was written by Organisational Provocateur, Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan of Dynamic Innovations Squad, a firm specialising in helping consulting firms to sell their expertise at the highest margins. Get Tom's free Practice Management Black Paper when you sign up for his monthly newsletter, Commando Consulting: Lessons And Practices From The Ultimate Professional Service Firm, The Military. Visit Tom's website at

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