The product marketing consultant you select will have a major impact on your go-to-market strategy, not to mention the success of your product. Whether you’re revamping an old marketing strategy or looking for help with a new product, the right product marketing consultant can deliver the vision and strategy for presenting your product to your audience and maximize sales.
Needless to say, finding the right firm or agency is an important decision. The fate of your product — or even your brand’s reputation — may hang in the balance. How can you possibly choose the right product marketing consultant when there’s so much at stake?
While selecting the right consultant can be challenging, there are a few essential factors to keep in mind as you pursue your search. We’ll cover all of them, one-by-one, so you can begin the selection process with confidence and with several relevant questions at the ready.
1: Learn how the product marketing consultant performs customer research
One of a product marketer’s chief responsibilities is learning what motivates customers to buy. That insight is key because you need to tailor your message to what your customers or clients are looking for. Uncovering it, however, is a lot of work. How will your consultant go about it?
If you’ve worked on a product marketing initiative in the past, you probably know what the customer research should yield: detailed buyer personas that you can use to build your message. While different consultants might use different tactics to create those personas, interviewing existing customers is always a good start.
There are good reasons to interview existing customers, such as:
- Gathering intel on why your customers chose you over someone else
- Learning what parts of of your sales presentations made the biggest impact (and which parts didn’t)
- Discovering what customers think is the biggest value you provide; keep in mind that this might be different from the value that you think you provide
- Finding out what prospective customers are really thinking during the buying process
- Learning what you and your team do best for customers
- Uncovering potential opportunities for improving services, delivering more value to customers, and making your product more compelling to potential buyers
More often than not, you want a consultant who builds a marketing strategy, in part, around the insights gleaned from customer interviews. Yes, studying market research and white papers can help the consultant learn about your target market. However, it’s the substantive interviews with actual customers that yield the most effective frameworks and strategies for your organization.
2. Find out what messaging deliverables you can expect
You might not have a concrete idea of the deliverables your product marketing consultant should provide. Should they just make Powerpoint presentations and lecture you on what to do? Should you expect a thick playbook full of strategies to follow?
In reality, there are very specific deliverables that you should expect from your consultant. Ultimately, a variety of materials, documents, and public marketing assets will comprise your overall strategy. There probably will be Powerpoint presentations and playbook-style documentation along the way, but it’s reasonable to expect the main deliverables to be:
- Your organization’s story: This is the narrative that positions your customer as the protagonist and your brand as the guide who provides them with whatever they want. Your story is the overarching framework from which your brand message (or messages) flow. Depending on the structure of your organization, the consultant might create different stories for different departments or business units.
- Your message: There might be more than one message depending on the different types of customers you serve. In any case, your marketing message will derive from the organization’s story and hit right at what your ideal customer is truly seeking from you.
- Customer personas: When you sell to different types of buyers, personas can help you cater your message to any one of them. Effective personas are the product of customer interviews and group or one-on-one sessions with your organization’s leadership. They can help your team create templates for tailoring your message to different subsets of customers.
- Sales enablement: These consulting services complement product marketing and include training your sales team around your messaging and brand story. Other aspects of sales enablement may include pricing strategies and tools for working hand-in-hand with marketers or the CMO to keep your message consistent.
- Support for specific initiatives, such as product launches: A particular initiative might be the reason you decided to hire a consultant in the first place. Be sure the consultant is able to apply the results of their analysis to your unique situation, product launch, or big marketing push.
- Marketing assets: Ideally, your product marketing consultant will work as part of a team that can create new digital marketing assets based on your message and story. These assets might include website copy, email marketing campaigns, white papers, case studies, or a compelling social media presence.
The types of marketing assets you receive will depend on the nature of your engagement. Many organizations need outside assistance with copywriting and design, but others will take what the consultant gives them, implementing changes in-house rather than hiring a marketing agency. SEO strategy, while not a marketing asset itself, should also be in your consultant’s toolkit. In any case, you should absolutely expect to receive the above deliverables, plus anything others the consultant offers and that you feel would be valuable for building your strategy.
3. Do you anticipate learning something valuable?
Another way to think of this point is to ask how you feel about the consultant’s process and promised deliverables. Considering everything this person or team is planning to do for your organization, do you feel like their efforts will tell you something you don’t already know? Will their insights translate into a strategy on which you, your salespeople, and your marketing team can execute?
If it sounds like we’re asking what your gut feeling is about this particular product marketing consultant, you are partially correct. Undoubtedly, you will come away from the consultant’s sales presentation with some notion of what to expect. If you’re confident that the consultant’s work will teach you something about your customers that you didn’t know before, you should probably trust that feeling.
On the other hand, if you’re not confident that this consultant’s marketing efforts will teach you anything new about your customers, ask yourself why. Is it because the process he or she described seems lacking in some way? Or could be that you’re overly skeptical that any product marketing consultant could understand your customers better than you do?
If it’s the former, that could be a good reason to pass on a particular consultant. However, if it’s the latter, step back and ask whether you would feel this way about any consultant who claims they can uncover new and valuable information about your target audience. Remember that an unbiased third party has the advantage as seeing your product through your customer’s eyes and through yours. As somebody with intimate knowledge of all aspects of your products, that’s a capability you simply cannot possess on your own.
In most cases, a consultant with documented accolades from your peers and many years of experience helping similar organizations does have an effective process for uncovering what really makes your customers buy. While it can be smart to rely on your gut instinct — and you should do so, to some extent — keep reminding yourself of your own limitations and of the consultant’s potential advantages.
4. Can the consultant bring marketing and sales together?
At many organizations, asking whether marketing and sales see things the same way is like asking whether there are water slides in the Sahara. The answer is a resounding no, and it’s probably been that way for as long as anyone can remember.
Effective marketing consultants understand that sales enablement is a major part of his or her efforts. In discovering an organization’s message, developing a go-to-market strategy, and broadcasting that message to the organization’s target market, a transformative consultant will also work hard to make marketing and sales see eye-to-eye. To make that happen, the consultant should:
- Include members of the client’s sales team on strategy sessions
- Interview salespeople separately from members of the marketing team
- Review existing sales documentation and compare it to the story and messaging the consultant helps the organization create
- Train salespeople on the organization’s new messaging and marketing strategy
- Ensure salespeople understand the organization’s buyer personas just as well as the marketing team
- Develop a common language among marketing leaders and salespeople to improve communication and operational efficiency
- Devise shared goals that marketing and sales can pursue together
Ultimately, your product marketing consultant should help bridge the seemingly impenetrable divide between sales and marketing. Not only should you feel as if they could bring sales and marketing together; the consultant him or herself should state that sales enablement is part of the overall approach and articulate a strategy for putting sales and marketing on the same page.
5. What is the consultant’s vision for your customer?
Whether a consultant works for startups, established SaaS companies, or e-commerce retailers, he or she must have a clear vision for your customer. What we mean by this is that the consultant needs to:
- Understand that your customer is the hero of your brand’s story
- Prioritize showing the customer that your product is easy to buy
When we say that the customer needs to be the hero of your story, what we mean is that the consultant should use your story to extol the customer — not your brand. This might seem counterintuitive, but think of it this way: Your customer needs your product so that they can achieve something they can’t do without it or even with a competing product. They are the ones trying to solve the problem, so make your story about them.
Ultimately, your brand shouldn’t be “we” focused. It should be customer focused. Your customer is the hero and you’re the guide (or the tool) that helps them solve their problem. The best consultants understand this and should present their vision for customer in this manner. By putting your customer at the center of your story, you can build a more inspirational brand and a more effective engine for lead generation.
As for showing the customer that your product is easy to buy, the consultant shouldn’t just seek to drive home the idea to your customer — he or she should actually work to make your product easy to buy. These efforts fit into the sales enablement part of the consultant’s work. The most effective consultants or consulting firms understand that product marketing strategy is also sales strategy. If your product is confusing for customers to buy today (maybe they’re overwhelmed by options or don’t understand your pricing structure), the consultant should work to resolve those problems in addition to the story and messaging they help you build.
Conclusion: Choosing a product marketing consultant isn’t something to take lightly
As you work to select the right individual or firm, take care to ask about the vision, approach, process, and deliverables you should expect. The best product marketers know that it’s critical to prioritize your customer in your story and will dig deep to uncover why your customers buy. Furthermore, effective consultants understand that a marketing strategy can’t work without a sales team that understands it and executes on it.
When you sit down to evaluate consultants, don’t be afraid to ask very direct questions about the each consultant’s process. Before you invest in a new strategy for your product, you need to be sure that the person or firm you select will create new revenue opportunities for your company. The right consultant knows this and will meet your questions with answers that instill confidence.