Consulting is More Than Technical Knowledge


I’m having a row with MarketUP, a consultancy in online marketing we’ve employed this year at LLP Group and systems@work to sharpen up our websites, our Google AdWords campaigns and our use of other marketing channels. In fact, I fired them yesterday.

marketing consultants

As so often, the ostensible reasons for our row are one thing, and the resentments and disappointments that fuel our row are another. From my point of view it isn’t so much about what they know or didn’t know, or did or didn’t do, as about their style as consultants.

Online marketing advice is in short supply. Everyone wants to improve the way their business is presented, and there are ever more sophisticated tools to use – websites (where fashions change with depressing rapidity), Google AdWords campaigns, LinkedIn pages and ads, blogs (such as this one) and specific campaign-oriented micro websites. These must be consistent in terms of content and style. It takes specialist knowledge that you’re not likely to have in-house, to use these tools well.

True, MarketUP did a good job of improving the graphical styles of our websites and microsites, but I was concerned at the start that most of their work had been in the area of B2C (business to consumer) where traffic is high, messages are relatively simple, and sales, in terms of units, are numerous.

In our world, of business software and consulting, messages are complex, target markets are very specific, traffic is low, and sales, in terms of units, may be fewer than twenty a year.

I’d actually had some success with Google AdWords campaigns. Over the last five years and more I’ve tracked the costs of our systems@work AdWords campaigns and the revenue derived from them. The results look like this (revenue blue, cost orange):


It’s a good story, but it doesn’t reflect much recent success. Once we’ve ‘captured’ a client, revenue rolls in for as many as ten years. In fact, over the last two years we’ve added very few new clients directly through our Google AdWords campaigns.

It was to address this issue that I turned to MarketUp. They presented themselves well and seemed to know as much as anyone in this area and their price was reasonable.

But consultants need more than knowledge. I have written extensively on this (see The Art of Consulting). Consultants need to ask good questions, they need to listen, they need to understand the underlying needs of their client, they need to take responsibility and do much more than deliver mere technical expertise. Telling what they know is just a small part of the job.

Things began to go wrong when it became clear that they didn’t really understand our products and couldn’t come up with the Ads that would speak to our potential clients. In the end I had to write these myself. I didn’t mind and I wasn’t surprised but MarketUP were curiously reluctant to admit any kind of fallibility.

And in the end the AdWords campaigns they put together were no more effective than those that came before, and over six months I’ve had not a single good lead from the site. I’d hoped that a website redesign (and I accept wholeheartedly that the new site for systems@work is immensely more attractive than before) would attract more visitors and contacts, but it didn’t.

Of course, consultants cannot guarantee success, and there is no online marketing agency in the world with the specialist knowledge to predict how online marketing can best be used for our particular products and market. But that was not my issue with MarketUP.

What has really annoyed me is their response to challenge and criticism. They kept insisting that ‘measurements’ showed that the website and campaigns were performing better, as if there could be any measurement of importance that matters to me other than obtaining good leads, of which there were none.

When criticised for their failure to put together Ads that made sense they were simply defensive.

And when, finally, there was a vast misunderstanding about a project to improve our natural listings, they made no attempt to see things from my point of view, or to understand that I only had one simple objective, to obtain more good leads through paid campaigns or natural listings.

It was their reaction to criticism that made me see red. I cannot remember a single occasion over the last year when they have admitted error.

And as far as I can recall, they provided no scoping documents, no memoranda of understanding, at any time to document their understanding of our needs.

It’s a lesson in consulting. Technical skills are essential, but there’s far more to consulting than knowing things. You must ask well, listen well, document well, understand well, and manage well, and you must respond well to criticism.

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