Who are they going to call

It is a myth that consultants can be all things to all clients based on their wits, experience, and consulting process. Clients are not buying that anymore. Guerrillas know that you must be the leader in an area of expertise that is in demand. An example of this principle is firefighter-extraordinaire, Red Adair. For more than three decades, Adair battled the worst wildcat fires on remote offshore oil rigs and oil fields. In 1991, when hundreds of oil-well fires burned out of control in Kuwait and threatened the global environment, the U.S. government knew exactly whom to call.

Guerrilla Tip:You Can't Do It All

You can't be an expert at everything, so don't try to be all things to all clients. Focus on doing a few things and do them exceptionally well.

To deal with that crisis, the government didn't call just any firefighters; it called the undisputed authority on handling such emergencies, Red Adair. Although his firm probably wasn't the only one with the ability to control the menacing blazes, it was considered the best of the best. Adair and his crew might not have been called for every emergency, but you can bet they were paid well for the assignments they received. Like Red Adair, consultants who have recognized competence and strong results in a specific area can achieve consistent paydays.

■ standing out in a crowd

In side-by-side comparisons, most consultants look pretty much the same to clients because consultants tend to mimic each other's marketing identities. Differentiating your practice from the competition, even slightly, can bring you more clients, higher fees, and lower cost of sales. Too often, consultants attempt to distinguish their practices in ways that have little or no influence on the reasons clients hire consultants. As a result, clients have come to view consulting services as a commodity like winter wheat or pork bellies. They have also put the commodity label on legal, medical, and financial services.

In his classic 1986 book, The Marketing Imagination, Theodore Levitt reminds us, "There is no such thing as a commodity. All goods and services can be differentiated and usually are."3 No matter what service you provide, you must convince clients that you have more to offer than the norm or they will view you as a mere commodity.

If your services are considered to be a commodity, you will face severe price competition—if you even get called. Although no two consultancies are identical, the staggering numbers of consultants out there and their marketing efforts have created the perception that most consulting firms are indistinguishable from each other.

It doesn't help that many consultants cast a wide marketing net to snare any and all potential clients. In some cases, their marketing pitches reach a level of abstraction that makes it virtually impossible for clients to understand what the consultants actually do.

A typical Web site states, "Our service offerings are designed to help our clients generate revenue, reduce costs and access the information necessary to operate their businesses on a timely basis." Sounds good, but how are they going to do that? Check out 15 other consultant Web sites, and you'll find lots more of the same. Not only do the sites look alike, they all make equally ambiguous, noncompelling claims.

Fuzzy marketing communications are guaranteed to result in fewer sales, lower fees, and anemic profit margins. Consultants who compel attention can easily eliminate competition from me-too firms. Prospective clients often call me-too consultants simply to create the illusion of competition. The me-too firms then squander their precious resources chasing sales opportunities they never had a chance of winning.

Guerrillas seize on the consulting industry's lack of marketing differentiation to produce precise, cogent statements of their specialized expertise—that's what makes the telephone ring. For example, one firm states, "We help nonprofit organizations strengthen donor loyalty, enhance board dedication, and expand community commitment."

A clear statement of your firm's uniqueness simplifies the marketing challenge by informing prospective clients exactly who you are. It separates you from the pack. It also saves you the time, energy, and expense of educating prospects who may not understand, or need, the services you provide.

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