Why you need a marketing plan

In his classic book Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy, founder of one the world's largest advertising agencies, reproduced an ad that speaks volumes about the challenge of marketing consulting services. The full-page ad shows a scowling, bow-tied executive with his arms folded across his chest, seated stiffly in his uncomfortable-looking wooden office chair, apparently addressing a salesperson. The ad copy displayed next to the executive reads:

I don't know who you are.

I don't know your company.

I don't know your company's product.

I don't know what your company stands for.

I don't know your company's customers.

I don't know your company's record.

I don't know your company's reputation.

Now—what was it you wanted to sell me?2

That is a dead-on description of the uphill battle consultants face in marketing their services, but it is not the full story. Clients are so buried in the constant avalanche of marketing hype that they pitch most of it into the trash without even a glance. And, they are usually indifferent to your business proposition unless it offers them exactly what they need at that moment. So the odds of your marketing messages getting through to your targets are probably less than the odds of hitting it big at a Las Vegas roulette wheel.

To attract the right clients precisely when they need your help, you must have a well-planned marketing strategy. Some consultants run their practices with no marketing plans at all. That is a mistake. Your marketing plan is more important than your business plan; it can mean the difference between building a successful practice and finding yourself in the unemployment line.

A comprehensive marketing plan is mandatory for you to thrive in consulting, which is an unpredictable, cyclical business. The consulting industry has a 75-year history of peaks and valleys. When times are good, clients hire consultants in record numbers. But when fortunes dip, discretionary spending on consultants often gets the ax.

Even in the best of times, consultants are faced with cutthroat competition and can lose longtime clients to mergers, takeovers, leadership changes, and corporate whims. To counter these uncertainties, guerrillas continuously maintain a creative, proactive, and systematic approach to marketing. And that begins with a solid marketing plan.

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