How to break into a marketing consulting career (quickstart)

If you have ever wondered how to break into marketing consulting, you have found the right article.

In this article, we provide a brief quickstart guide to some of the high level key skills and strategies you need to gain an edge, from understanding the industry to making the right offer and to ultimately winning clients. 

How do I break into marketing consulting?

You can break into marketing consulting by first focusing on these six steps; 

1) Have a deep knowledge of the industry

2) Identify your expertise

3) Understand the client's perspective 

4) Develop your value proposition 

5) Network & build connections

6) Make a great offer.

By far the most important part of breaking into marketing consulting is developing your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) because it forces you to understand what the client values most.

But, you’ll notice this is step 4 as you’ll need to get a couple of other skills in place before making your USP. 

So with that, let’s get started and launch your marketing consulting journey.

Organizing Your Strategy for Marketing Consulting Success

I encourage you to take these six steps as a foundation and then build on them to develop your unique marketing consulting career.

Inside these six steps is exactly what I have done over a 20-year career to be a successful marketing consultant.

After all, that is one of the most fantastic things about being a marketing consultant… 

You get to decide your scope of work, how-and-where you work and you can even determine how much you want to earn.

So let’s get started.

To be a successful marketing consultant, you’ll need to start with a specific set of skills. 

This list is by no means exhaustive. 

Actually, another huge benefit of being a marketing consultant is that you get to exploit your unique marketing specialization(s), chosen by you. And over time, as you develop your work history, you will also have a wide set of experiences as a result of working with so many different people and industries. This experience will further compound for you and will snowball your opportunities.

This is often referred to as deal flow and this really is the ultimate goal for many successful consultants. 

This means you can be more choosy in the projects you accept and potentially command more income and revenue per project. In our Marketing Consulting Guide, we devote a section to this topic exactly and give you a template to follow so you can structure deals to best serve your needs. Go here to learn more about how to construct your marketing career.

Step 1: Have a deep knowledge of the industry

Step 1 is to acquire a deep knowledge of the industry you are choosing to be a consultant within.

This deep knowledge is probably why most people associate being a marketing consultant with someone who has 30 years of corporate experience.

But this is no longer the case.

While more experience is generally accepted as the preferred choice, gaining a deep specialization within the industry is a better way to say this.

For example, in one of my favorite market segments I built a solid marketing consultant base of clients within the franchising industry. I specifically crafted highly targeted, very creative direct mail campaigns focused on lead generation, combined with online landing pages designed to optimize the sales funnel. 

This strategy let me charge big fees for the development of the campaigns (direct mail and online development), but I also gained a percentage of sales revenue generated and or gained a fee for every new lead. 

The point here is that when you are deep within a niche, you know what the niche needs. This will empower you to better set your fees and develop a better solution for your target market.

You’ll know what services and products are offered, who the key players are, making it easier for you to become an expert on the latest trends.  

Step 2: Identify your expertise

This is the fun part.  And its closely tied to step 1, understanding the industry.

Now is the time where you match your skills to the needs of the market.

If you know the industry and what is lacking, it could present a wonderful opportunity for you to fill this gap or provide a better solution than what others are doing. 

After you have invested yourself into industry-related materials, know who is who, and have become an expert in the specialization of your choice, the next step is to recognize what specific skills you need to turn this specialization into a consulting opportunity. This is what all these steps can help you do (our Marketing Guide can really help you accelerate your learning cursive and get started quickly).

Perhaps it's your unique ability to generate leads that close deals, your knack for understanding what makes customers buy, or your ability to keep marketing teams on track. 

Identifying and honing your skills will help you stand out of the crowd and differentiate your services.

For an excellent article on uncovering what is most important to the customer, go here:

What is the first rule of marketing? (Solved!)

Identifying your expertise is closely related to understanding your customers, which is our next step.

Step 3: Understand the client's perspective 

Developing a relationship with clients is only a part of the process.

In fact, it will be much easier for you to gain a relationship with a client if you have already done your homework and know where they are lacking.

This will help you ask better questions and then of course, tailor a superior marketing strategy for them.

A common mistake many business developers make is to get so caught up in having a connection that they forget to listen and understand. 

By listening to your clients and understanding their needs and goals, you can more effectively deliver results.

For example, we have a team that specializes in forecasting. One of the forecasting services we provide is to help clients forecast future sales so that the company can set budgets, plan for inventory, staffing on and on. This is a very important process.

What are the benefits of sales forecasting? (+Free forecasting model)

If a client calls in and hires us to develop a forecasting tool for them, but we want to sell them a full strategic marketing plan, there will be an immediate disconnect in communication and the sale will probably be lost. And its quite possible that they really need a marketing plan, but this is not the point.

The take-away is to listen to what the customer needs and focus on this first. Build trust and then you can fill gaps as teh relationship grows.

Actually, listening is half the job in order to be a superior marketing consultant.

Oftentimes, clients hire you for a minor project so this is important that you listen carefully, take notes and stick to the plan. Once you get this underway you can present a much more meaty, needle-moving project that can strengthen your relationship. But the beginning phase is when you need to understand precisely what they want. 

Over time, as the trust grows you can identify more new opportunities and turn this relationship into a wonderful long-term project that makes everyone a lot of sales, and money.

Let’s now position yourself as the only option available to the customer.

Step 4: Build your unique selling proposition

Every business must have at least one USP. 

Some businesses have many. Your marketing consulting career is no different. 

The point of a USP is to focus on the niche or the need in the marketplace and deliver a promise you can make. Your unique selling proposition (USP) is what sets you and your product or service apart from your competition and clearly tells your customer the benefits. 

If you serve multiple market segments within the same industry, you’ll probably have multiple USPs, such as one for LinkedIn, real estate networks, local HR departments, older community centers, and even HOA’s.  

For more information about building your USP, go here:

Unique Selling Proposition vs Value Proposition (with Examples)

Now, it’s time to get your face out there and known.

Step 5: Network & build connections

Networking and building connections with industry players and professionals is a critical piece of your business development strategy. 

As a young executive in the franchising industry, one of the biggest lessons I ever learned was attending a small, local association meeting. The meeting was held after the normal work day, and instead of going home, I attended the meeting. While it seemed like a slight inconvenience at the time, this taught me a huge lesson: attend the association and industry meetings.

At this meeting, I accidentally bumped into the President of the association who later became a wonderful alliance and turned into many opportunities.

You can do the same.

Get out and shake some hands. Have a variation of your USP memorized and ready to deliver at any time, modified for whomever you are talking to.

You’ll be shocked at the wonderful new people you meet and the new opportunities that happen as a result.

Through networking events, conferences, and other seminars, you will be able to make valuable relationships that will empower you to build your business.

Here is a great article about marketing yourself in creative ways:

How do you use Guerrilla Marketing? 

Step 6: Learn to make a great offer that the customer can’t say no to

Most organizations will call this the proposal.

But you are in the business in gaining and keeping consulting clients.

And since you have done your research, know who you want to work with, and you know what the potential client needs, your job is to make the potential client an offer they can’t refuse.

This is ever more important as you break into marketing consulting.

Your proposal, which we will call “your offer” should address the customer's needs as well as outline the exact services or solutions you plan on offering.  Be clear and concise. 

Clarify what you are doing to do for the client, what the timeline looks like, and what they can expect.

The best offer is one that is so good for the client -- based on price or value -- that they simply can’t say no.

As you can see, creating an effective business development strategy takes time and effort, but the rewards you reap are well worth it. With the right combination of knowledge, expertise, networking, and understanding of customers’ perspectives, you will soon find yourself on the fast track to success.

For more great tools and resources about gaming a competitive edge in marketing, go here:

Marketing for beginners

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q1. What skills are needed to become a successful marketing consultant and business development specialist?

A: To become a successful marketing consultant, you need a strong understanding of marketing concepts, communication, analytics, and strategy. You should also have a good knowledge of the industry you are in, as well as the ability to recognize and capitalize on trends. To effectively develop targeted content and campaigns, you should also have the technical know-how of working with digital tools, media, and analytics. Finally, excellent business acumen and a consultative approach to problem-solving will help propel your business success.

Q2. How can I gain knowledge of the industry I am in?

A: To gain a thorough understanding of the industry you’re in, research the major industries and trends, read trade journals, and talk to leaders in the space. This will help you better understand key concepts and gain insight into the major players, products, and ideologies in the field. You should also stay on top of the latest technologies and digital marketing tools for continued growth in your knowledge.

Q3. How can I identify the skills I have to offer?

Start by evaluating what you already have to offer. What strengths do you have that align with what a consulting role typically requires? Think about and identify skills in communication, problem-solving, leadership, analytics, and technology that you can leverage. You can also take a proficiencies test to recognize better what skills you have to offer.

Q4. What are the best ways to network and build connections?

Networking and building connections is key to success in marketing consulting. You can start by attending industry events, reaching out to mentors in the space, and leveraging social media to maximize relationships. Developing an understanding of the needs and challenges of your target audience is key to creating meaningful connections. Connecting with the right people is a great way to build relationships that can lead to opportunities and referrals.

Q5. How can I best understand the needs of clients?

To best understand the needs of clients in your consulting role, it is important to take the time to understand the goals and challenges of the individual or business. Uncover customer pain points and what they value, as well as the competition within the industry. This will enable you to deliver value-driven solutions and services that are tailored to their needs.

Q6. What should a successful business proposal contain?

A successful business proposal should contain a clear and concise overview of what you are offering, a detailed description of the deliverables, a timeline for the project, and a cost breakdown. Additionally, it should include customer references, showcase your knowledge of the industry, and provide any related credentials for extra credibility among potential customers. It should also be customized and easy to understand so that the client can clearly see the value you offer.

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