The growing use of outside consulting services to help brand marketers meet limited and broad-scale marketing objectives is fueled by three Cs: complexity, competition and contraction.
Complexity is driven by the sheer number of new marketing and distribution techniques, from category management to flow-through logistics, all of which interrelate.
Competition is pressing fast-moving consumer goods companies to advance their expertise rapidly and in many areas at once.
Contraction of in-house marketing departments and sales organizations in the name of a leaner business structure has curtailed internal resources at many companies.
When it comes to working with outside marketing counsel, many trade marketing executives are in the dark, hiring unknown talent in many cases to perform services that the company has never outsourced before. If hiring a trade marketing consultant seems fraught with peril, take heart, and take a look at the following compilation of advice from clients and consultants:
Study other brand marketers first. Evaluate which ones are making the kind of progress your company desires and find out which consultants are helping them.
If you can't ask directly, talk to category managers at your best retail customers. They frequently know who is involved. Ask them who is bringing them programs that really help grow categories.
Don't limit this study to your direct competitors either. Your role model may live in another category, but your company's performance may be judged against its standards.
Define your goals and objectives. While a good consultant can help even with this process, you are in a stronger position when you know what you want in the first place.
Compare the consultant's abilities with your own. Ask the consultant, "What can you do better than I can do already?" Then ask them to prove it by asking them to show you what they have done.
Size counts -- sometimes. Are you hiring a consultant for strategic thinking or for program execution? If for the latter, look at size and ability to service your business.
Identify who your consultant is. Who are the people and what are their resources within the consultancy? The largest consulting firms can have tens of thousands of employees. Whether the firm is large or small, get to know who will be handling your work.
Append the consultant to your staff. This may be a good way to manage your consultant while he is advising you on how to manage your business, one expert suggests.
At the same time, be as free as possible with the information you share with your consultant, once the appropriate non-disclosure agreements are signed. And keep the tap open -- next month's market research report may provide an insight your consultant can use to help your business.
Lay out the deliverables. Insist on agreeing up front, whether the output is to be a series of reports, specific learnings, training, recommendations, or specific program execution.
Evaluate the results. Look at how well the program works. This is much easier when the goals are defined precisely in the first place. Some consultants recommend you use them as a resource to execute and do post-program evaluation for you.