Few companies have enough talent on board 365 24/7 to actualize all their marketing goals. This is particularly true in the global solar industry, where budgets and human power will be stretched to the limit in 2015.
A solar industry marketer since 2007, my experience informs these tips to help you rev up your 2015 solar marketing initiatives. This discussion centers on how best to use consultants to augment your marketing capabilities.
There are many advantages to hiring the right marketing consultant. Some of these include:
- The right marketing consultant can fast track your initiatives, tackling priority assignments and freeing up internal staff to actualize ongoing marketing initiatives
- The ability to extend existing staff resources in high growth spurts without adding the overhead of a full time position
- The addition of fresh insights into marketing strategy, resulting in more effective overall marketing results
- The deployment of a specific expertise skill set for a key initiative or business expansion
When Not to Hire a Marketing Consultant for Your Solar Business
Let’s start with when not to hire a consultant. The wisdom to put on the hiring brakes is just as important as when to hire a consultant and can save you money. Here are some clues to knowing you are not ready to hire a solar marketing consultant:
- When you don’t have any idea how or where to deploy additional skill sets
- If you are unclear as to the priority of the initiatives you want them to tackle
- If there is not a consensus as to what they will tackle for the company
- If you don’t have the budget to hire or support their efforts
- If the priority and ability to create and maintain ongoing communications and resource support is not in place
1. Target A Key Marketing Initiative
For most solar companies, marketing plans for 2015 are either in development now or nearly completed. Either way the gaps between your key marketing initiatives and the resources needed for their fulfillment may have surfaced. Employing outside talent to fulfill a key initiative will jump start an important project and is a chance to get to know a new resource.
Typical solar industry examples to empower internal teams with marketing help vary by client company size and need. These can include:
- Put Your Best Foot Forward with a Competitive Landscape Review. Often pushed to the sidelines in lieu of day to day pressing marketing objectives, a competitive landscape review sharpens the focus on your company’s top three value propositions. Value propositions are the foundation of all your marketing and sales initiatives. This refresh allows your firm to stay on top of the competitive landscape and put your best, most productive, foot forward into the market.
- Acquire More Clients with a Customer Profile Development. Your current customers hold the keys to acquiring more like them. A customer profile development project puts an open and close date on seeking insights from your current customer base to build marketing communications to attract more customers. Using a third party to illicit insights results in a neutrality ripe for rich results.
- Increase Sales with Dealer Programs. Manufacturers can always improve their relationships with their installing customers. A channel marketing program aimed at your installer or dealer base can help those dealers build stronger businesses and result in more loyalty in the competitive year ahead.
- Maximize Your Reach with Strategic Social Media. When you are sending out your boat on the social media ocean, it is advisable to target your destination and get help.
- Move the New Website to “Done!” Also move it from a static online brochure to a true lead generating machine by hiring a consultant to get it done. Be sure the project is informed with marketing strategy not merely an exercise in new graphics. Today’s websites are dynamically critical aspects of online lead generation, social media and content delivery. The structural blueprint of your website needs to take all of this into consideration.
- Launch in the U.S. Market. More companies from Europe, the Middle East and other countries are weaving a global solar industry by coming to the U.S. Utilizing the services of an American based consultant can help short course the process tremendously.
2. Deploy SWAT Team Prowess
Consultants bring their own unique “special weapons and tactics” to bear for your marketing objectives. Your role is to get real about in house marketing resources, the load they already carry and how the consultant can fill the gaps.
It may not be a specific project in need of fulfillment that drives your search for more marketing assistance. Understanding the skill sets and abilities of those on your marketing team, or lack thereof, will help you identify the type of consultant you need, applicable areas of expertise and specifically how/what they will be doing to help you reach your goals.
Potentially the ideal candidate for a key hire may not have surfaced yet. Instead of having the work atrophy on the back burner you can hire a consultant to get jump start the scope of work and deliver them with SWAT team laser focus.
3. Create the Foundation for Mutual Success
A consultant is ultimately as good as the client they serve. This declaration is informed by my experience as both the hiring and being hired party.
If you want to get the best results from your investment make sure you activate these success factors:
- Communication Creates Success (or Failure). Outline how, when and with whom clear and consistent communication will take place. Respond in a timely manner to communication and information requests.
- Build Trust. Clearly understand the parameters of your agreement and how they could affect the overall project or retainer. For example, a monthly retainer is normally dictated by the number of hours the consultant spends on your behalf. Be sure you understand how those hours are ascribed and calculated, when / if they can run out before the monthly scope of work is fulfilled, whether unused hours “roll over” and how additional expenses are cleared with you in advance. Getting clear on the dynamics of the working relationship can create a transparent and reliable relationship.
- Create a Team Environment. Few marketing initiatives exist in a vacuum. If they do chances are they will affect negatively the rest of the organization. It is imperative to get feedback from internal teams whose work may be affected by the marketing plans. Ensure the consultant is properly introduced and channels of communication are open to those critical to overall success. The results of such feedback will be richer than the airless space of a vacuum.
- Foster Magic! A very special type of magic happens when talented folks get together to brain storm on a new project. Providing a collaboration rich environment to foster individual best contributions ranks high on my professional favorites. There is something incredibly satisfying about the collaborative process. One in which talented people are given a challenge and encouraged to think outside the box with new ideas. When a new option or path to make something great happens out of such collaboration it serves all involved including the organization and its goals.
- Share Critical Information including Budget Parameters. Consultants should ask for all the background documents, information, data and resources they need for success. Under an NDA, hiring organizations need to supply all this information. Take the time needed to gather this information into your planning considerations. A key piece of information particularly related to a project based assignment is the budget. While you certainly don’t have to share your ceiling budget, a reasonable estimation of what you can and are willing to spend for a project is critical information to getting it done.
- Ask for More (Within Reason). We all want to get a great deal. While consultants don’t usually operate like “Black Friday” ninja’s there is room for negotiation in every alliance. If you have signed an ongoing retainer agreement you deserve as the hiring organization to get more time and attention than is strictly outlined in the agreement. There are times in every company when more is needed to fulfill a critical deadline or leverage an unexpected opportunity. Taking a reasonable attitude toward how much more you expect and deserve when a consultant needs to ask for an increase in budget will only foster goodwill.
- Pay on Time. On time, even early, payment goes a long way to engendering loyalty. Clear communication about payment builds trust. Down the road, when an unreasonable deadline raises its head, that timely payment will go a long way to potentially saving you money in rush fees and getting the project done to deadline.
- Get on the Same Metrics Page. You are looking for results of some kind. Take a team approach and ensure your vision of those metrics, how they will be captured and what makes for a successful effort/project are clearly understood by the consultant and agreed to as deliverable. A stretch goal is great. Be sure this type of goal is over and above the expectations of what will be considered a successful outcome.
- We Work for Miracles! Marketers love unexpected wins. The pickup of a press release by a major news outlet, a capacity crowd at an event, exponentially better results in lead generation or an increase in truly qualified leads…these are all excitement generating juice igniting true marketers. Set the environment for those miracles by ensuring you have the budget in place, the resources needed and reasonable expectations at the start.
- Consultants are People Too! You know encouragement, even applause, is critical to your staff. Don’t leave a simple and cost free tool to encourage your consultants on the table. We’re people too. Yes we reap a sense of satisfaction, joy and relief when the completed project makes you happy. Take an extra minute and tell us we’ve done a great job! Your thoughtfulness will go a long way to adding even more fuel to our work on your behalf.
- Take the Chemistry into Consideration. Its human nature to work with the people we enjoy being around. This is no different with consultants. In fact, this is a time when you get to directly choose great, enthusiastic, service oriented people to work with you. If you don’t feel great talking with them then chances are you will not get the results you want.
4. Content Marketing Consultants Can be Better for You and Your Business
One of the key areas in which an outside point of view can enrich your overall marketing is content development, deployment and promotion.
When the consultant comes from your industry, understands it, is already watching the trends, speaks at industry events and is plugged into industry publications, you get a tremendous resource to help you forward your content marketing goals – normally at a fraction of the long term cost of an employee. An experienced marketer will also help you understand how the content can be leveraged over a wider landscape of activation channels thus increasing the ROI.
When you find a compatible consultant, in the best case scenario, they can become a valuable colleague to discuss ideas, cultivate approaches synced to company service offerings and goals and an important sounding board to filter phenomenal ideas out of the dross of great ones.
5. Reap the Benefits of Experience
There are few organizations that would not benefit by an experienced marketer’s input. Aligning with a consultant who has worn many hats in their professional career, traversed enough paths to gain a perspective on the signs of impending success or doom and cultivated a healthy respect for the input of others can only help your company. Seek out a powerful alignment of industry and professional experience matched to your project and team needs.
To see a client’s goals realized is a joyful experience, one most consultants will work very hard to achieve, myself included. Don’t settle for any other kind of assistance.
For more information contact me at Gwiseman@Identity3.com