I should preface this diatribe by noting that there really is such a thing as a good consultant.
I even know a few.
The consultant I’m going to tell you about belonged the other, larger group. He had just convinced our client to hold a seminar. Except it would actually be a sales pitch masquerading as a seminar. They hoped CEOs of sizable companies would be dumb enough to attend and buy.
I told my client it was a bad idea. When I tried to explain why, the consultant interrupted. “Don’t tell me what you can’t do,” he bellowed, “Tell me what you can do. How good is the RESPONSE Agency, anyway?” My client nodded with enthusiasm. He liked rah-rah stuff. By comparison, substance and evidence are so ... so ... boring.
There was no wresting the floor from my client, so I changed the forum by returning a few days later with a projector. One slide at a time, I revealed the weaknesses of the seminar idea:
• It’s hard to get CEOs to seminars unless you feature superstars, more golf than talk, and an exotic location. But suppose you succeeded in getting them to attend. Once they realized they’d been had, they would leave, vow never to purchase from you, and urge their peers to follow suit.
• They wanted to hold the “seminar” in mid July. It was June. We hadn’t starting writing, much less printing and addressing. Typical seminar attendees need about twelve weeks of advance notice to clear their schedules. CEOs are busier than the average attendee.
• July is the poorest month of the year for seminar and conference attendance. Something about summer vacations and a national holiday. (July 4 is usually held in July.)
Three slides into my presentation, the consultant rocketed to his feet and began arguing. I told him to sit down and save his comments until I was finished. Surprisingly, he did.
The presentation took about four minutes. I turned off the projector. After a moment, the client announced that the seminar idea was dead. The consultant said, “I wish I’d had you guys around to help with my last company.” I knew something about that company. He was its CEO. It went belly-up under his leadership. Which launched his consulting career.
The client asked me how I “knew so much.” I shamelessly replied that:
1. Whenever possible, at the RESPONSE Agency we measure empirical results, which gives us a good handle on what does and doesn’t work.
2. I ask other direct marketers what has worked for them and, equally important, how they know. If they attribute their “knowledge” to a gut feeling, I take it with a grain of salt.
3. I read a lot, but judiciously. I prefer books and articles by people who earn their bread by the kind of selling that forces them to measure real results. Theorists who write about what they figger oughtta work are a dime a dozen, and overpriced at that.
I’m all for experimentation. But you’re always better off with a little knowledge.