News & Expert Interviews

Monday, August 20, 2007

What is a Marketing Coach?

Marketing Consultant Allison BlissMarketing consultant, Allison Bliss, is the Founder and CEO of Allison Bliss Consulting, one of the top full service marketing & communications firms in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her company rebels against misleading, pushy, spam-filled marketing offering Fortune 500 companies and entrepreneurs customized business and marketing services.

1) What is a marketing coach? How does a marketing coach differ from a marketing consultant?

I'm not sure that there is a "defined" difference between marketing coaches and marketing consultants. Generally a coach doesn't have hands-on or bottom-line experience running a business, while a marketing consultant usually does. There is, however, a distinct difference between a business coach or life coach and a marketing coach/consultant, also divided by practical experience. The coaching "model" uses guidance techniques, which I also use as a consultant to support clients as they work to determine next steps and create an action plan to meet their goals. In fact, my clients started calling me a "marketing coach", while I'd always just called myself a consultant. I would say the definition is in the eye of the beholder.

To try define the term:
A marketing coach or consultant works with business owners or managers to develop clientele and to recommend strategies and marketing or operational tools that will work to meet the company's goals - usually to increase revenue, or for efficiency so the owners aren't spending every waking minute on their business. Whether a company wants to generate more online sales, decrease its staff size, or reach a broader market segment, a marketing coach creates an action plan using precisely the strategies needed to achieve the actual goals.

A good coach or consultant will be able to advise the steps to take, when to take each step (timing is critical in marketing), and outline what the costs will be. A coach teaches you when, why, and how to employ a full range of marketing tools - from redesigning a website, to creating articles or white papers, starting a blog, conducting podcasts, and developing ad campaigns. And finally, a coach helps you find highly successful strategies that you can leverage without spending a cent.

A business in its start-up phase probably doesn't have the time or cash needed to experiment with various marketing strategies. So, a coach incorporates the owner's goals and ideas, along with the coach's recommended strategies, into a unique, step-by-step action plan. She guides new businesses through the inevitable stages of under-pricing their products or services (almost everyone has done that in the beginning), finding the clients who are truly a great fit for the company's offerings, and learning how to ramp up when demand is high so owners are not working ridiculously long days. Techniques, programs, tools, and qualified help should be offered by a good coach.

For companies that have been around 15+ years, the issues are quite different. Often the owner is bored and needs help creating new offerings that will again stimulate or challenge that entrepreneurial spirit. Perhaps the market has radically changed, so the business needs a completely new set of clients, services, or other income streams to support growth. A coach should guide business owners through these and all the stages of growth, including those where people mistakenly think they should give up.

A marketing coach who also has a marketing consulting agency comes equipped with a tested arsenal of resources, from databases to designers, and bookkeepers to benchmarks. Using vendors who are not capable of filling your needs can cost thousands of dollars and hundreds of wasted hours - so use only tested contacts, and have your coach carefully manage them. That's the advantage of using a coach with a consulting agency - there is a tested and trusted set of expert designers, web teams, writers, coaches, publicity experts, or TV producers to help all kinds of businesses.

2) What are the main reasons a business would need to hire a marketing coach?
Any company can benefit from the wisdom, connections, resources, and experience of a marketing coach to save time and expensive mistakes. Find a coach who has had full responsibility for running a company - from developing the vision to hiring and firing, management, marketing and financials; creating operational systems; developing sales; merchandising (for retail); and training employees - so they can bring you their experience and resources.

When you first begin to discuss your business and marketing ideas with your coach, her experience and intelligence should immediately become obvious. If you feel like you're not connecting don't prolong the agony! You (and your company) can't afford to spend time with someone who hasn't been out in the trenches herself.

3) Is a marketing coach going to help drive bottom line sales, or are they more appropriate for branding campaigns?
A top-notch marketing coach will bring experience into the "marketing plan" stage of the process, establishing which strategies and marketing (or management) tools will help drive the bottom line. Some coaches can help with branding; some haven't the resources, agency of experts, or experience. Naturally, full-service agencies offer cost and time-management efficiencies for clients. When the same marketing coach is handling your marketing plans, while also supervising your marketing communications and branding materials, a company's purpose, primary marketing messages, and coordination of timing (a key to successful marketing) can be managed more efficiently and less expensively.

4) Am I going to be charged for an initial consultation? If so, what kind of fees are common?
Ideally, a marketing coach will discuss your needs first, to determine if she is an ideal fit for your company. If not, she should be able to refer you to a company or to someone with the right expertise. However, once a company has checked out the marketing coach's experience, references, and qualifications to help them, all discussions and written communications are billed. Different coaches have different prices, but our company charges $585 for a pre-paid package of 5 hours of marketing coaching - often that's all a business owner may need to move forward with the guidance, answers, strategies, or resources from those sessions. If more help is required, or marketing materials need to be prepared, those costs should be estimated in advance. Materials can range from $20 to $2 million, depending on the complexity of the job. TV commercials are at the higher end, business cards or letterhead at the lower end. Ask the coach for samples or to review her agency's portfolio to help you make a decision.

5) How do marketing coaches usually bill? Can you do a pay-for-performance deal? Could they work on a commission basis? What are the options?
Pricing usually depends on the qualifications and experience of the coach. Since a coach is not in control of company staff, marketing execution, management, or finances, but is just advising a company on steps to take, the performance measurement is dependent on the business following the advice of its coach or consultant. In a sense, it's the same for a personal trainer: if the client doesn't do the bicep curls, they won't get muscle definition they seek.

6) What qualities and experience should you look for in a marketing coach?
A qualified marketing coach should have experience in dozens of industries, so she can bring you ideas that work in market segments other than yours. Do your homework, and make sure that your coach has a solid track record in marketing communications. For example, if your coach is advising you about building your website, she should understand Search Engine Optimization (SEO); ask for examples of successes in this area. Your coach should have built blogs and websites, written articles that have been published, developed trade show exhibits, created ad campaigns, achieved on-line and off-line public relations placements, created sales materials (from business cards to elaborate brochures), produced events, presented workshops to organizations, and conducted actual sales. Sound like a tall order? It should be! Your company's future success depends on it.

Unless a marketing coach comes to the party with a sizable network, she probably isn't engaged enough in the community or in your market to find you great opportunities, or at least to recommend where you should seek them. Your ideal coach should be actively engaged in business, political, educational, or community associations, keep current on strategies, resources and technology that can help you, and have contacts in industries that will serve you directly or indirectly. For example, if you're trying to meet small business owners to inform them of your professional services, your coach should be able to connect you with 5 to 10 great associations. Ask your potential coach which associations she belongs to; this will give you an idea of her ability to help you make beneficial contacts.

A great coach should come equipped with a tested arsenal of resources, from databases to designers, and bookkeepers to benchmarks. Using vendors who are not capable of filling your needs can cost thousands of dollars and hundreds of wasted hours - so use only tested contacts, and have your Coach carefully manage them.

7) How do I ensure I have a good fit with the coach?
You should have a good sense of this from reviewing a coach's experience, checking references, and certainly after your first meeting when you hear her advice.

I believe it's crucial for people to have easy access to their coach. You may need a second opinion on a large proposal you're about to send out. Or, you may want someone to review your website updates before you pay a large sum to your web designer to make those changes. You need a coach who can respond reasonably quickly so you get help at these critical junctures. Ask your coach how they would handle your requests. For example, I don't charge my clients if they just have a brief email question about something I can answer quickly without researching or analysis. But if they need a major edit or market research, or if it's a complex issue requiring us to break it down in a session to determine the right course of action, then I charge for that time. It's always clear in advance, though, so that clients know when they're being charged.

I've heard horror stories of company owners discussing marketing issues with consultants when they had no idea the clock was running. They were then sent a huge bill - a very unpleasant surprise. So, I think it's a good idea to ask your coach or consultant for clarification on billing procedures so that each time you call or email, you'll know what to expect.

8) If I hire a marketing coach, what can I do to get the most value from the experience?
Put the strategies your coach gives you in place so you can generate results. Ask your coach about virtually anything you don't have the answer to. Write a list of questions to bring to your first meeting (my company uses an assessment for this, so we fully understand what a client wants and needs). If you're getting results, it's probably a good sign that it's working.

Related Articles:
An Introduction to Ethnic Marketing by Michael Bolden
Advertising During the Holidays by Maria Andreu
What Marketing Can Do For You by Michelle Pariza Wacek

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