I had a client pass me on someone’s business card recently. The person works for a local radio station and I am 99% sure makes his money based on the ads he sells. Title on the business card? ‘Marketing Consultant’
To me if someone gives advice to buy a product so they make money, they need to disclose that. Because it is the right thing to do.
It also in my mind makes them not a consultant. Put ‘sales’ proudly on your business card, my radio friend. In a world of Internet information, sales is no longer a scary word to many of us.
To me, a consultant:
1) Has more than one option to offer you from more than one provider.
2) Has a good idea of the whole picture.
3) Is being paid by you to give them good advice.
4) If they are selling you a product/service they make money on indirectly, they disclose it.
Here is an example that keeps all this in mind.
I work with Svaha web hosting. I am a partner in the organization. My ‘share’ is worth about $13 this tax year so, yeah, not earth shattering. I do get free web hosting from them ($130/year value in my case) and while I get $0 when someone new signs up, if more people sign up over time, my share value will increase, maybe to $20 this tax year. 🙂
The benefit I get when a client uses Svaha is 1) the client gets a good deal on hosting and 2) I can get in the server and know how it is set up, making things like making email addresses, etc. easier to do for my clients.
Yet when someone asks me about web hosting, despite under $200 worth of financial gain a year, I still disclose my involvement, tell them what costs are, and give them a couple other hosting providers I don’t hate along with Svaha. I let the client make a choice. Svaha is never the only choice.
When selling a product benefits us financially, it is hard to step back and think about a client’s needs in complete isolation of that.
Now those who sell ads, there is nothing wrong with you educating your consumer about the benefits of your product. I have zero problem with sales. Educating people and believing in your product or service makes you a good salesperson and a trusted partner to those you work with. But you are not surveying the whole field and giving your best advice. You are an expert in your market but you are not a consultant.
My measure of a good consultant?
1) Being able to tell someone not to buy something that is clearly wrong for them.
2) Not saying there is only one option (I can’t even think of an example where that would be true!)
3) When someone pays for your advice versus you getting paid on commission (this is like a fee only financial planner versus one that represents a specific brokerage).
4) You are knowledgable about your field generally, not just the companies you work with regularly. (Ex: You can talk about email marketing concepts, not just Constant Contact’s packages.)
5) The conversation you have goes in both directions equally or the client talks more than you. (This is the most important one. Is it a conversation or a pitch? Much like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about obscenity in a famous court case, “I know it when I see it.”)
So if you ask me to ‘sell myself’ and I become instantly uncomfortable, you’ll know why.
Not that there’s anything at all wrong with sales. There isn’t. I just want to know who I’m talking to. I’m sure we all do.
So next time, ask yourself if you are talking to a consultant or a sales person, and make your decisions accordingly.