10 signs you're dealing with sleazy marketing consultantsMarketing, as a field, doesn't have the best of reputations. Despite being an essential function in any business, trust in marketers is kind of low; according to a recent survey of CEOs across the world, 80% of them don't trust marketers

I must say to my personal defense that most marketers I know (including us!) really, really want to help produce demand for your product or service. We're interested and involved in our clients' success, and we do our best to help them achieve their goals.

But sometimes (and I hope I never have to deal with these people), marketing consultants can be on the sleazy side, or worse, downright con artists. It's easy to call yourself a "marketer": there's no official certification or governing body for marketing professionals. So, like every other such unregulated profession, some bad apples slip in and give us legitimate marketers a bad name.

If you've dealt with sleazy marketing consultants, you'll know what I'm talking about: the charming talk, the promises, the secrecy around the process, the high bills without accountability… yeah. But for those who are shopping for marketing support right now or down the road, here are the top 10 signs you're dealing with an unprofessional marketer who's probably more interested in your money than your success.

1. Their website is terrible, or they don't have one

Any marketer worthy of this name knows that having a viable, usable website is an essential part of business today. No website or a really bad website should be the first warning sign of a dubious marketer. It shows that they don't know anything about digital, or don't care.

Given how easy it is to build your own website nowadays, there's no excuse.

2. They don't have references

It's good practice to ask a marketing consultant for references or testimonials. When asked, a sleazy marketer will do one of three things:

  • Change the topic
  • Say they're "new to the business" and don't have them yet
  • Provide you with references from businesses you can't contact or people who don't exist

3. They won't talk about their process

Good marketers develop processes that enable them to figure out the best way to market your business quickly and efficiently. They'll be able to discuss this process with you and show you how every step is an essential part of the work they do. 

Sleazy marketers will stick to vague statements like "proven process" and "special access" and "personal tricks" without ever really talking about what exactly they do to market your business. This should be an instant flag that something isn't quite right.

4. They focus on vanity metrics

A good marketer knows which metrics are essential to evaluate the success of a tactic or campaign. He or she will be clear about what these metrics are and why they matter. These are called "actionable metrics" and offer clear guidance for future marketing and business decisions. Good marketers can keep an eye on vanity metrics as well, but in the end, they know they're not the ones that matter the most.

A sleazy marketer will talk to you about vanity metrics like website traffic, number of social media followers, and the like. They make you feel good, but they don't help build your business in any significant way. Whatever kind of metric that doesn't drive action is a vanity metric.

5. They can't tell you about the value of their work

When I buy a TV, I don't buy it for the screen resolution or the unlimited amount of things I can plug in it: I buy it for the entertainment value it brings me. The same goes for any kind of purchase.

Value is especially hard to perceive when it comes to marketing services, but that value does exist. A good digital marketer knows what be brings to the table:

  • Better targeted audiences
  • Increased relevant, targeted traffic
  • More relevant leads
  • More conversions
  • More sales

The way he or she does this–SEO, social media, content, advertising–is not the point of the relationship. The point of the relationship is to increase the success of the business.

A sleazy marketer will tell you all about how they can put you #1 on Google, or find you 3000 followers on Twitter overnight, but won't be able to articulate what value these things have for your business. (Also, nobody can promise these things unless they are seriously unethical.)

6. Their reports don't drive action

This is related to #4. Good marketers will provide you with reports that drive decisions and actions to improve your business. They'll also be willing to adapt their reports to your specific needs so you have the right information at the right time.

A bad marketer's reports will provide you only with vanity metrics that try to convince you that they're doing great work without giving you any insight into what was actually done or how it can help you make better decisions. Their reports are just as vain as their metrics and serve to prop up their own skills, not your ability to manage your business.

7. Their billing process is unclear

When you get your bill for marketing services, it should be obvious what you're paying for. In the retainer model, you pay the same price every month and you get the same services every month. In the hourly model, you pay for hours spent doing marketing work on your business, and each hour is clearly accounted for.

A bad marketer can use either models, but it will be difficult for you to account for the work done or for them to explain it. The retainer services can be unclear or completely undefined; the hourly work will seem hardly justifiable for the results you're getting.

In either case, if the bill seems fishy, it probably is.

8. They are not open to suggestions or discussion

A good marketer knows that every business is different and has specific needs. He or she will have frequent contact to make sure that everything is going as planned and that the client is satisfied. Good marketing consultants will accept (and even request!) regular input from clients.

Sleazy marketers will rely on the "I know best" excuse to get out of explaining anything to you. They will not be open to discussing their methods or to accept your input as a client. You will probably feel shut out of the process as a result–and that's a very bad sign.

9. They keep asking for more money without producing results

Sure, people sometimes have to raise their prices to deal with the increased costs of… well, everything. But those increases will usually be reasonable and gradual.

Other times, marketing firms will suggest bigger monthly retainers (with the attached increase in services provided) because they think it will suit your needs better. Of course, the business is free to turn it down or accept the offer.

Sleazy marketers, on the other hand, will often increase their prices without warning or justification. They'll just say "they needed more time to work on your business this month" or something equally vague. And the worst part is, there is no improvement in the results to fit the increase in price.

10. Working with them is like your worst nightmare

They don't return your calls. They don't reply to your emails. They don't answer your questions. They stand you up at meetings. They send you a bill and ask for quick (i.e. on-the-spot) payment. You have no idea what they do, how they do it or why they do it. It's your worst nightmare, and it's high time you woke up from it.

Why suffer a relationship with an unethical "marketer" when there are so many competent, ethical marketing consultants willing to help you build a better business? Look out for these signs when shopping marketing support, and you might save yourself some trouble (and lots of money) down the line.

Have you ever dealt with sleazy marketers? Share your experience with us!


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