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The Good, The Bad, and the Independent Consultant

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As the automotive retail marketing landscape has grown more complex over the last couple of decades, we’ve seen the rise of the “independent consultant.”  The beauty of this kind of a role, at least on paper, is that you’re hiring an industry expert, aware of all solutions but beholden to none, and thus able to rationally evaluate your challenges and recommend the right approach.

And that would be a lovely world, if it were always accurate. The dream of arriving at solutions without being sold a bill of goods is every CEO or manager’s wish. But don’t let the word independent necessarily fool you. When a consultant brings you their advice, you’re still being sold. But perhaps worse than being sold a website, or an SEO service, which are empirically verifiable products that directly impact your business, a consultant may be selling you biased or less informed opinions. And core to that sale can be making you believe that their opinions are more valuable than your own or that of an experienced and expert partner.  Some consultants (the less ethical ones) achieve this by sowing fear, uncertainty & doubt, or FUD, as the acronym goes. Enough time spent with such a consultant, and you’ll come to believe you would never reach the right conclusion without their help. Ask yourself this: how did you become successful enough to hire them in the first place?

This is not to disparage the valuable role that consultants play; like any industry, there are honorable players, and less honorable ones. You may not have time or expertise in-house to accomplish your goals, and the right consultant can provide invaluable assistance. But be alert to preconceived bias. Is this consultant aggressively pushing one and only specific solution? Why? Are they disparaging another product without providing clear rationale? What are their qualifications, and does their reasoning make sense to you? They are the expert in their business, but remember, you are the expert in your business.

Likewise, this same critical thinking can help you evaluate all services. Look for tangible evidence, not opinions. Ask: how long have they been in business?  What is their experience & expertise in the automotive sector?  Who are their customers? Can you speak with them? How long have they been partners? Do they have unbiased results they can share with you? Is their pricing transparent?

The marketing landscape is complex, and only growing more so, but you may not need a sherpa to guide you up this Everest. Look at the people you respect in your industry, the successful ones, see what kind of company they keep, evaluate for yourself.