I like systems. I think in systems and, even when I don’t realize I’m doing it, I work in systems. There’s something both comforting and efficient about working with familiar patterns.

Consulting System

photo credit: brendonhatcher via photopin cc

I’ve based my entire body of work around the idea of a marketing system.

In order to install that system however, I’ve had to build, refine and reflect on a consulting system that allows me to translate the full power of my marketing system into something a client can use.

It’s not enough as a consultant to develop a worthwhile methodology; you’ve also got to develop the technology to make it ultimately useful for each and every client.

All that to say that today I want to share what I think are somewhat universal stages for any successful consulting system and engagement.


A successful consulting engagement lives and dies upon expectations. If you don’t view the process of educating a client on your unique approach as part of the engagement, as opposed to part of the selling process, you’ll hit snags down the road.

When a prospective client wants to meet to discuss working together treat that meeting as an opportunity to do some valuable work with them rather than simply showcasing how you work.


Once a client is convinced you can help them you must contractually spell out exactly how it’s going to work. You need them to agree to types of information you need, access to staff time, meetings with stakeholders and precisely what you intend to deliver and when.

I wrote about my use of contracts recently here.


In this stage you are working with the client to discover “what is.” In other words, this is the audit phase. For me this includes internal staff interviews, external client and partner interviews, website analysis, content analysis, past and future campaign analysis and analysis of key performance objectives and goals.

It’s important to enter this phase with a very open mind. You have no idea what you’re going to find but you must be thorough. (Checklists are really important part of the system here.)


Now it’s time to take what you learn in the Discovery phase and start looking to turn “what is” into “what’s possible.” You need to dive in and take a broader look at the client’s industry at a whole, with special attention given to deconstructing competitors.

This is also the place where I access the internal and external interviews in an effort to better understand a client’s culture and community tendencies. You can’t succeed if you make recommendations that a client simply won’t go through with – no matter how smart those recommendations are.


This is the big moment. In my world this is the place where I “sell” my recommendations to the client. Sell may seem like an odd way to describe this phase but this is a “don’t pass go without” step.

Most of my work is based on the notion that you must develop and commit to a marketing strategy before declaring any set of tactics as appropriate. In this stage I must get buy in and excitement from the client around strategy recommendations or I must go back to the drawing board.


This phase obviously differs for each and every type of engagement. In fact, in some consulting engagements the implementation is actually left to the client.

Either way, a system for proceeding here is important. If you are now going to do the work you’ve proposed you should have a series of projects and processes all plugged into a checklist road map. If you’re not going to do the work you’ve proposed, your recommendations should contain a road map for the client.


I think this is the missing link for many consultants and service providers. No matter how your consulting engagement is designed you should insist upon some sort of review process to access results. We actually write this step into the contract for a specified time in the future.

Only a couple things can happen in a results review and I think all are positive.

a) You can discover your client got amazing, tangible, documentable results and wants to know how to refer you to others.
b) You can find things just kind of stalled and they need you to help get them back on track

Viewing every aspect of your work through the lens of a system makes you more efficient, more prepared to deliver consistent value to your clients and more effective when it comes to creative problem solving.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • It’s hard to argue. You are right. These are really vital steps for creating good consulting system.

  • Very timely and helpful for me. Thank you.

  • Most concise detail of a consulting system I have ever come across, THANK YOU, John!!! Simple steps to follow, rinse and repeat 😉

    • Thanks – concise is good in my book –

  • Margaret Rose

    John, Again, you make this process sound simple as it is clear and concise for implementation. What is even more important in this discussion is that what is clear for us becomes even clearer for the customer so we both have a chance at achieving great RESULTS! M

    • I’ve always said that one of the best reasons to work with systems is that they allow you to communicate with the client better and ultimately give them a better result as well.

      • Margaret Rose

        Setting the right expectations has repeated itself over and over as a significant key to a successful program. m

  • Rich Littlefield

    John, great system, I totally agree with the steps.

    I do have a question, if that’s ok? In the conversion phase you mention making sure that you spell out exactly what you’re going to deliver, and being specific.

    However, in the research and presentation phases, you talk about finding out what they will accept, and “selling” the idea to them.

    I’ve gotten into trouble before assuming clients would just take my advice all the time, so I understand that, but how do I spell out what I’m going to do, before I do the research?

    I’d really appreciate this, I think it would make it a lot clearer in my mind when I’m working with clients.

    • I don’t mean to spell out your recommendations – you spell out the process – what you are going to deliver might be a 20 page report detailing your finding – but you don’t have any idea what those findings might end up being.

      • Rich Littlefield

        Thanks, John, that makes perfect sense. You can be specific about the product you are delivering, but of course you don’t know what you will find, so that’s what they are paying you for.

        Thanks for clarifying that, I’m going to use it today!

  • Stacey

    I like the idea of incorporating the last phase into the contract. Great idea!

  • Kael Montas

    This is great! This system will change the world!