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During the current COVID-19 crisis most PSFs will already have cut their marketing budgets. Many firms will have laid off marketing staff, furloughed some of them, or put a freeze on recruitment. But marketing is still an important activity during a recession, so what should managing partners be looking for from their marketing departments at this time of crisis?
Well, after more than 30 years in the sector, including ten years in-house in various business planning and marketing roles with both PwC and a top 10 law firm, I have identified seven areas in which I think marketing can make a significant contribution to the success of the firm, both during a recession and over the longer term.
· Understanding the market
· Marketing planning
· Managing clients
· Winning new business
· Building the brand
· Internal marketing
· Measuring results
Below, I set out what each of these entails. Ask yourself, is your firm engaged in these and is the marketing department fully involved?
The fundamental tenet of marketing is “know your market”, yet few PSFs do. Most get by on the basis of partners' gut feel, anecdotal market intelligence, and unreliable directories.
And whilst there is a huge degree of uncertainty at this current time, the marketing function (working with your strategic planning function, if you have one) ought to be constantly assessing your firm’s key markets and its position within these:
This intelligence ought to be a key input to decision making by the senior management team by providing facts and figures to act on, and marketing should have a key role to play. Does it in your firm?
Marketing ought to have a key role in the firm’s business planning process, even if this process is currently focused on short-term survival. Servicing existing clients, promoting your professionals, and winning new clients is the core of any PSF. Housing them, proving them with facilities (IT, meeting rooms, support, etc) and managing the money are important, but without clients you have no firm.
The number one rule of marketing is to do a great job for your existing clients as satisfied clients will usually give your firm repeat business and recommend you to others. At a time of crisis, this is even more important as new clients are harder to land and the focus should be on retaining existing key clients.
Therefore, it is important that you have a programme in place to ensure that this is happening. Your marketing team, or the business development (BD) subset of this, should be heavily involved in designing and running this programme, which should also be focused on maximising the flow of work opportunities from each client to the firm’s different practice areas and offices, commonly known as cross-selling.
This is the easiest area to assess the marketing team’s contribution to both the firm’s top and bottom line.
Whether formally through a tender or through the cumulative marketing and sales efforts of fee-earners, having the right processes in place to maximise sales ought to be a key area where marketing/BD can make a contribution to the firm.
Helping fee-earners to identify sales targets which fit with the firm’s strategy, devising approaches to these targets, coaching and training fee-earners to be effective at sales, developing pricing models, and supporting the tenders process are all areas where marketing can make a contribution. At one end of the support spectrum, some firms have professional sales people opening doors for the fee-earners and at the other marketing is still just fulfilling an admin function when pulling together a response to a RFP. Where does marketing get involved in your firm and could it have an enhanced role?
A professional services brand has three components: positioning; behaviour; and, image. The least important of these is image; visual identity in all its forms – name, logo, website, comms, etc. Defining a compelling proposition and ensuring uniformity of delivery through consistent staff behaviour are the more important components but also the areas where marketing tends to be least involved.
Marketing will make a greater contribution to the firm if it spends less time tinkering with logos/the website and more time helping fee-earners to communicate what sets the firm apart from its competitors.
Whilst this activity is probably the least important during a crisis, over the longer term as we emerge from the crisis the strength of the firm’s brand will become important again to gain market share.
Internal comms is vitally important now as firms operate under a WFH model. Keeping everyone informed and motivated has never been more important. Marketing should be working closely with senior management to make this happen.
In addition, for most firms the biggest source of new business is the firm's existing client and contact base. Capturing these cross-selling opportunities will be helped greatly by a key client programme and a remuneration system which rewards partners for introducing their clients to other departments within the firm. It is also important that partners understand what their colleagues do and how they add value to a client's business, as this will help them to identify cross-selling opportunities. Hence, the importance of internal marketing in which marketing should play a key role.
Marketing departments are often criticised for not being able to measure and show the benefits to the business of their activities. For too long, marketers in PSFs have gotten away with justifying their existence based on 'woolly' measures of success: "it's improved our profile"; "lots of people turned up to the seminar"; “our blog had X views”; “we’ve got X followers on Twitter”; or, my favourite, "we generated X square inches of coverage from this PR initiative equivalent to £Y of free advertising", the old AVE (Advertising Value Equivalency) argument.
Firms need to be much more focused on those marketing and BD activities which directly generate fees. And, they need to put a range of metrics in place to measure the results of their marketing including: volumes of new business; client satisfaction scores; proposals success rates; awareness levels among decision-makers; etc. In addition, ROMI should be measured using the formula [(Value of New Work - Investment) / Investment] x 100, where 'Investment' is both the cash and time invested in the marketing/BD activity.
I hope this article has given you a better understanding of how marketing ought to be bringing benefits to your firm at this time of great uncertainty. If you would like me to audit these processes in your firm, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Wheeler is a BD consultant and coach working in the PSF sector. He has been advising firms for more than 30 years. His Marketing Model can be found on his website at http://www.wheelerassociates.co.uk/wheeler_marketing_model
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Kevin Wheeler has been advising professional services firms on all aspects of marketing and business development for more than 30 years. As a consultant he helps firms to manage and grow their key clients as well as to win new ones. As a Meyler Campbell qualified coach he works with partners and those approaching partnership to improve their BD skills.
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