Building a marketing plan for a professional services firm can feel kind of like starting a New York Times Crossword Puzzle — we jump in with lots of ambition that quickly fades into frustration. Hey, I get it. It’s not easy. That’s why we’ve mapped out a 4-part process for you to follow. But, I’m not going to kid you, even with a process, it’s a lot of work.
A Four Part Planning Model
Given the complexity of building a useful marketing plan for a professional services firm, let’s look at a straightforward process we can use to develop one that really works. Ultimately, we’ve found that an effective marketing plan for a professional services firm should address 4 topics. Included with each topic are both some questions you need to answer and a process for answering them.
#1 – Positioning
For any marketing or business development effort to be successful we need to have clarity in who we’re trying to attract to our business. Specifically, the marketer needs to derive answers to these three questions:
- What markets should we be in and why?
- Who are our ideal clients?
- What are their most pressing unmet needs?
In many cases, it takes a lot of perseverance and savvy for a marketer to actually get answers to these questions. A lot of firm leaders simply aren’t comfortable narrowing their options. Even though most business people instinctively know that it is simply not reasonable for a business to be all things to all people, most firm leaders are still reticent to make difficult decisions around narrowing a firm’s markets of focus or service offerings for fear of cutting of the firm’s opportunities.
In fact, just the other day I was speaking with the President of an operating division within a $5B+ company about the launch of a new service line — I asked him what industries were best suited for the service, and he was either unable or unwilling to provide an answer. How exactly should we build a targeted list of potential clients without this direction? Toss some darts at a board?
Even in the face of these types of answers, the marketer has to push forward and find the answers to these 3 critical questions. Here are some of the best ways we’ve found to do that:
- Conduct a series of “off-the record” one-on-one qualitative interviews with firm leaders, principals and consultants to get their individual thoughts on where to focus.
- Run a structured workshop with the key leaders in your firm to drive towards consensus.
Here are some additional resources that can help you along the way:
#2 – Thought Leadership
When it comes to thought leadership, you need to start by developing answers to some of these questions:
- How do we translate our clients’ unmet needs into a set of issues to drive our thought leadership strategy?
- How should we allocate our resources between thought leadership development and promotion?
- What types of content (formats) should we produce? How do we actually do it?
- What tactics work best to promote it?
We’ve found that answers to many of these questions can be found directly within the client base if you take the time to ask them. Unlike some things you might ask through research, most clients and potential clients are fairly aware of the types of content that’s most useful to them, how they most often find it, and how they consume it. The best place to start is with some straightforward research and analysis:
- Qualitative interviews with a handful of clients to get a sense of what challenges they’re grappling with right now.
- Online surveys with larger portions of the client base to get a sense of how they prefer to find and consume content.
- Analytics reviews of your existing content platforms to see which topics and formats are best consumed, best shared and most likely to generate conversions (if you already have content on your site and have set up Google Analytics, this analysis is fairly simple).
And, some more additional resources to help you:
- The 2015 AMCF / Rattleback / Bloom Group Thought Leadership Report summarizes our research with 100+ consulting firm marketers and nearly 700 consulting firm clients on what clients value in thought leadership and what works best in thought leadership development and delivery.
#3 – Strategies and Tactics
At this point, you should have a firm handle on what markets you’re pursuing, who your ideal clients are, and what types of content are most likely to attract them. Now, you need to start thinking about how you’re actually going to use this insight to develop leads and quality opportunities for your firm. Questions you should be looking to answer:
- What are our best potential sources of lead generation?
- Which of these sources are generating the most opportunities for us? Which are generating the best opportunities?
- Which are generating the most won business? The best won business?
- How much of our resources should we allocate towards traditional firm marketing and promotion?
Ultimately, the best way to derive answers to these questions is to have built the integrated web system necessary to combine, synsethize and analyze the data that collectively comes out of your website (likely through Google Analytics), your CRM (specifically through understanding your business development pipeline), and your marketing automation system (the tool that helps you really tie your marketing and business development efforts together). If you haven’t established a system of this sort, here are some other ways to develop answers to these questions:
- Work through the last year’s collection of closed new business in concert with your business development folks and lead consultants to identify how those opportunities first came to be and to prioritize which clients turned out to be your better ones and your not so good ones.
- Conduct a similar analysis with your last year’s lost opportunities and your current active opportunities.
#4 – Expected Outcomes
Assuming you’ve come this far you should have a fairly solid plan in place that translates your firm’s business direction down to topics for thought leadership and strategies and tactics for promotion of that thought leadership and the firm itself. At this point, you should be putting on your prognosticator’s hat and making some forecasts about what’s going to happen. Some questions you’ll want to try and predict:
- How many leads will it take to generate the number of opportunities and volume of won business we expect?
- What is the expected ROI from our marketing investment?
Assuming your firm has placed the effective and intelligent use of CRM as central to its business development culture, making some predictions in these areas should not be exceedingly difficult. If that’s not the case, you’re ultimately forced to use your best judgments in concert with the wisdom of your business development people and doer-sellers.
Even if you’ve never tried to place any metrics against your efforts in the past doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try (BTW, if you haven’t already, check out the article, “What Should You Measure?”). If you have to, take a look at some industry averages. But, just remember, your numbers are your numbers so just because your firm may perform differently than other firms like yours doesn’t mean your marketing effort is inherrently bad. It just means it’s different.
Wrapping It Up
I hope this article gives you some good direction for your marketing planning effort. If you have questions about any of the topics in it, feel free to post a comment or reach out to us directly. Happy planning!