Developing a marketing plan for a professional services firm can be really hard. For my dime, I see three issues that make marketing planning more difficult for a professional services firm than most other businesses:
#1: Are We Planning For Marketing Or For Business Development?
In a lot of firms, especially smaller and middle market firms, marketing and business development are so closely intertwined that you literally can’t tell them apart. In fact, in a lot of A/E/C firms when I ask a Principal about the makeup of the firm’s marketing department I get a bewildered stare and a response that sounds something like this, “Do you mean how many proposal writers do we have?” In most firms marketing departments at least have some role in business development and sales support.
#2: We Need to Be Both Publishers and Promoters.
In the most successful firms, thought leadership tends to be a cornerstone of the marketing effort. It’s used to frame the firm’s positioning to the market and demonstrate the firm’s expertise in a substantive way. It helps attract clients we don’t know to the firm and it reinforces those we do know that we can create value for their business.
As a result, for a marketing plan to work we have to literally define what we have to say to the market that is meaningful, establish a process for producing it, AND figure out the best way to deliver it. So, essentially, in a lot of professional services firms, the marketer is being asked to be an editor, a publisher, and a media expert all at the same time. Clearly, this is quite difficult. Especially, when your marketing department may only have a couple of people.
#3: We Have to Promote Both Our Knowledge and Our Firm.
The inbound marketing community would have you believe that all traditional outbound marketing and promotion is completely dead. While there’s no doubt that most firms should likely be placing more emphasis on cultivating a rich collection of thought leadership to use as the basis for attracting inbound leads, the facts are that most reasonably sized firms ($10M+) cannot afford to sit back and rely on a plethora of online content to drive enough leads to make their sales targets. This is especially true for a lot of A/E and consulting firms that tend to provide services that are large, discrete investments of capital. In order to grow a $30M-$40M firm, you’re still going to need to employ a healthy balance of targeted promotion and proactive business development.