Just recently, I finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. In addition to being a thoroughly enjoyable read, the book is as useful a business book as I’ve ever read. There are many leadership and marketing insights applicable to our professional service firm clients. Most interesting, was Mike Markkula’s, one-page paper titled, “The Apple Marketing Philosophy” which he drafted in 1977 shortly after joining the company.
Mike was the first experienced marketing executive to join Apple and was very much a mentor to Steve Jobs. He drafted much of Apple’s first business plan, and the essence of his original philosophy paper is very much core to the company’s success today. In this paper he stressed three fundamental principles for Apple marketing:
- Empathy – We will develop an intimate connection with the feelings of the customer. “We will truly understand their needs better than any other company.”
- Focus – “In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities.”
- Impute – “People DO judge a book by its cover. We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.”
As fundamental as these seem for the success of any business, it seems to me that most professional services firms struggle to execute all three for a variety of reasons. Here are three suggestions for how to apply these within your professional services firm:
- Listen Systematically – Don’t just ask the client facing personnel periodically what is happening inside their client relationships. That yields nothing more than a collection of opinions and perceived client needs. Set up a formal systematic listening program to make sure you have a real understanding of client needs. This should include attendance at industry events, reading industry publications, and surveying clients on a semi-annual basis about the top issues affecting their business and your firm’s performance relative to their needs. Finally, develop a process and plan for sharing learnings throughout your organization.
- Decline Strategically – The best firms I know make it a point to measure the opportunity created by their marketing and business development efforts. Essentially, they measure all the accretive activities generated from the process — things like website traffic, tradeshow contacts, website conversions, leads generated, new client meetings, and total pipeline value. But, marketing and business development activities tend to create a wide array of opportunities – those that keep us on focus with our strategic direction and those that divert us from it. Empowering business development personnel to decline those divergent opportunities more often is necessary for the firm to sustain its strategic focus. The best way I can think of to do this is by creating a metric for it. Why not make it a point to set a goal for how many opportunities you expect to decline in a given year?
- Partner Creatively – Build strong working relationships with creative agencies and the creative people within them. If Jobs proved one thing definitively over the last 30 years it is that “people DO judge a book by its cover.” How your firm packages its expertise is an indicator of the tangible value of that expertise. If your firm looks “slipshod” then prospects assume your talent to be “slipshod.” That said, everything might look great to you so don’t be afraid to ask for another opinion. Reach out to the creative director of a local agency and ask for their opinion of the aesthetic of your firm. Purposely ask them not to dig deep into the strategic intent of your communications. Simply ask them to evaluate your “book cover” – How do we look? Slipshod? Competent? Like an industry leader? Chances are his or her first impressions are similar to those of your prospects.