Do any of these statements sound like experiences or feelings you’ve had marketing your firm in the last two years?
- We’re struggling to win our “fair share of opportunities” within our areas of expertise.
- We’re not sure where to focus our marketing investments.
- Every time we attempt to develop a strategic marketing plan, it degrades into a list of tasks.
- We have a lot of marketing activities, but we’re not really sure what’s driving the most value.
If you’ve struggled with any of these concepts recently, take a break and go to the mall. Seriously. Go to the mall. Here’s why:
Lessons on Professional Services Marketing from a Retail Guy
Last week I shared lunch with Dan Finkelman, the Chief Marketing Officer of Alliance Data. Dan is an insightful, seasoned marketer who built much of his expertise in stints as a Managing Partner at McKinsey and working in senior marketing functions with folks like Les Wexner, founder of the Limited. Needless to say, Dan knows a thing or two about marketing both a professional services firm and a retail business. Despite all that, he’s a humble guy with lots of keen insights worth sharing. We had a broad discussion on a variety of topics, but I’m only going to share two of those insights here. I really want to stress that the core of these insights are what he shared with me. I’m doing my best to package those insights and articulate how you can apply them in your professional services firm.
#1 – Go to the Mall and Look at the Windows
If you want to know which retailers are successful, walk through the mall and look at their windows. It should be very clear what a retailer is selling by looking at its windows. Successful retailers are always very clear. Unsuccessful ones quite often are not. Victoria’s Secret is always very clear that it sells bras. Just look at the window.
So, what are you selling? Look at your homepage; it’s your window. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is it clear?
- Have you articulated a very simple, matter-of-fact statement describing who you serve, what you do, and the value it creates?
- Do you have simple visuals in your “window” that quickly let a visitor infer what you’re selling?
As professionals, we don’t like to think of ourselves as selling anything. And, that something is never as tangible as a bra. But, the fact of the matter is, someone is buying a service from us. To the extent possible, we have to visualize that service in a clear, tangible way so they can see it in our “window.”
#2 – What Client Do You Want to Walk Through the Door Today?
This is an incredibly simple question, but I’ll bet 90% of firms can’t answer it. To be clear, Dan is the CMO for the retail business of Alliance Data. This is a $1B+ business, which primarily provides private label credit card services to major retailers — a professional service. Alliance Data has relationships with about 100 retailers, the pool of potential retail clients is a fairly small one, though it’s quite varied. That said, Dan can articulate with incredible granularity the exact client he’d like to walk through the doors of Alliance Data today — what business they’re in, how big they are, what their customers are, how they market, how they use credit and how they see credit.
Positioning starts with focus. And, if we’re not clear about who we propose to serve, how can we be clear about what we have to offer? Some of the questions you should be able to answer quickly and easily:
- Who is the client we want to walk in the door today?
- What industry is he/she in?
- How large is his or her company?
- What does that company need from us?
- How do they use firms like ours?
- What service do we provide them?
Let’s take the first question on the list — if you asked your firm leadership this question, how many answers would you get? Three? Eight? Twenty? Let’s get it down to one; maybe two. If you get this question answered, suddenly positioning, planning, budgeting, and measuring outcomes becomes a whole lot easier. So, get to the mall!