Over the course of a month, I interact with a lot of people tasked with the job of marketing professional firms across a variety of industries. Some of these folks have a marketing background, others are professionals turned marketers. Some have high level responsibilities such as client attraction, others are tasked with more tactical issues such as tradeshow coordination or development of promotional materials. Regardless, most struggle with a similar conflict within the culture of their firm: quite often, the professionals they serve don’t understand nor value the marketing discipline within their firm. For the most part, I chalk this up to misunderstanding. As a result, I’ve discerned Three Myths of Professional Services Marketing:
1. Marketing = Sales Support
Often, when I ask firm leaders how many people are in their marketing function, they tell me how many people they have to assist the proposal writing process. While developing project case studies, producing sales collateral and coordinating tradeshow activities are all necessary activities within a firm, if your entire marketing function consists of producing materials to support the business development process, you might as well be running down the middle of a busy street with your eyes closed.
2. Marketing = Promotion + Lead Generation
Most firms task marketing solely with the task of promoting the firm’s experience and previous project work. They ask the marketing team to produce an ongoing stream of direct mail, email, and possibly social media content promoting the work the firm has done in the past. The hope is that this steady flow of “me, me, me” communications is going to drive leads to the desk of the business development team. When this doesn’t happen, marketing is considered fundamentally flawed and leadership inevitably feels wary to commit more resources to the task.
3. Our Best Clients are Referrals
It’s logical to compare the clients that were referred to us to those that called us blindly (or, worse yet, ones we called blindly) and draw the conclusion that our best clients were those that were referred to us from a trusted source. But, what if you compared that same set of clients to a set of clients that specifically sought your firm based on your proven expertise in a much needed, narrow discipline? Put more simply, who do the best clients really want to hire — a likeable firm referred to them by their friends or an expert practitioner with narrow, proven experience solving their fundamental business problem? I think we’ll all agree that our best clients are actually those that hire us solely for our expertise.
So, What Should Marketing in a Professional Services Firm Look Like?
Marketing should be assisting firm leadership with the difficult task of determining what markets we should be in and which services we should provide. It should be helping firm leadership “productize” our most valuable and differentiated services to make them more repeatable, more profitable, and easier to sell. It should be leading the firm through the process of developing, producing and distributing a consistent flow of expertise-driven content to draw higher value clients to our firm. It should be aligning marketing investments with firm business strategy by developing an actionable marketing plan to help the firm achieve its intended business objectives. And, yes it should be supporting the business development process by producing client case studies, coordinating proposals, and managing tradeshow marketing.
So, what do you think? Is marketing in your firm delivering the value it should be?