If your marketing isn’t working, maybe you’re just thinking about it wrong.
Most firm leaders and managing directors have a pretty clear sense of what they expect from their marketing organizations—leads and revenue. Logically, as those are the expectations for the function, they become both the objectives and the KPIs for the function as well. As a result, a firm’s marketing goals written as a statement might look something like this, “Marketing will deliver 2,500 marketing qualified leads and 250 sales ready leads in 2021.”
This all feels entirely logical. Except that it’s entirely wrong.
Don’t Confuse Objectives with Desired Outcomes
So, why do firms invest in marketing anyway? If I asked most firm leaders, the list would probably include some or all of these:
- Generate leads (or new “logos”)
- Grow brand awareness, relevance or visibility
- Generate more RFP opportunities
- Grow referral networks
- Close more business
- Sell more projects of “XYZ” type
- Grow firm revenue
These are all great reasons to invest in marketing. And, yes, they are goals of what you hope to achieve so they are technically objectives. But, they’re also entirely firm-centric. Clients don’t even show up on the list except as a conduit to provide something back to the firm (notoriety, money, etc.)
So, why these are all good goals and you’d like most of them to happen, they’re better viewed as the desired outcomes from your marketing investments, rather than the objective of your marketing program itself.
The Objective is to Educate Clients on Issues that Matter to Them
Through 20 years of marketing professional services firms and through multiple research studies, we’ve found there’s really only one central objective that matters when it comes to marketing—educating clients on issues that matter TO THEM. Here’s the data to substantiate my claims:
I confirmed this in our first foundational website research in 2012 (the firm generating the most leads in the study stated its central objective was educating clients; not generating leads).
And, again in our 2019 thought leadership research (the firms generating the highest price premiums and fastest revenue growth were more likely to see educating clients as the most important role of marketing).
Like everything else in professional services, the key is to take a client-centric view to your marketing objectives. If you focus on your clients, the problems they face, and articulate better ways of solving them … leads and revenue will follow.
What Should You Do Differently?
So, this is all well and good, but what should you do with this information. Should you scrap all your lead, new business, and revenue targets? No, of course not. That would be ridiculous. But I would stop fixating on them. Also, I’d stop pushing specific solutions you provide, and spend a whole lot less time worrying about what your competitors are doing.
Instead, I’d start having some different conversations in your firm that will help you get better yield from your marketing investments and become more client-centric to boot:
- Restate your marketing purpose – Step back for a moment and get all practice and firm leaders aligned around the idea that modern marketing is educating and informing. It’s about helping clients learn about the challenges they don’t even see, learn how to solve the biggest challenges they knowingly face, and identify ways to think differently about the challenges themselves.
- Agree on your ideal client – As previously stated, it all comes back to the client. Work to get everyone in the senior leadership team in agreement on who your ideal client is. Be specific. Focus on firmographics (the organizations you want to do business with), demographics (the people within them), and psychographics (what they’re thinking and feeling right now as it relates to the types of problems you solve).
- Be clear on what you want to be known for – Ask yourselves the question, what do you really want to be known for? I’d suggest it’s wise to define this beyond specific markets or solutions. Focus on business issues. Put another way, what problem must your firm completely own in the next 3 years? 5 years? 7 years?
- Identify what’s wrong with existing solutions – The biggest growth in professional services tends to come from firms that find different or better ways to solve a pervasive problem. Look at those problems you want to own and ask your team, is there a better way to solve them? Do we know what those solutions are? Do we need some new research to find those better ways? Regardless, do we have the evidence we need to back up those contentions?
- Develop and articulate clear points-of-view (POVs) – Once you can agree on the problems, and on what’s wrong with the existing solutions, then you can develop and present better ones. Develop a clear articulation of your better way to solve those problems. Ultimately, your POV is the catalyst for everything you’ll do in marketing—from content and case study development, to presenting and articulating solutions, to lead generation and promotion.
At the end of the day, modern marketing is educating and modern selling is helping. Embrace both belief systems wholeheartedly and your firm will have a much better chance of hitting all the lead generation, opportunity goals, and revenue targets you hoped for in the first place.