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Marketing ABC’s

Dear Dave
Our firm will have its eighteenth anniversary this year. We have had our ups and downs, but on balance we have been very happy with our performance. We do good work, have a lot of repeat clients and don’t lose many employees to competitors. We pride ourselves on having an active professional development program for staff and have been investing in technology on a regular basis in order to remain current.

We recently completed a formal strategic planning process for the first time in several years that included a self assessment of our firm’s strengths and weaknesses. Our major weaknesses seem to fall primarily in the area of marketing. Besides our repeat client work, we mostly react to leads and RFP’s which fall in our lap. It is the consensus of our planning group that we need to be putting more time, effort and attention into marketing. What does “more” look like?

Dear MH
Marketing is one of four basic operating components common to all organizations. Finance and administration, human relations and the actual professional services you offer your clients are the other three. Think of each of these components as “links” forming a chain. Over time, the ultimate success of your organization will not be determined by your strongest link, but rather limited by the strength of your weakest. If marketing or any of the other three links are not up to par with the other links of your organizational chain, you’d be well served by working to correct any that lag behind.

Hopefully, as part of your strategic planning process you have thoroughly considered your circumstances, studied trends amongst your clients and competitors, talked through the pros and cons of various options and created a clear vision of what you wish your firm to look like a couple of years hence. Along with the three other components, marketing must develop and carry out a series of specific initiatives and activities that move the firm toward accomplishing this vision. These actions become the core of a marketing plan. Since each of the four components of your practice are linked, the plans of each area need to be coordinated and synchronized with each of the others.

To begin elevating the importance of your marketing operations, some one individual has to accept ultimately responsibility to see that it occurs. Marketing needs a champion in a position of sufficient authority to make sure the process of marketing stays in motion and receives proper attention and resources. In smaller firms, it is often a part-time job lead by a principal who may or may not have support from others. As firms get larger, dedicated marketing administrative staff is added to assist the principal in charge. At the largest firms, marketing directors are often formerly trained marketers who may or may not be technical professionals but lead the process reporting to firm management.

Marketing is two thirds listening and one third talking. The primary responsibility of marketing is to gather and manage knowledge and information that is relevant to the current and future direction of the markets, services and geographies the company has elected to pursue. A firm puts that gathered intelligence advantageously to work in helping the firm compete and obtain its goals. This information needs to be routinely shared across the entire organizational chain. What is learned from the marketing process often helps to shape the direction and plans of the other component pieces of the organization. Managing this knowledge has become easier in recent years with the advent of various data base programs and marketing software products specifically designed and formatted for use by consulting firms.

Marketing is equally used to inform and educate your intended marketplace of who you are, and why you are different from firms competing against you. This can’t possibly be effectively accomplished without first doing the listening just described to allow you to tune your message to your intended markets specific interests. Don’t overlook current and past clients. A set of initiatives and tactics should be tailored to keeping in touch and maintain relationships with existing clients. There are numerous tools and techniques firms use to accomplish this such as surveys, personal visits, brochures, blogs, web sites, trade shows, etc. Remember this; a firm will never be better than the quality of its client base. A firm saddled with marginal clients will be limited in what it will ultimately accomplish as an organization.

It is typical for those involved with marketing to manage and participate in the selling end of the process as well. Tracking leads, scheduling sales calls, writing proposals, finding suitable firms with which to partner when necessary, organizing rehearsals for key presentations are just a few of the basic selling tasks commonly associated with a well organized marketing function. Getting the wholehearted participation and support from all staff in the organization is important. In a consulting firm, train up until it becomes second nature for everyone to keep their eyes and ears open for opportunities.

Your firm’s marketing activities should be budgeted and tracked like any other significant project in your office. Develop specific goals and expectations to help you to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of your program over time. Marketing is not cheap. According to numerous industry surveys over the years, spending is all over the board and ranges up to 10% or more of a firm’s annual billings. This includes the payroll associated with time spent on marketing and sales activities along with the out-of-pocket cost for marketing materials, travel, web sites, entertainment and other related expenses. Try to keep the mix of what is spent at 70% payroll and 30% non-payroll. Professional service marketing is more time intensive than it is material dependant.

Finally, marketing is a process which develops a certain momentum when continuously applied over long periods of time. The decision of how much or how little time and effort to direct toward marketing activities should not be a function of current workload. Pick a consistent level of effort appropriate to support the firm’s long term vision and stick with it.

Wahby and Associates