Marketing is about “Being There”

Many Professional Services firms don’t really “get” Marketing – it’s a drain to pour money down which could otherwise go into Partners’ pockets!  IT Services firms tend to “get it” more but the spend can often be focused on things that take up lots of time and budget for little effect.  So what’s the problem?

Marketing professionals talk about the “Marketing Mix”.  In Services Marketing, the original 4Ps of product, price, promotion and place are expanded to 7Ps, adding in process, people and physical environment …. and some people even add an eighth, namely performance – this is a lot of Ps!  If we’re running a services firm and don’t have much Marketing experience, we find all these Ps a bit difficult and uncomfortable and, hence, tend to gravitate to one end of the spectrum and do only what we feel comfortable with (e.g. buy hospitality tickets for the rugby and invite some clients and a few prospects) or the other and try to cover all the bases.  Both approaches fail in most cases.

Let’s start with what we’re trying to achieve.  When we boil it down, we’re looking for Marketing activity to generate sales leads.  In services businesses, sales leads must lead to face-to-face sales meetings because we all know that, in this industry at least, people buy from people…so they’d better meet and get the chemistry going as soon as possible if any sale is going to be made!

Now, it’s increasingly true that there are hygiene factors to consider that don’t directly lead to sales leads or which, if handled poorly, can hold sales opportunities back.  A consulting firm that I’m working with had a sales campaign put on hold recently when the potential client wouldn’t introduce the consulting Partner to his boss to get a decision until the firm’s web site was more fit for purpose…which it now is!  Which hygiene factors to address and how much to spend on them is worth thinking about – I’d suggest that you do just enough to create an environment within which your target market might start to get a warm and fuzzy feeling.  So you want to tweet – why?  You want an article in the FT – do the people who buy your services read the FT?

It’s best to decide which specific messages you want to get to which specific audiences and then, alongside creating something of an environment around this, research how to get to these audiences – which industry journals they read, which conferences they attend etc – and then put Marketing spend and effort into delivering your messages into these places, consciously and deliberately avoiding spend in places that don’t fit with this.  If this involves face-to-face contact as part of the Marketing activity then this is fantastic since it gives you a better opportunity to start building a relationship and increases the likelihood of getting that all important face-to-face sales meeting.

About five years ago, I worked with an IT services firm focused on Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing – they had reached a plateau and were getting frustrated.  We took the same Marketing budget that they were spending by trying to cover all the bases and focused it onto getting specific messages into three vertical industries, and we aligned the sales team up behind these industry messages.  The result?  50% growth in revenues the next year and 65% growth on top of that the following year.

Decide where you need to be and then “be there”!

BearingPoint’s acquisition of LCP Consulting

Appointed by BearingPoint to introduce appropriate consulting firms to them from my network, I was delighted to be in at the start of this acquisition activity.

BearingPoint is a significant player in mainland Europe, most notably in France and Germany, and is growing fast in the UK.  Our aim was to find consulting firms in the UK that would provide greater local capability in supply chain and similar services and also fit well with the existing horizontal capability teams and vertical practices of BearingPoint elsewhere in Europe.

LCP Consulting is an award-winning consultancy and the team there is seriously strong.  They needed a home where they could spread their wings and grow more quickly.

This tie up is a great example of “1+1=3” – both organisations bring things to the party that the other has been looking for.  Culturally, they fit well too and it was evident even at the first meeting that the two firms could create something special.

Well, the deal is now done and well done to all!  I look forward now to seeing the special things being delivered in the market and the BearingPoint brand gaining increasing recognition in the UK as a result.

See here for BearingPoint’s press release.

What’s the point?

 

When I take on a new client – small, medium-sized or large – our engagement often starts with me asking something along the lines of “What’s the point?” or “What’s the purpose of this business?”. Answers range from people giving me their Vision statement through listing out the key business objectives and financial targets for the Financial Year to explanations of the range of services that they provide to their clients. These are all answers looking in the business rather than on the business.

Unless the leadership team of any business is aligned with regard to overall objectives that the owners have for that business, the focus of the individual leaders will be in different places. Many businesses have to sort out this alignment from the outset, and regularly thereafter, as they have significant funding requirements. Given that most services businesses have a low cost of entry, however, this is not necessarily the case and I meet many firms that were established a number of years ago by a small group of Owner Directors with a desire to service clients better than their previous employer, be their own boss or simply do it for themselves rather than make someone else rich. For a while this is fine since establishing an initial set of service propositions and gaining a first few clients can be done in the absence of a shareholder strategy. Eventually, however, the firm may fall into doing things that aren’t core (e.g. because a client offers a different piece of business to its trusted advisor), investment may be put into the wrong places and the firm may stagnate.

I also spend time with groups of Partners at larger firms, many of whom were not in at the outset of course, and find an interesting mix of people headhunted in for their key client relationships, recruited to establish a new capability for the firm, promoted up through the ranks etc. Their own reasons for being there are personal to them and rarely shared with their fellow Partners. Similar problems can occur regarding direction, where to invest and what to steer away from – a number of Partners then end up spinning the wheels for a few years just to gain enough profit share to fill their bank accounts to a level sufficient to make them financially secure.

There are essentially three pure types of professional services firm – asset growth, income generation and lifestyle. Most firms contain a blend of objectives that cross all three but the proportions vary dramatically from one firm to another. There is no “right answer” but there is a right answer for a particular firm at a particular point in time.

I enjoy taking Owner Directors and Equity Partner teams in my clients through an exercise to identify what the mix of the three is currently and what they believe it should be. Many Executives find that, in order to come up with the answer to the simple question, they need to get into deep and meaningful conversations at home about life aims – something that may not have been looked at since the early days of relationships! Once we have individual desires understood and shared, we then work out an overall answer that each of the owners can subscribe to. From this point, every business decision is made in a context that is understood by the leadership team and is often easier and quicker to make than previously.

Once people get what “the point” is, their business (and often personal) life becomes clearer and more fulfilling!