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2016: client experience top of the agenda
The results of the 2016 Marketing Leaders
Benchmark show that commercially-savvy marketers
are focusing on making transformative improvements
to client experience, says Alastair Beddow.
Since Meridian West and PM Forum began benchmarking
the priorities and investment decisions of
professional services marketing leaders in 2012, one
theme has dominated the agenda year after year:
implementing innovations and improvements to the client experience.
In our 2016 Benchmark 79% of the 85 respondents – all
senior marketers from professional services firms – say they
plan to focus more attention on improving client experience this
year. One in five (20%) cite improving their firm’s client experience
as their number one priority for the year ahead. A further
17% say their top priority for 2016 is to obtain more feedback
However, in this year’s Benchmark we have witnessed a
marked shift in the discourse about client service. When asked
about their rationale for focusing on client service and client
feedback, marketers use terms such as ‘return on investment’,
‘measurement’, ‘ data’, ‘business strategy’ and ‘commerciality’
much more frequently to explain their plans. They are more
comfortable adopting language of B2C marketing. Marketers
now place greater emphasis on achieving measurable strategic
and financial outcomes as a result of their increased effort on
improving client experience.
Marketers prove their worth
To improve strategic outcomes marketers will need to be more
vocal about how they can contribute to the client agenda. More
than nine out of ten (93%)
Benchmark participants believe
that the skills of marketers will
play a vital role in addressing the
strategic challenges facing their
firm in the future. Highlighting
the link between client service
and finance performance can
help marketers to demonstrate
their value. “With the market in
the middle of the biggest flux
ever experienced, marketers
need to consider the value they
can bring and the importance of
their role in client relationships
management,” says one
Benchmark respondent. “They
need to make their own contribution
to the growth of the firm rather than just going with the
When the skills of professional marketers are considered
vital, our Benchmark shows that fee-earners are also expected to
become more actively involved in marketing and business development.
Over half (56%) of respondents anticipate an increase
in non-chargeable fee-earner time linked to marketing and business
development. They expect the proportion of fee-earner
time spent on marketing to rise by 3.5% on average during 2016.
This increase reflects the pressure firms are under to target new
growth segments and deepen existing relationships. Marketers
therefore have an essential role to play in collaboration with feeearners
to ensure marketing time is spent on activities that
further the firm’s strategic goals.
A gap between ambition and reality
In previous years our Benchmark has revealed that limited
direct contact with clients is a major hurdle that prevents
marketers from improving client experience. Evidence from the
2016 Benchmark suggests this is gradually improving: 63% of
senior marketers are now regularly involved in measuring client
satisfaction compared with 49% in 2015.
Yet a gap still exists between the stated ambitions of
marketers and how they actually spend their time. For example,
despite wanting to demonstrate greater marketing ROI, only a
third (35%) of marketers are regularly involved in analysing
financial data. Only a fifth (21%) are regularly involved in
defining the firm’s overall growth strategy. And only 12% are
regularly involved in making decisions about pricing and
scoping of client work; Meridian West’s research among clients
of professional firms conclusively shows that pricing and
scoping are areas that have a tangible impact on how clients
evaluate a firm’s performance.
An appetite for transformative change
With client demands showing no signs of abating, marketers
need to embrace radical change to stay ahead of competitors.
Marketers agree that incremental change alone won’t be sufficient
to deliver the step-change required to meet strategic
outcomes for 2016. Two-thirds (66%) realise that some form of
transformational change in their marketing processes is necessary.
One area this can be achieved is technology – see chart
opposite: 46% say their primary focus is on exploiting the latest
marketing technology for higher performance compared to 19%
who are focused on optimising existing technologies (the
remaining 35% cite an equal split).
Investment in technology can provide professional firms
with access to valuable data about client behaviours, preferences
and needs. This insight can be used to directly improve client
experience by offering a more personalised level of service.
Among Benchmark respondents, 61% say their primary focus is
on tailoring marketing processes to better meet the needs of
different markets or client segments. However, 41% of
marketers place data analytics among the top three most significant
skills gaps in their marketing team, which suggests that an
investment in skills and talent is required alongside investment
Learning from the leaders
Many marketers in our survey say their firm either has no
existing account management and client feedback infrastructure,
or that they are looking to refresh and revitalise their
programme for 2016. “We believe that keeping our existing
clients and encouraging them to refer other clients is most likely
to help us grow the topline,” says one Benchmark respondent.
“We will focus on improving our client listening programme to
inform the decisions we make.”
What can be learned from the approaches adopted by the
leaders? When marketers were asked about their current client
feedback and key account management programme, our
Benchmark reveals that:
- 69% conduct telephone and
face-to-face feedback interviews –
an additional 16% plan to do this
- 65% conduct regular independent
reviews with key accounts
– an additional 21% plan to do this
- 39% capture online feedback
from clients – an additional 22%
plan to do this in 2016;
- 29% segment the added-value
services they offer clients
according to their status as key
accounts – an additional 28% plan
to do this in 2016;
- 20% use portals to automate
client feedback analysis – an additional
25% plan to do this in 2016;
- 12% integrate client feedback data with financial data analysis
– an additional 24% plan to do this in 2016.
Thought leadership and insight campaigns rise in
In addition to a focus on client service, our Benchmark reveals
that thought leadership and insight campaigns are also set to
rise in importance during 2016: two-thirds (66%) of marketers
say they plan to do more of this in 2016, compared with 56%
who cited thought leadership as a strategic priority back in 2015.
“It has proved extremely beneficial to our market positioning to
keep innovating our thinking and promoting that through
content, events, speaking, engaging and media comment,” says
one Benchmark respondent. Focusing on content strategy over
the year ahead can help firms to demonstrate expertise, credibility
and provide opportunities for marketers to have conversations
Investing for the future
Achieving transformative change requires investment. Therefore
it is good to see that marketers are positive about their ability to
fund additional activities: our Benchmark shows an anticipated
3.2% increase on average in overall marketing budgets for the
next 12 months (see chart above). Nearly one in five (18%) of
respondents say their budget will increase by more than 5%.
This is the highest increase reported since we launched the
Benchmark in 2012.
Access to additional resource is matched by similar increases
in marketing function headcount (an average increase of 2.6%
expected) and expenditure on marketing team salaries (3.2%
average increase). Senior marketers say they will focus their
headcount expansion in three areas: key account management,
bid support and sales, and digital marketing. It is no coincidence
that these three areas overlap with the top strategic priorities
that professional services marketers will be grappling with in
2016. Marketing leaders are keen to ensure their teams are
equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in
a rapidly-changing environment.
Alastair Beddow is a director at Meridian West. He
works with firms to define growth strategies, develop
and implement client feedback programmes, and
conduct world-leading thought leadership campaigns.
Contact email@example.com for more information
on the Marketing Leaders Benchmark.
Research Highlights PDF