Thursday 28 January 2016,

It’s all about transformation, leadership, technology and personal conversations

For the first PM Forum event of 2016, Meridian West and a panel of senior marketing and business experts discussed the findings of the latest Marketing Leaders Benchmark survey and debated how marketing within professional services firms is changing.

The panel: Deepak Malhotra (COO, Rubis International), Annabel Rake (Chief Marketing Officer, Deloitte), Lucy Canning (Director of Marketing, Grant Thornton), Jonathan Fox (Founder, College Road Consulting), Ben Kent (Founding Director, Meridian West), Alaistair Beddow (Associate Director, Meridian West)

The survey: 84 UK senior professional services marketers contributed to the Marketing Leaders Benchmark 2016. Conducted by PM Forum and MPF in conjunction with Meridian West, thesurvey provides an annual snapshot of what’s going on in the world of professional services marketing.

The session: Alistair Beddow of Meridian West kicked off the eveningat Deloitte by outliningthe key findings, which indicate that marketers are keen to promote their strategic impact across the business. Transformative change is high on the agenda and, importantly, marketing budgets and headcountare on the up. Respondents appear to share the view that certain activities (especially client service, client feedback and thought leadership) need to be prioritised in order to achieve real marketing ROI.

It was then over to the panelfor an informative debate on a number of the key issues affecting marketing in professional services; here are some of the top soundbites from the evening.

Professional services marketing is at a transformation tipping point
  • It’s a great time to be a marketer. There’s lots of fast-paced change happening, all of the time, all over the place. This of course brings with it lots of challenges, but it’s exciting. Really exciting.
  • Transformation, by its very nature, is ongoing. You never reach your destination.
  • The big change we’ve started to see is that the focus is now on the client.
  • External factors, such as the future of compliance services and technology changing what clients want, are the driving forces behind major opportunities for marketing. Firms need to adapt to their changing external environment, and marketing is ideally placed to help with this.
Marketing should be at the top table
  • In five years’ time, more marketers will be leading firms. But certain factorscurrently limit the chance of this happening, such as marketing teams not ordinarily being involved in the scoping and pricing of work, nor the positioning and/scoping of services offered.
  • There’s a lightbulb moment taking place, where partners are realising that even though they’re fantastic fee-earners, they might need some help when it comes to marketing.
  • Marketers should be ‘confidence givers’. Marketers needs to reposition themselvesand actively promote themselves to fee earners.
Lessons from the corporate world
  • In most corporates, marketing sits at the top table, and it’s not uncommon for chief marketing officers to become chief executives.
  • During ‘leaner’ times, it’s singularly impossible to decrease the marketing budget without negatively affecting the success of the business.
  • Corporates know that marketing and branding go hand-in-hand. You can’t develop a robust, sustainable brand without a robust marketing function.
  • For corporates, it’s essential, and expected, that marketing has direct access to the consumers.
  • In contrast, fee earners don’t appreciate the marketing toolkit, and that when deployed well it can have an exponentially positive impact on the client experience.
  • Do professional services firms attach the same value to brand as corporates?
People buy people
  • Clients want true partnerships with their professional services advisers.
  • Firms like Deloitte are now applying a granular approach to client service in order to ‘marry’ the right people within the business with the right people at each client.
  • The ‘long-term relationship partner’ focuses on an individual at a client organisation as opposed to the organisation itself, and that partner sticks with the individual throughout their career.
  • Marketing and BD teams are working with L&D teams to create live, learning experiences for fee earners.
It’s all about personalised conversations
  • There is a shift in emphasis towards real life conversations.
  • So what about thought leadership? Clients don’t always just want to access a report online; they want to have a genuine conversation around ideas with their advisers.
  • Thought leadership needs to be personalised at an individual level.
  • From the client’s perspective, some of the most effective forms of marketing are expert interviews and sector-specific round-table discussions.
Technology must be an enabler of the client relationship
  • Analytics and marketing automation can provide marketing with key data to help shape the one-to-one plan for individual clients.
  • Marketers should use their aggregate data to validate their expert knowledge and challenge fee earners’ views.
  • Marketers should be the glue holding all the pieces of data together. Marketing is the integrator.
  • Clients buy people – and outcomes. Technology plays a vital role in the delivery of outcomes.
  • Firms have to disrupt themselves before others disrupt them.
  • Disruption isn’t just about technology. Firms like Grant Thornton see technology as a ‘just around the corner’ disruption horizon for which its planning. More importantly though, it’s also considering the longer term ‘what if’ horizons, for example if there is a global water or electricity shortage in ten years’ time – what would this mean for the business?

Judy Armstrong,
Thirdperson – great content, made simple