Wednesday 25 January 2017, London

Meridian West presented some very interesting findings about the issues facing the 2017 professional services marketer.  Client experience and client journey are topics which had a growing spotlight towards the end of 2016, and pose as an opportunity to meet rising client expectations in 2017. In turn, this has become a top priority and leads the way in what marketers plan to do more of.

Other positive trends highlighted for 2017 include automation of processes and artificial intelligence (AI), and increased merger activity. On the other hand, Brexit, the associated weakening of the pound, and lower cost competitors have emerged as the negative trends for 2017.

Bridging the strategic influence gap was also highlighted as a point of concern for marketing leaders, which is perhaps reflected in the desired top capabilities for marketers: commerciality, influencing fee-earners, communication, project management, strategic thinking and planning. 

The panel for the evening, Jess Gower - BDO, Maeve Jackson - Farrer & Co, David Bowering - (previously) Citi, and Lucy Murphy - Freshfields, shared with the audience their opinions on these findings as well how they cope with the global disruption and extreme change in the economy.

Addressing the concern of uncertainty
Maeve Jackson acknowledged that law firms struggle with agility, which can pose as a big problem when your clients expect you to respond to big issues in a timely manner. If they can’t be the first to respond, then what are they? Her view has been to “meet [her] firm’s reality”, and position Farrer as the law firm with a comprehensive, and more considered and targeted response. Writing documents to specifically respond to the impact of Brexit to their overseas clients is an example of their targeted response to uncertainty, taking into consideration the structure and culture of the firm.

Lucy Murphy suggests looking at automation and disruption as an opportunity rather than a threat. Focus on what you want your business to go for and be agile; acknowledge that you can’t be all things for all people. Furthermore, despite the general uncertainty from Brexit and the US elections, Lucy reminds us all global business is still key, so think global and act local.

David Bowering added to this, stating we should be honest and admit that we don’t know what the future will look like. There are several future scenarios and each will have big impacts. If we embrace uncertainty and challenge any of our firm’s core strategies according to a variety of future scenarios, this will put us in a better position. We can see where things may not work, and change and adapt the strategy as required.

Trend for compliance based work to be automated and the impact on price – what does the value add look like and how do you lay the groundwork?
Jess Gower offers the simple advice of placing your bets and testing one or two ideas with your clients – it all goes back to client expectations.

Heightened merger activity
Lucy quotes Goldman Sachs, saying that the best opportunity is to crack the US, whoever does that will succeed. Nationalism is not a concern and should not prevent you from accessing the US market.  By being the first firm a US company goes to, you can bypass their need for either a Wall St or international firm – you can be both.

Maintaining momentum around client experience and client focus
Jess explained that BDO have looked at the client experience from a holistic view rather than just a BD or marketing activity, involving other departments such as IT to build out their approach.

Farrer & Co have taken the same approach, focusing on ensuring that their employees are living the “one firm” concept. Maeve shares how they have restructured the whole firm to integrate their systems around the client, trying to break down silos by structuring around client groups and sectors that work across service provisions. She adds that she views commerciality to be a key difference in the client experience. Service delivery needs to be what the client wants, but also what they aren’t expecting, and this insight can be gained by having commercially astute conversations.

A similar approach has been taken at Freshfields, where the notion of “the firm that puts clients first” is embedded into the firm culture through motivation, training and performance management. Every decision made is tested by considering how it benefits the client versus how it benefits the firm, and if it doesn’t benefit the client, they ask if they should be doing it.

Influence gap
Maeve’s quick tips are: Be patient; pick your battles - know what you want to achieve and what you won’t walk away from; get to know the right people who can carry your messages; and know you can’t achieve everything – you don’t want to lose your credibility by trying and failing with too much.

David suggests framing your activities in terms of the return on investment. Earn the right to have influence by being relevant to your fee-earning colleagues; their expertise is a value add, and you can help them present their expertise as a client value proposition.

Our panel also answered some questions from the audience.

How do you achieve a culture change to a client centric approach?
Jess suggests ensuring the people experience and the client experience mirror and complement each other, while Lucy noted the importance of all functions being on board, from top to bottom, in that leadership should help to sell the dream.

How do functions work together?
Lucy expanded on her previous comment, explaining that functions should not have competing strategies. They should all feed into the wider company strategy, and in doing so they should work well together. Maeve adds that clear and consistent communication ensures that everyone knows what each other are doing.

How do marketers cope with CSR and diversity?
David believes perception is the battle. Enter awards to gain recognition and raise the agenda both internally and externally.

What do technology trends mean for marketing?
The main implication that Jess and David envision will arise from technology trends is around delivery. They both noted the efficiencies gained from technology developments in communication, event registration, lead generation and CRMs. These technologies may have significant costs associated, and in turn may require an assessment of which sectors will have a better return on investment.

Fee earners are becoming more commercial, how does this impact future skill needs?
Freshfields tries to make BD roles as pure as possible, outsourcing business insights and bids to Manchester. They have put processes in place to find who can do certain jobs the best, and where they can do them. Lucy believes marketing skills and capability are still key, but you must invest in yourself. Stay relevant – keep up your network and connections, stay abreast of new information and strategies, and make sure you are agile and adaptive.

Disruption of 2016 has meant a complete change of strategy. How do you get partners to accept failure?
David’s big piece of advice is don’t say the word failure! Position it as proving or disproving a hypothesis. Maeve agrees with this premise, view the process as testing and then reviewing or monitoring. There is no concept of failure, only a plan to review the strategy, and it if it doesn’t work, then it will be altered or changed. Jess and Lucy both view a change in strategy as a lesson or a “teachable moment”; just focus on what you can do next time.

Bunmi Ogunbona, Business Development Executive
Grant Thornton International Limited – An instinct for growth