Kim Tasso

All about the journey

Kim Tasso reports on this year’s PM Forum conference which discussed how to deliver a great client experience in the golden age of marketing.

The 21st Annual PM Forum conference – the best attended ever with nearly 200 delegates – took place on 29 September. For the tenth time it was held at the Congress Centre in London which now feels like home. The theme of delivering a great client experience is testimony to the incredible journey that professional services marketing has taken from its early days when it focused on promotional communications to the core of the firms in which we work.

Chair Graham Munday kicked off proceedings by referring to the KPMG 2016 US Customer Experience Excellence analysis that shows those with the best customer experience achieve double the five year growth of the largest companies.

Future of the professions

Professor Richard Susskind brought to life the key themes of his recent book The Future of the Professions. His Scottish accent softened the hard message he delivered in terms of the potential impact of technology (particularly artificial intelligence) on the future of the professions. Digital transformation featured in his discussion of technology, trends and new models for the future as he shared fascinating insights. His message was more about redeployment rather than unemployment with Jack Welsh’s quote “Change before you have to” providing all the advice we needed.

Five elements of the golden age of marketing

I was not alone in considering Paul English of Grant Thornton’s talk the best of the conference. Using McKinsey’s 5 S framework (science, substance, story, speed and simplicity) he showed how technology is putting marketers into a strong position to drive digital transformation in their organisations. He considered examples of marketing automation both within the professions and beyond (eg. Bluprint and GetSmartContent) whilst looking at key consumer campaigns that achieved an emotional connection.

What was possibly most fascinating were the insights he shared into how Grant Thornton was using some of these ideas. He mentioned the Global Jam co-creation exercise where the entire business was involved in uploading 500 ideas in 72 hours. He also shared a cartoon video – which achieved 1.7m views – from the firm’s Spanish office which provided a positive view of the country’s economy.

Creating a client journey

Ian Golding – one of the first people to have a professional qualification in customer experience – talked about achieving clientcentricity by testing every decision with “How does this impact the client experience?”. He offered a model looking at the functional, emotional and accessibility aspects of every client experience and reminded us that clients remember good and bad experiences – or nothing.

He touched on Simon Sinek’s golden circle (What, How and Why?) and explored random, intentional and differentiated client experiences. Professional services firms should be concerned with his warning that there was no space for silos.

On mapping the client journey he offered a simple model: the customer journey, the business processes and the technology. He mentioned research from Watermark Consulting that customer experience leaders outperform the market.

Creating an effective client experience framework

It was time for the first break-out session. Whilst others went to sessions on brand propositions, digital client journeys, content marketing and brand, I stayed in the main hall for Lee Grunnell’s talk on creating a client experience framework.

He started with the three steps to distinctiveness: Articulate, Communicate and Demonstrate before using a four stage model of the client experience (Choosing, Using, Paying and Staying). He then talked through his simple and elegant approach to listing the touchpoints, identifying the buyers and agreeing the priorities (personal, commercial and technical) in client experience management.

In terms of the elements of the client experiences he explored empathy, expectations, integrity, personalities, resolution and time/effectiveness. He referred to KPMG Nunwood UK research showing the superior growth enjoyed by those companies who were customer experience champions. He then shared some simple toolkits for analysing the client journey in professional service firms. He finished with the Three Es of superior client experience (Expectation, Ease and Emotion).

The lunch break allowed plenty of time for some energetic networking and catching up with old friends. Amongst the sponsors were both long standing, trusted suppliers to the professions as well as some welcome newcomers. Vuture’s tools which now integrate with InterAction, Enable’s Pitchperfect system, Acuigen’s client insight solutions, HighQ collaboration tools, Mytton Williams brand consultancy, Purbrooks printing, ON24 webcasting and Emperor design. We are all grateful for their support and commitment to the sector.

Reshaping the traditional business model

Alex Hamilton, putting on a brilliant performance despite suffering from a heavy cold, told the compelling story of why and how he co-founded Radiant Law.

His three key ideas – which raised a few wry smiles in the audience – was for firms to a) make decisions, b) lose the billable hour and c) stop taking all the money out of the business. With catchy phrases such as “tacking away from the fleet”, “deprogram new recruits”, “think like a magpie” (steal other people’s ideas) and “failure is how you learn” he shared his journey and candidly admitted that they got a lot wrong.

His key messages were around the need to focus on client needs, innovation and technology, the insights obtained from working with an NED from a different sector, value pricing and taking a long term view.

During the questions, he talked about the things that haunted him about the future strategy and upscaling (maintaining the culture and legal technology) and explained how they had really pushed decision-making down into the firm.

Managing your key accounts better

There was another breakout session at this point so I joined around 20 others to hear what Fiona McCambridge of Redstone Consultants had to say about key account management (KAM). After explaining the three critical success factors of KAM programmes – engaging senior leadership, client listening and accountability she set us to work in three groups to discuss the issues and solutions.

Sadly, the excellent workshop element meant that Fiona didn’t have much time to talk through the fascinating insights obtained from research with over 20 firms about KAM. No doubt we will all download her slides to learn more.

Procurement and supplier relationships

Whereas in previous years the final panel comprised clients talking about their experience of working with professional service firms, this year the panel contained procurement experts – from Standard Chartered Bank and AXA Insurance as well as experts Stacey Coote and Alan Gotto (Constellia).

There was an animated discussion about what ‘adding value’ meant in reality. The importance of firms measuring value – even if it means that they have strong experience of doing similar work elsewhere – was a focus point. Demonstrating clear savings and providing a clear sourcing strategy (“Kill my tender”) were also mentioned. Yet everyone agreed that communication and relationship were key.


Graham did an excellent job of summarising the highlights of the day:

  • The importance of storytelling
  • Focus on what clients will remember
  • Start at what matters to the client
  • By 2020, most professional service providers will be working in systems
  • Every client touch leaves a trace

I suppose my thoughts were similar. The onward march of automation will provide us with a wealth of data about clients on which to base our decisions. But what about the impact of Data Protection and privacy? And will we have the time to use all of the ‘big data’?

I was also struck about the potential divide in the future between the need for a rational, analytical and systems-based approach to marketing and the emotional, tailored and relationship based approach to business development and client experience management. The journey continues.

Kim Tasso is a management consultant, author and journalist. Further information at