Brand, marketing, and sales

Your brand is the place you occupy in the consciousness of your constituents.”
—Frank Burch, Chairman, DLA Piper Global Board

How you use marketing to convey the value you’re capable of delivering to your client is the real challenge.”
—Dennis Nally, Global Chairman, PwC

In a professional services firm, every one of your people out doing the work is a reflection of the brand.”
—Marie Lerch, Vice President, Marketing and Communications, Booz Allen Hamilton

Building a Marketing and Business Development Plan

The marketing and business development plan is an important component of the firm’s strategic planning process and should be incorporated into the annual planning and budgeting cycle. Although many of the firms studied require detailed marketing and sales plans from their business unit leaders, we are willing to wager that the majority of firms in the industry do not proactively plan these activities.

Exhibit 7.3 illustrates a marketing planning pyramid. It begins with the market strategy decisions on services, markets, and the service promise, which have already been discussed. The marketing and business development plan, which represents the lower half of the pyramid, is designed to march the firm’s professionals out into the marketplace in an organized way to promote the services and the service promise to the target market, with the ultimate goal of selling business.

Firm-wide Brand Initiatives

The marketing and business development planning process begins with a selection of firm-wide initiatives to raise awareness and build brand and reputation with key constituents—previously described as professionals, clients, target markets, and communities.

EXHIBIT 7.3 Stages to develop the market strategy and the marketing business development plan

Exhibit 7.3

We recommend that firms annually target one or two specific new activities to improve their standing with one or more of these important groups. While activities can range from low-cost, easy-to-execute ideas to global programs, the point is to proactively think through and plan what to do. Here are some examples:

For professionals, an award or recognition program for the internal team; a partnering program with a university to improve recruitment statistics (you read about on-campus recruiting in Chapter 3); a leadership role with an industry trade association to raise the firm’s stature in its professional community.

For clients, periodic onsite briefings for the client’s internal teams on important topics; a special client-only Web cast or event; a holiday charitable donation on behalf of clients.

For target markets, a thought leadership piece or program that contributes knowledge to the firm’s market and raises awareness of capabilities (this book is a good example); an expanded media outreach program to a relevant trade press; a speech at an annual industry conference.

For communities, a pro bono activity; a local fund drive; participation on a civic board.

Business Unit Plans

As soon as a few firm-wide brand-building initiatives have been agreed to, the firm develops the marketing and business development plans for the operating units. The many constituencies—geographies, practices, industries, and account teams—of the typical PSF matrix structure and the natural tensions among them pose particular challenges for planning. Some firms develop separate plans for each practice area, geography, and industry, which are executed in silos throughout the organization. The result is often a series of redundant and potentially embarrassing activities where one hand does not know what the other is doing. Anyone in the professional services business has heard stories of separate teams from the same firm scheduling a meeting with a prospective CFO to pitch services on the same day and finding this out only when they run into each other in the lobby of the client’s office.

To work effectively, planning must be driven by the market, not the organization’s internal structure. Clients don’t care where you sit in the organization; they just want to know what you can do for them. Conducting one well-planned meeting with a prospective CFO to discuss the array of services the firm can provide and carrying out a coordinated follow- up plan is the correct way to build awareness and sell services. But achieving alignment and perfect coordination around business development is tricky in a multipractice, multigeography PSF. The most effective way to go to market is to develop marketing plans by industry focus. Study after study that we have conducted confirms that industry expertise followed by functional skill are the top selection criteria for hiring PSFs. But in most PSFs the geographies and practice areas dominate the matrix and control the P&Ls and are, in fact, the best way to internally govern the firm. Industries are often the third wheel in the power chain (see Chapter 10, “Structure”).

We are not suggesting that firms restructure the matrix hierarchy to focus on industry. We do suggest that practices and geographies develop their annual operating plans and budgets as usual, but focus the marketing and business development piece of their plans by target industry segments. The assigned leaders of each industry take the focused plans from the units and weave them into a firm-wide industry plan of attack with specific target buyers. Clients and prospects are identified, and the appropriate array of service offerings from across practices is established.

A team of industry experts from each practice and geography is selected and committed. The top industry issues and topics are determined, and a steady stream of marketing and business development tactics are mapped to approach the market (see “Growing an Industry Program at Ernst & Young”). Industry leaders must have the clout to deploy and manage the industry teams, so we recommend a dotted-line reporting relationship to the industry head to make this work.

Master Plan, Timeline and Budget, Tracking and Measurement

Our management group put together a statement of our go-to-market value proposition which is mind-bendingly complicated.”

After the industry plans have been developed, a master plan that incorporates the firm-wide brand initiatives and the individual industry plans is created with a master budget and timeline. As with the annual planning process, someone must be accountable for the plan execution, and performance against plan must be tracked and reviewed regularly and results tied to compensation.

The critical and very difficult part of the planning process is measuring the program’s results. How many articles have been written and conferences held debating the eternal dilemma of figuring out the ROI of the marketing spend? Trust me—many. The partners periodically peer at the overhead cost of their nonbillable marketing team and ask what they have gotten for their investment. And it is difficult to give a concrete answer. As one CMO admitted, “If someone were to say to me tomorrow, ‘We’re going to pull the plug on all client services, entertainment, and newsletters unless you can demonstrate the direct ROI that all those functions have,’ I would be hard pressed to demonstrate the value from a dollars-and-cents perspective.”

Over the years I have tried many derivations of ROI sleuthing. There was a time when I would go door to door to ask partners if they had received any calls or talked to any clients about our latest newsletter mailing. Then there was the “assign every partner a seminar attendee to follow up with” plan. I would stalk the partners weekly to see if they had done their assignment. But I became discouraged when we landed a million-dollar engagement from an attendee at a luncheon briefing two weeks after the event, and the partner refused to give marketing any credit for the win!

It’s easy to measure a formalized lead-generation program, but it is much more difficult to assess the benefits of public relations, advertising, or direct-mail programs, even if they are well targeted. The best measurement method that we have used is to track the number of touches, proposals, and engagements for each industry or segment target. As an example, Broderick was asked to design a 12-month marketing program to raise awareness among and create opportunities with CFOs, COOs, CAOs, and division heads of financial service institutions in North America. We worked with our client to identify 25 organizations and 350 specific individuals as the targets for the campaign. We selected five channels to approach the audience over the 12-month period:

• An industry survey, report, and webcast as the kick-off event

• A quarterly thought leadership mailing and webcast series on hot topics identified in the survey

• A five-city roundtable briefing program

• A calling program to make certain that our target buyers had received the thought leadership pieces with an offer to discuss our point of view

• A public relations outreach to trade publications and industry associations to place articles and secure speaking opportunities

The goal was to touch all 350 targets two to three times a month through our various channels so that in any given four-week period they might read an article, receive a thought leadership publication, attend a webcast or briefing, or take a call and schedule a meeting. All direct client contact—via a Web cast or attendance at a briefing or meeting— was tracked and reported monthly. The campaign cost $350,000 in out-of- pocket expenses (not including our fee to manage), but the results were deemed worth it. Each prospective buyer was “touched” 36 times during the course of the year at a total cost of $1,000 per prospect. The firm conducted a total of 40 face-to-face meetings that resulted in six proposal opportunities and three closed assignments totaling close to $700,000. And quite a few more potential proposal opportunities were brewing at the close of the campaign. Although the indirect benefits of heightened brand awareness were not measured, incoming calls increased substantially for the group overall, and revenue was 20 percent above target the year following the campaign.

Well-planned and well-executed marketing programs should result in tangible bottom-line returns. The key is setting expectations, creating realistic goals, and then carefully tracking and measuring results market by market.