Independent African professional services firms (PSFs) need but often lack a clear marketing strategy for their business. Consequently most partnership driven organisations are unable to say “no” to anything that a particular partner wants and very often fail to make necessary choices about which markets and services to pursue. The result? Firms with sub optimal marketing activity and even less adequate marketing resource to achieve their objectives.
Strategic marketing is about making choices. An organisation and its markets must be properly analysed so that the best opportunities and strategies are selected and pursued. Without this type of careful planning and analysis, firms who may have secured competitive advantage through their technical competence will find it difficult to sustain let alone leverage such advantage.
At its very heart strategic marketing is ultimately increasing a firms profitability. However where a firm is unable to analyse profit margins and measure its earnings by practice area, client, work type, sector or even by fee earner, it is almost impossible to develop strategies to increase profitability. The result? Professional service firms are left to simply focus on marketing activity that do little more than scratch the surface of their business. For example, focussing on marketing communications such as events, PR and promotional materials. Whilst all of these things are an important part of day to day professional services marketing, a firm's financial destiny cannot be determined simply by organising elaborate drinks receptions and hosting regular client seminars. True business development involves so much more. Furthermore business development need not be the sole responsibility of the most senior partners. Effective business development requires the entire culture of the firm to be market focussed and genuinely committed to client service.
Successful PSF business development is rarely about selling more and more of what a firm decides it wants to deliver. Essentially it is all about understanding the client needs and then shaping a firms resources to meet those needs in a manner that is profitable. Consequently firms must have deep, current and ongoing insight into what its clients need. Too often firms who do have a marketing strategy base this on an 'inside out' approach i.e. focussing on the company's needs and what’s always been done rather than what makes sense for the client. However, an effective marketing strategy has to be driven from the 'outside in' with client's at the very heart not just in theory but in practice.
Below we highlight some key tips and steps to consider in planning your marketing strategy:
- Think blue sky, don't navel gaze - planning should include both internal and external sources of information. It is not merely a matter of the partners gathering to discuss current business strengths and weaknesses based on their knowledge of their business. A realistic assessment of what is happening outside the walls of the firm is also a critical part of the planning process. In particular it is important to find out and acknowledge what you do not know. For your strategy to stand any realistic chance of success, ideas and plans must be tested against the market and there must be a thorough understanding of the firms brand from the perspective of clients and competitors.
- Ensure the strategic planning process is inclusive - having a formal marketing strategy not only provides a definitive path for your partners and staff to follow, the journey of developing a firm wide strategy will inspire and guide the organization toward opportunity and future growth so involve your people in the process. Afterall your people are a key part of your marketing strategy and of your service delivery. Their involvement in both in the development and execution of the strategy is key. For example if one of the objectives for the firm is an increased focus on digital communications, then it is imperative that your teams understand the thinking behind this and that their buy in is secured early on. A strategy no matter how well-drafted or intellectually sound will only succeed if it has the collective support and individual commitment of the firm.
- Be aware that Implementation is the real test - Athough strategic planning is challenging, the planning element is far easier than the implementation. The success of any strategy can only be truly judged in its implementation and the results which flow from it. A plan that is not executed is merely an intention.One of the ways to ensure implementation is to have a realistic timetable (and allocated budget) to help keep everyone on track.
- Remember strategic planning is an ongoing process not a one time event – a successful marketing strategy does not operate in a vacuum. It is reliant on data and market trends so be prepared to review, respond and repeat. Your marketing plan should be a dynamic document which is subject to ongoing review and improvement based on changing market realities. Adopting a culture of curiousity within your organisation will ensure that your marketing strategy is not just a one off, one time event.
- Consider getting external assistance - Strategic planning is an exciting but involved and often complex process. However one of the biggest considerations for PSFs in the development of an effective marketing strategy is the huge investment of time that is required - non billable time which for some may be regarded as a distraction from winning business and servicing clients. Having the assistance of an external consultant can help provide much needed momentum whilst also giving a useful, alternative perspective on what really matters to clients. An independent consultant with specific PSF experience can also serve as much needed eyes and ears to spot what others may have missed. Above all an independent consultant can share best practice ideas on marketing approaches that are modern and meaningful.
To find out more about best practice strategic planning or to discuss how we can help with developing your marketing strategy please contact us - firstname.lastname@example.org
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