The Evolution of Strategic Marketing and its Impact on Clients

Most professional services firms have clear, consistent processes for carrying out their services. They require these to meet Client expectations and maintain their high standards of service delivery. However, when it comes to marketing and business development, many appear to be lacking in processes. Marketing is often thought of by many partners and managers as a separate department that produces collateral; the business development function is still relatively new in many firms. Those firms that understand, and have clearly defined responsibilities and processes for, these commercial functions usually have a greater awareness of their Clients' requirements; this helps to promote Client-centricity.

Compared to consumer and service sectors, strategic marketing is relatively new to professional services. In the early days of consumer marketing, marketers used to talk about the '4Ps' of marketing strategy used to guide marketing planning (these being product, price, place and promotion), known as the traditional marketing mix, as shown in Figure 1.3.

Traditional Marketing Mix: Revised Marketing Mix for Professional Services

Figure 1.3 Traditional Marketing Mix: Revised Marketing Mix for Professional Services

However, in professional services, as shown in Figure 1.3, the 'product' is clearly replaced by the service or, better, the 'solution' provided, the 'place' relates to its accessibility, the 'price' relates to value and the 'promotion' is usually about education. So the 4Ps are replaced by the 'SAVE' acronym:[1] Product = Solution; Place =Access; Price = Value, and Promotion = Education. Bringing a marketing discipline to professional services is a relatively recent development. When effectively deployed, it provides Clients with clear messages about the firm's brand, positioning, differentiation and value proposition. These will be discussed further in Chapter 6.

Client Representation at Board Level

Many professional services firms have designated responsibility for Client care to the head of marketing or business development, but often do not have anyone at board level that represents the voice of the Client. In a Client-centric firm everyone understands the impact of effective, proactive Client service. It is clear from the recent Client Care Survey that Client satisfaction and service are placed lower down the business agenda than perhaps they should be. Often it is only when a valued Client is lost through service failure, with the consequent loss of revenue, that a firm decides to take action to improve Client satisfaction. Recent research[2] has shown that the financial health of a professional services firm is directly related to the high quality and delivery of Client service and the strength of the Client-Adviser relationship. Clearly those Clients that are extremely satisfied and loyal will continue to use the firm and thus provide a predictable income stream. This is enhanced when loyal Clients become advocates and recommend the firm to others. Yet how many boards have someone to represent the voice of, and champion, the Client?

Knowing the Firm's Top Clients

An excellent indicator of the level of Client-centricity in a firm is its ability to answer simple questions about top Clients. Can you and your colleagues:

• Name your firms top 10 highest fee-earning Clients?

• Name the firm's top 5 Clients by sector?

• Name the firm's top 10 international Clients?

• Name the firm's top 10 Clients by practice area?

• Name the 10 Clients yielding the highest operating margins for the firm?

Clearly you would expect the Head of the Tax practice in an accounting firm to know the top 10 tax Clients, the Head of Patents in a law firm to know theirs and so on, but once you move out of their specialty area, answers are usually more uncertain. Yet many of these Clients are often referred to as the firm's 'Crown Jewels'. Enlightened, Client-facing firms can access this information at the touch of a button!

  • [1] This acronym was first coined by Motorola Inc. in its drive to market solutions rather than products. It is certainly applicable to the marketing of professional services.
  • [2] Effective Client-Adviser Relationships 2012 report - Financial Times, Managing Partners' Forum and Meridian West.
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