Tuesday 26 June 2012

Getting your marketing message clear

We get to meet really interesting professional services firms. What we find particularly fascinating about these businesses is how each one is different. Even when we meet firms that offer broadly similar services they are still fundamentally different. The senior people we meet are accomplished professionals who are clearly experts in their chosen field of specialism. Yet one of the most common issues which quickly becomes apparent is how difficult these firms find it to articulate succinctly their key marketing message. We typically get two different styles of weak messaging in these meetings that fall neatly into what we call the 'brand agency' response or the 'consulting speak' response.

The 'brand agency' response is a carefully crafted form of words that had their agency partner's creative juices flowing. Sadly, despite the best intentions, it is aspirational brand mumbo jumbo that tells nothing of any interest to a potential buyer. It is vanilla. In our business we applaud creativity. However creativity detached from reality is fundamentally flawed.

The 'consulting speak' response on the other hand is best described as a soliloquy where the message clearly means a lot to the orator, includes very interesting terminology, but is largely indecipherable. It may sound impressive but leaves the listener wondering what it is all about.

Our clients are familiar with our passion for getting their brand positioning statement right. For us it is very easy to tell when it is right because it meets three important criteria:

  1. It provides clarity of what you do
  2. It positions you in the market
  3. It highlights the benefits you bring to your clients.

Simple. The more specific each of those aspects are, the better the brand positioning statement. Some marketers advocate that this is an internal statement that is not shared externally. We disagree. This is exactly what your prospective clients want to hear. You can tell if you have got it right from the reaction you get from prospects.

Admittedly, this is your top level marketing message. From this you can build the rest of your value propositions around each individual service offer. The critical success factor is that they are all written for your clients and prospective clients perspective and not from some brand ego.

On a related subject, we previously wrote about how firms struggle to find something distinctive to say. In case you missed that, you can read our White Paper on Differentiation in Professional Services here.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Adapt and innovate to grow your business

I was intrigued to read about Kevin Roberts' speech at the recent IoD Annual Convention. As CEO of one of the worlds largest marketing groups, Saatchi & Saatchi, it was somewhat self-defeating to hear him declare that 'marketing is dead'. However, he had, at that stage already told the audience that "strategy is dead", "the big idea is dead" and "management is dead". Amusingly, as a CEO, he also went on to say "the further up in a company you go the stupider you become and the further away from new things". By this stage I was starting to wonder if he was looking in the mirror. So apart from successfully being controversial and grabbing a few headlines, is this type of thought leadership valuable?

Personally, I don't believe it is. Don't get me wrong, there was a serious message to this seemingly flippant tirade. But I suspect most Directors that left that event didn't buy into the idea that some of the key principles of business are confined to history. Something tells me that the universities won't be rewriting their MBA courses following that speech either. For me, this typified a Big Brand Agency demonstrating style over substance. Coming at a time when the economy was faltering and many businesses struggling, Saatchi & Saatchi's headline messages were out of touch with reality.

That is a shame because the serious message of the speech probably got lost amidst the noise of the headlines. The real message was the need for businesses to adapt and innovate in the current economic climate. Business opportunities exist in embracing change in a world where the pace of change is accelerating. That is a compelling message we regularly share with our clients when we say
"the only thing that is constant in business is change."
However where we would beg to differ with Saatchi & Saatchi is that strategy, far from being dead, is the vehicle for business to identify and monetise change. We advocate that strategy is not something you sit down once every year and dedicate senior management time to in a series of workshops and blue sky away-days. Instead strategy is an evolving process that is refined and adapted as new information informs strategic thinking. The imperative for business is to have the awareness and flexibility to adapt to changing business environments and markets. That strategic agility is the basis for the successful businesses of the future.

In parallel to this strategic agility in professional services, there is a need to deliver value today through existing business relationships. That value is provided for many firms through excellent service delivery and sharing of valuable thought leadership to help inform clients and prospective clients. Having hosted a series of Marketing Clinics for businesses recently it is very clear to me that the business Directors I met are focused on how marketing can help them engage more clients and develop more successful business relationships. So marketing is not dead, it is very much alive and can be a strategic and tactical driving force in business.

This reminds me of the Chinese Military General, Sun Tzu, quoted by my debating partner at a recent Chartered Institute of Marketing debate in Manchester -
"Strategy without tactics is the slow route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."
So strategy is not dead and marketing is not dead. For the record, Sun Tzu is dead, but his mantra lives on here.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Are your lead generation activities filling your sales pipeline?

There are typically two situations which we regularly see when we talk to professional services firms about lead generation. In the first scenario, it may be a firm that appears to be quite proactive in generating leads. They have a mix of regular marketing activities including email marketing, telemarketing etc that they implement, yet they are simply not generating the level of business leads they need. In the second scenario it may be a firm that has previously been quite successful and has now embarked on ad-hoc marketing activities to generate leads. But the overall feeling within the firm is that it's a case of 'spray and pray'.

In our experience, the firms that are highly targeted in Lead Generation and make it a habit, are the businesses that are currently experiencing the most success - domestically and internationally.

So here is our top five tips for those of you that would like to build some momentum into a more targeted lead generation programme to increase your success:

  1. Quantify your need for leads: Map out your sales funnel on a blank sheet of paper. At the end of the funnel write the value of business you need to win to meet your business objectives. Now move up the funnel and considering your bid win rate write down the value of business you need to be bid for, to reach your target revenues. Consider your average contract value and identify how many bids you will need to deliver. Now think about your experience of meetings with prospects. How many prospect meetings tend to produce opportunities to bid - one in three, one in four - you decide what looks reasonable. Write this number down on your funnel. Now you have identified the number of good quality leads you need to generate.
  2. Assess your current activity: What are you currently doing to generate the required volume of leads on a weekly/monthly basis? How many clients and prospects are you communicating with in any given week/month? What are the gaps in leads generated and activities undertaken?
  3. Analyse your approach: This is where you need to be totally objective in your analysis. Put yourself in your clients' or prospect's shoes and consider who you are trying to engage, how you are trying to engage them and what you are engaging them with. At Shaping Business we have developed a model for this analysis. One of the greatest learnings from clients applying this model is that not everyone on their prospect list should be treated the same. The type of relationship you have with the prospect and their position in the buying cycle should determine how you approach these prospects and what you approach them with. Your aim from this exercise is to refine your prospect lists, your prioritised lead generation activities, your chosen channels to market and your key content enablers.
  4. Build a 'SMART' Lead Generation Plan: Concentrate on pulling everything together into a three month timeline that will show how you can be delivering lead generation activities on a regular basis (weekly/monthly) to meet your lead generation targets. You must make sure this is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed or it will not get implemented. If you identify constraints such as resourcing or budgets that will impact on your ability to deliver the plan, discuss them internally to make decisions. Combine different streams of activities looking at nurturing/developing relationships to pick up the lower hanging fruit and prospecting/building relationships to access wider market opportunities. They key aspect of your plan is that it should be built from your prospects perspective not from an activity, content or business perspective.
  5. Commit to maintaining momentum in lead generation: Be determined in your implementation of the plan because your business needs a regular flow of good quality leads. It is all too easy for the day-to-day operational issues to get in the way of your lead generation activity. Don't defer lead generation, instead make sure it gets allocated the time it needs each week and look to shift other tasks which are lower priority. Regularly review your delivery of the plan to refine and improve your approach based on what is working better for your business.

In a services business one of the most precious commodities is resource. So if you are genuinely struggling to get some momentum into your lead generation activities then you should consider outsourcing some elements of your lead generation programme. Shaping Business can help you to build a healthy sales pipeline. You can hear directly from clients that we have helped to implement successful lead generation programmes in the video below.

If you would like to discuss your lead generation programme further, or would value some additional support to increase the success of your lead generation activities, then please contact us directly.

Thursday 15 March 2012

The real cost of not living your brand in professional services

It was fascinating to see the resignation letter of Goldman Sachs’ Executive Director, Greg Smith, published in the New York Times this week. The letter wiped $2bn off the market value of the firm in one day.

Greg joined Goldman Sachs as a graduate twelve years ago and ultimately became head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. What makes the letter special is that this does not appear to be the rant of a disgruntled employee. Instead, it reads like a considered analysis of a fundamentally changed environment by a key management team member who was actively involved in the recruitment and mentoring of graduates.

In his letter, Greg laments the “decline in the firm’s moral fibre” where he claims the rising stars are rewarded for “ripping their clients off” with no regard for the “client’s success or progress”. His assertions have already been backed up on social media channels from existing clients who feel their investments are locked in to underperforming funds with a perceived lack of transparency in dealings.

This will undoubtedly add fuel to the fire for those calling for increased accountability and social responsibility amongst executives in the financial services sector. It also begs the question, has nothing been learned from the financial crisis we are experiencing globally? When it comes to running a successful professional services business any focus on short term financial gain may deliver results in your year end accounts, but the impact could be detrimental to your brand reputation longer term.

As Peter Doyle articulated in his book Value Based Marketing,
Managers confuse maximising shareholder value with maximising profits. The two are completely different. Maximising profits is about short term management; cutting costs, reducing investment and downsizing. It is totally antithetical to developing long-term marketing strategies and building world class businesses.
In professional services, it is easy to talk about ‘client focus’ and ‘adding value’, but the ultimate test is to be able to demonstrate how those organisational values pervade every aspect and every level within your business.

For me, Greg Smith succinctly hit the nail on the head with his observation “If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are.”

Friday 4 November 2011

Social Media Stage 1: Leveraging LinkedIn

Our previous blog post highlighted a Social Media Roadmap for Professional Services firms. Now we are going to build on that by sharing the practical steps you can take to build your firms visibility through social media. The first stage is all about leveraging LinkedIn. Most professionals have a profile on LinkedIn however it is surprising to see how many have failed to use this powerful tool to increase awareness of their firm or harness its potential to generate business leads.

LinkedIn has over 100m+ professionals around the world with 20m+ members in Europe, 5m+ in the UK and more than 2m companies have LinkedIn Company Pages (June 2011). It is a rich source of information on prospects, hot topics and recommended service providers. The following practical guidelines outline current LinkedIn best practice:
  1. Ensure your staff have built professional looking, complete personal profiles on LinkedIn and have connected to known contacts/relationships and embedded links to company websites, Blogs, Twitter etc.
  2. Build a full company profile for your business on LinkedIn that addresses the needs of staff, potential staff and potential clients. LinkedIn automatically links all current/former employees, new hires/promotions etc.
  3. Seek recommendations as individuals and service providers and make recommendations where appropriate.
  4. Consider adding a link to your LinkedIn profile in your email signatures. LinkedIn provides a useful tool to generate a html signature for your email with a link to your profile.
  5. Share valuable content with your network by posting status updates from your LinkedIn home page. This is where some professionals get it wrong. Remember value is from a recipients perspective and not from your perspective.
  6. Identify, join and engage in groups that are relevant to your knowledge area and target prospects (roles and markets). Integrate this with your lead generation campaigns to post links to suitable (valuable) content in your blog or on your website.
  7. Participate in relevant group discussions and start discussions within groups. Treat any postings the same as you would treat any professional face-to-face discussion. Be professional and courteous. Demonstrate and illustrate your knowledge and capability. If you select to be updated on the discussion you participate in LinkedIn will automatically email you when someone posts a comment. This is great for building online conversations and ultimately business relationships.
  8. Research target prospects through LinkedIn, look for 2nd & 3rd level connections and identify how you can get warm introductions through your professional network.
  9. Use the Inmail function to access key prospects with a concise and compelling opener to engage them. (Requires a subscription to LinkedIn).
  10. Monitor the Questions & Answers in your defined topic areas for opportunities to contribute answers and ideally ‘get rated’ by the person who asked the question.
Some professionals tell us that they never know what to post on LinkedIn discussions or status updates. Our advice is to find out what your target audience is interested in, what would be valuable to them and what they are currently discussing. Google Reader and Google Alerts are useful resources for identifying current blog postings and news in topic areas.

Our final tip for professionals is to be proactive on LinkedIn to build your profile and target your prospects. Think of it as continuous virtual networking and make it part of your daily routine.