25th Professional Marketing Forum Conference Report – ABM, redesigning M&BD teams, award-winning campaigns, persuasion, client feedback and ROI

The Professional Marketing Forum Conference is the annual highlight for professional services marketers. A shorter version of this article on the 2020 conference appeared in the PM magazine November 2020 issue. This is the 25th Professional Marketing Forum Conference ReportABM, redesigning M&BD teams, award-winning campaigns, persuasion, client feedback and ROI

I certainly didn’t miss the early start and travel into London to join the first online presentation of the PM Forum Annual Conference. Having attended an earlier online social, I was familiar with the Remo virtual conference and networking platform and started the day chatting – via screen – to those on my table. Some of our international colleagues had got up in the middle of the night to participate – that’s dedication.

Who wants to be a Trusted Adviser? – Rippan Vig

After a friendly welcome from Nadia Cristina, the first session by Rippan Vig of Watson Farley Williams started. Her calm and measured delivery shared research results from the Managing Partners Forum  that 75% had said that new business and existing relationship development was more difficult with social distancing.

Rippan explained that in many firms, marketing and business development was still perceived to be an overhead. She showed a MPF analysis of marketing expertise through staples (marcoms, pitching and CRM), advisory (coaching, pricing), CEO support (change, new services) and sales (new clients). The biggest gaps were in pricing, change agency and sales.

Once we had been reminded of the benefits of the Trusted Adviser, Rippan nodded to the importance of emotional intelligence and stakeholder mapping (identify, analyse, engage) before considering the strategic planning process (context, focus, alignment and measurement).

Before our networking pause, we had an ad break where Conscious Solutions  promised orange chocolate to those who virtually visited them. And they had already sent us all cookies.

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) – Bev Burgess

I recently reviewed Bev’s books on Account Based Marketing  and Executive Engagement  for PM Magazine so it was good to hear her speak. She reminded us that Malcolm McDonald was of the view that ABM would “revolutionise B2B marketing” and that Dr Charles Doyle – when at Accenture – had started the ABM ball rolling.

After definitions and core principles, Bev shared the impressive results achieved with ABM from ITSMA research. She whipped through information-packed slides filled with jolly images which I am sure we will all be poring over now. She outlined the seven-step methodology:

  1. Know what is driving the account
  2. Play to the client’s needs
  3. Map and profile stakeholders
  4. Develop targeted value propositions
  5. Plan integrated sales and marketing campaigns
  6. Execute integrated sales and marketing campaigns
  7. Evaluate results and update plans

She used KPMG (“relentless focus on understanding client issues”) as a context for illustrations and admitted that ABM was harder for PSFs. She urged us to learn from others’ mistakes as she outlined seven road blocks.

She suggested that the best outcomes were achieved when the ABM person was part of the client team. She also indicated that M&BD folk should allocate a day a week per account. Her starting methodology covered – exploring, experimenting, expanding and embedding. There was time for a few brief questions focusing on content development, sector-based approaches and small firm options.

Then we enjoyed a fabulous show reel – with music – of brand and design work by Mytton Williams.   I found myself beginning to enjoy these online ads.

Moving marketing up the value chain – Lucy Birch, David Nelson and Maria Jennings

A trio of talent from PWC  led a walkthrough of the marketing transformation at their firm – with 33 M&BD teams and 2,000 separate campaigns annually. The three pillars of the process were

  1. Redefine the people strategy (including culture and mindset)
  2. Create a comprehensive marketing methodology and playbook
  3. Develop a unifying strategy and planning process for the first time

There were interesting insights into how they changed the end-to-end process for all campaigns and then an exploration of its biggest brand building campaign Strategy& which aimed to connect the disconnected and had both print and digital advertising, social amplification, bold creative, thought leadership and internal engagement elements – supported by marketing automation technology.

Effectiveness was measured by data value, buy in as well as commercial outcomes. And it was clear how marketing and selling were integrated. I liked their reporting process which had a “quarterly rhythm” and supported by Friday evening calls to review Covid content.

Questions were again about the lessons for smaller firms – and robust planning and campaign processes were advised. There was also the need for good scoping and control over what is sent to external agencies. The theme appeared to be focus – doing less and doing it better. This requires saying “no” to smaller projects to continue the education process.

ROI – more than just a calculation – Richard Crook

Richard has been at Charles Russell Speechlys  for a year but previously spent much of his career in the property industry so when he started his talk on justifying marketing spend on inbound and outbound programmes we were all glued to his presentation.

He reviewed the challenges of calculating true cost and results in a PSF including the lack of data, the length of the sales cycle, the short term focus and attribution (I explored many of these ROI themes and ideas in 2013 ). He urged us to track everything with marketing automation all in one place. Much easier said than done.

He compared the CIM approach to ROMI calculations and showed his preference which focused on the value of new work compared with the investment.  He suggested that a good ROI would be a 5:1 ratio and exceptional would be 10:1.

He reflected that, pre-Covid, the property industry was very reliant on events and he had designed a client event evaluation matrix ranking guests on things such as whether they were key clients, intermediaries, media etc. When asked, he mentioned a few systems and tools that could assist with activity tracking and ROI.

While I was in this overview session, others participated in optional break-out sessions on:

  • Thought leadership for strategic impact by Clare Mason of Man Bites Dog
  • The power of communication by Liz Whitaker of Propella Group
  • Client feedback programmes by Claire Rason of Client Talk

The lunch break was sponsored by Vuture.

Art of influence and persuasion – Michael Fleming

The afternoon started with a bang with Michael Fleming – a former commercial litigator turned trainer – with his irreverent, conversational style. Rather than slides, he gave links to his Wonder Wall of resources as he provided an animated and fun canter through 10 challenges/secrets:

  1. Don’t hard sell
  2. Be a chameleon
  3. Process for persistence, time, timing, relationships, trust
  4. Think like an optimist
  5. Really listen and seek to understand
  6. Emotional self-control
  7. Underlying “interests”
  8. Why should they care?
  9. Emotional connection matters too
  10. Have BATNAs

I liked his tips for breaking out of the ‘lunch loop’ or friend’s zone. And stories about people giving him the “hair-drier treatment”. There was a lot of psychology content with nods to different personality models (see my video on personalities  although he talked about colour insights and the behavioural style models), emotional intelligence  and positive psychology.

And of course he drew on the work of negotiation experts such as William Ury and other Harvard Negotiation Project experts. I liked his neat model for managing objections (Agree. Explore. Challenge).   And he gave some good advice on how M&BD professionals could increase their credibility and value with lawyers.

The afternoon break outs from the morning were repeated and additionally included:

  • Make your brand stand out by Bob Mytton of Mytton Williams
  • Value-first social media strategy by Bram Vanoirbeek of The Thing about Digital

Create an award-winning campaign – Sharon Collins

I joined the overview session which was led by Sharon Collins, Head of Sectors at BDO  to describe the firm’s success at winning awards. The session was studded with insight and pragmatic advice.

She shared some fascinating facts about the importance of winning awards – 82% of business decision-makers are influenced by awards and 67% companies who score in the top quartile of Cannes Lions Awards have above average organic revenue growth.

She went on to point out that over 50% of marketers fail to properly measure campaign success, less than 25% of marketers report on how their campaigns are impacting revenue and only 33% always use data to make content-related decisions.

The three themes she focused on for award-winning success were: relevance, boldness and timeliness. She used campaigns from Korn Ferry, University of South Wales and Octopus Group to illustrate her points.

Sharon talked through her formula for campaign success:

  1. Establish clear objectives
  2. Research your target audience (with insights into her client mapping process and examples of hyper-mapping)
  3. Create amazing content (she warned that tactics should be only a third of the overall campaign effort)
  4. Continue the conversation
  5. Measure as you go

She shared insights into crib sheets to help condense campaigns into key messages and ways to create league tables for those generating the most conversations and leads. She also showed how campaign themes were incorporated into pitching to win major contracts.

The next networking break was sponsored by Thomson Reuters HighQ collaboration platform.

Client Panel – Amit Champaneri

Amit – also from PWC – chaired a lively Q&A session with Paul Massey (former inhouse counsel at eBay and Crowdcube and Founder & CEO of Tabled which is a legal technology platform) and Steph Hogg (a procurement and pricing expert working at Validatum).

There were examples were advisers had been bold – where firms had reached out to get to know the people behind the clients, to really understand what was worrying them and to make bold suggestions how to do things differently. The implication being that waiting for the client to call is not a good strategy. Both the panellists stressed the need to forge strong relationships – and to use the phone for catch-up conversations  where the billing clock wasn’t running.

It was interesting to hear that both panellists would have welcomed more direct interaction with marketing and BD professionals. Particularly with regards to their needs beyond technical expertise and for more general commercial conversations. M&BD were seen to speak the same language as procurement professionals who lawyers sometimes found it difficult to engage. There was also the view that M&BD people were often more strategic as they had a more holistic view of the firm.

There were suggestions that as firms had a view formed across many client organisations, that they were in an ideal position to draw together ideas and reach out to isolated clients. A boutique law firm that set up and managed an online forum was applauded.

I was surprised to hear Paul say that he couldn’t recall being asked for feedback on tenders and that there was rarely any follow up. Opportunities for legal tech, being bold, building direct relationships and really finding out what concerns clients were the concluding thoughts.

Nadia provided some closing remarks – thanking the speakers and sponsors – and alerting us to the conference in 2021 which will be on 23 September 2021

Reflections on the 2020 conference

While no one could deny the huge impact of Covid – after all, we were all sitting at home – it was surprising how this didn’t appear to gain much coverage in the presentations. It’s good to know that the strong disciplines of analysis, marketing, planning and strategy still work just as well – and that relationships can be forged in this new remote working environment.

It was re-assuring that marketing and BD – through reinvention and redesign – was shown to be making an impact and often leading innovative change during these challenging times. One upside of Covid being that it had allowed professional services marketers to rise to the challenge and really shine. I was also struck by the repeated advice to be bold which was one of the messages (dare to be different) I stressed back in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

I was also pleased to observe that no-one had to wear Madonna-like headsets in order to present – that made a big difference to proceedings.

Whilst I was nervous about the prospect of sitting in front of a screen all day, the time flew by. The sessions – while substantially different in content and delivery – kept us captivated and provided lots of food for thought. And I still managed to catch up with old friends and make some new ones during the breaks – especially at the end of the day’s cocktail party (with Negronis supplied by Yours Truly at RedStarKim).