The work of a consultant is, by definition, changing all the time as the markets and clients they serve adapt to economic and commercial trends. It is difficult to talk in detail about the work we actually undertake with clients without breaking confidentiality, so instead I have indicated some of the major and current consultancy themes in my most recent assignments.
Strategic development and growth
Many partnerships find it difficult to agree a common vision and shared goals. They also face unprecedented change in their markets generated by fierce economic conditions, internationalisation, deregulation and changing regulations and increased commoditisation and competition. Many succeeded for many years (sometimes centuries) without any plan or strategy at all whereas others find that their annual forecasting exercise is no longer adequate for the increasing complexity within and beyond their firms. So I spend a lot of time guiding firms or their departments through a structured planning process so that they identify creative and robust strategies and feel motivated to implement them.
Marketing vs. business development
Marketing was misunderstood for a long time in the professions and was often demoted to the reactive area of communications – brochures, events and web sites. Some still have to make the transition from communications to strategic business development. For those that grasped the strategic nature of considering markets and product/services and their impact on profitability in a structured way and developed sound targeting strategies the challenge has become modern professional selling. Others find it hard to integrate marketing, selling and relationship management into an integrated business development effort and there sometimes remains a lack of mutual understanding between marketing professionals and the fee-earners that they share.
Generating new business and growth
Many firms are still unaware of how a structured marketing and sales programme can help them and seek advice on how to generate new business when old lines of work dry up or disappear or when markets change beyond recognition. Sometimes the firms are in crisis as they have left the transition way too late to avoid substantial change to their firms and business models. At other times, firms are aware of the challenges and opportunities and need help in developing strategic and creative solutions.
Inbound marketing, the digital marketing revolution and social media
The digital marketing revolution continues to confuse many people who want to understand what techniques are appropriate for legal, accountancy and surveying businesses, how best to get started and how to ensure that they continue to operate in a co-ordinated and integrated way within their other marketing, selling, relationship management and business development activities. If this is an area of interest, you might take a look at the White Paper on the use of social media in relationship development in the professions that I produced during 2010.
This remains one of the most challenging issues for the management of any professional practice as we are faced with the two pronged impact of increasing commoditisation and enhanced competition. Identifying creative ways to create and sustain a competitive advantage is a pervasive issue in the professions.
Inhouse marketing and business development teams
Whether it is helping the individuals to develop their roles from reactive communications practitioners to proactive business development executives or considering whether to split teams into brand/awareness and sales and relationship teams and/or to place them in the centre or out with the fee-earners, firms are looking more critically at how to get best value for money from their inhouse marketing and business development professionals.
Selling skills for fee-earners
Having encouraged fee-earners (lawyers, accountants and surveyors) to step up to the marketing challenge, the issue now is how best to equip them with the necessary professional selling skills and systems and how to integrate these behaviours within the context of a structured client relationship management programme. Increasingly, lawyers, accountants and surveyors are being asked to tender or pitch competitively for their work. Whether in training courses or through group or individual coaching sessions, enhanced selling and relationship management skills is a core component of my work.
The clients of professional service firms are becoming more sophisticated (and thus more demanding) and many firms are struggling with how to assess client satisfaction, deliver real added value and deepen and strengthen their relationships with both key clients and the most important referrers and intermediaries. I both advise on setting up appropriate “listening” programmes and undertake a lot of face to face interviews with the senior members of the clients of my clients.
Product development and innovation
As all professional services become increasingly commoditised and the power of new technology grows at an ever increasing rate, firms are seeking ways to develop new and innovative products, services and relationships that generate profits and loyalty amongst existing clients and provide a channel to new business models and new income and profit streams.
The partners who lead today’s modern professional practices are facing an onslaught of pressure to drive change – in strategy, product or service development, new market penetration, marketing and selling programmes, human resources strategy, technology and information systems and financial management. Whether it is developing new programmes or finding ways to increase the effectiveness in which they are implemented, change management remains high on the agenda.