Be more strategic – Stretch your strategy muscle

The recent “Be more strategic” workshop from Training – PM Forum took place on St George’s Day. This post summarises the key points raised by delegates – and lists their poll results and discussions. As such, it provides an additional learning resource to the delegates. So in this post on be more strategic – stretch your strategy muscle, pursue analysis not paralysis and focus on the key issues.

Stretch your strategy muscle

An early discussion explored the nature of strategy in professional services firms. And the challenge of encouraging people to participate in the strategic process.

To be strategic, you need to know your current position (analysis). You must establish a vision and goals (objectives). And then work out the best way to achieve those goals. And this needs to be conducted from a helicopter perspective – to see the big picture. And it must accommodate the needs of the market and clients and the potential actions of competitors. Pitching, differentiation and competitor analysis (

Being strategic requires you to step out of your comfort zone. Challenge your assumptions: Strategic thinking – Audits, assumptions and alignment ( Diversity helps – as those from different sectors can draw on different models and ideas. Unlearn old ways of doing things and attempt new things. Everyone shies away from uncertainty – but in strategy you must embrace the prospect of an unknown future. And attempt to predict what may or may not happen, and your likely response.

Strategy necessarily involves risks – so identify, manage or plan to mitigate them. There’s always a balance in assessing risk-return – some firms are more risk averse than others.

People need to be educated on what good strategy looks like: Book review of Richard Rumelt’s “Good strategy, Bad strategy” ( Strategy requires focus and choice – and this means that not all markets or services or ideas can be pursued. Yet professional services firms are complex organisations, often with many markets and many services. Playing on the global stage adds another dimension of complexity.

Strategy isn’t developed in isolation or a vacuum. Engagement is important. And you need to take everyone along with you on the strategy journey. Take them on the strategy journey ( We have to help our firms’ people find a strategy development process that fits their firm’s ambition, sophistication, information and resources. And build a “one firm” culture so that everyone pulls in the same direction and promotes the right “brand” messages. And then align all their behaviours. Yet our fee-earners are busy people with many demands on their time.

And the marketing and business development team are ideally placed to promote more strategic thinking – and have the tools and knowledge to help everyone stretch their strategy muscle and form strategic plans. And champions, sponsors and advocates across the firm can help.

Pursue analysis not paralysis

The world is changing fast. Keeping up with trends is a challenge. And it can be overwhelming to get a handle on the volume of data from all manner of external and internal sources.

Delegates attempted both simple PESTLE and competitor analyses. Their thoughts included:

  • Geo-politics – On the global stage, things move fast. Different parts of our international networks are focused on different things. Emerging markets arise and decline. Speculation about the impact of different election outcomes blurs the picture.
  • Competition – With disruptors, we hardly know where the next competitive onslaught will begin. Markets are restructuring and new enemies and allies align. Smaller start-ups are more fleet of foot and have less legacy systems to drag into line. Larger competitors have more resources to throw at new ideas – artificial intelligence being a case in point.
  • Diversity amongst clients – It can seem that clients all want different things. It’s hard to assess what is a real need or a spurious comment. Whilst we often look for trends, there is much to learn from outliers – these can be weak signals of the state of things to come.
  • Values and ethics – Some delegates mentioned their firms’ drive to be impact-led – and shift to B Corp status. This might mean ceasing to work with clients who don’t meet the necessary ethical, environmental, social or governance criteria. Establishing vetting processes amongst a culture of “growth at all costs” creates tension.
  • Effectiveness – Everyone wants to measure effectiveness and efficiency. There’s a need to have evidence of what’s working and what’s not. Everyone is seeking return on investment information – but sometimes key data remain elusive.

Focus on the key issues

In a final breakout discussion we looked at where we should focus attention on strategic development in our firms. Delegates raised the following points:

  • Support not strategy – Marketing and Business Development (MBD) is often seen as a support rather than strategic Some of us still have to fight to win a seat at the strategy table. But no one gets that seat without earning it. We need to demonstrate a more strategic approach in all that we do – raise strategic questions, frame strategic issues and behave in a strategic way. Not so easy when our time is over-full with day-to-day operational requests.
  • Data-driven nirvana – Finding the time and the data to present ideas and evidence is not trivial. There’s often a lack of systems or data to analyse and support ideas and campaigns. And a lack of time to prepare the necessary analyses in a way that’s meaningful to firm leaders. In the MBD arena, it can be hard to prove the ROI of campaigns – especially when so many factors contribute to a successful sale and the sales cycles can be long.
  • Impact of AI – Everyone is asking about the impact of AI – on the professional services market, on the future of our current business models, on pricing, on client expectations. Some consider it to be a passing phase, others see it as a significant turning point.
  • Earn engagement – A key challenge is encouraging everyone in the firm to rise above their immediate, short term operational and tactical needs and adopt a more strategic approach. MBD has a role in promoting a more strategic stance. There were various tools to help develop strategic thinking within ourselves and in our firms. As marketers, we can draw on a wide range of frameworks, tools and examples (see the case studies material) to help us promote a more strategic approach.

With so much noise and so many distractions, our attention can easily be diverted. So use the firm’s vision, goals and strategy as a guiding North Star to navigate your way through.

Delegate poll results and takeaways

Delegates value insights into each others’ aims and takeaways. The poll results allow them to benchmark their views against others.

Delegate aims

  • In the process of creating strategies for the two global programmes and would like some tips around how these should be structured and what they should include
  • To gain insight into how to plan campaigns more strategically to get more out of them and give annual campaigns a refresh
  • Moving into a Head of Department role and looking to develop my high-level strategic and management skills
  • About to go into the next round of our events planning calendar and would like some tips on ways to approach that I may not already be considering
  • I’d like to move the perception of the team from a fulfilment team to strategic advisers for our firm, so would love to gain some tools and insights in order to do this
  • Here to keep up with best practice
  • Getting my partners to think more strategically about Marketing and BD – Linking strategy to business planning
  • Learn more about creating strategies for my teams and what tips and tricks to embed into my daily role
  • Recently launched an events strategy to minimise the quantity of events we host – Plan to only host events that can demonstrate ROI or effective profile-raising
  • How to encourage partners and specific teams to engage better with strategy
  • I often get pulled into very large-scale firm-wide projects that are disjointed and lack strategy, focus and direction. I want to be able to operate more strategically within those projects and also manage my time to focus on the right things
  • Learn from the experts and my peers to make sure what I am doing is still correct and relevant. Also to ensure I’m planning at the right strategic level and get others in the firm to be think strategically too
  • Open mind on how I and my team can be more strategic. We tend to stick with what we know works well as we have similar target audiences. I will be working with different audiences and will need new strategy especially when looking at campaign plans

Professional services firms that are admired for their strategy

  • Deloitte – Strong brand, know what they stand for, clear external and internal communications
  • EY – They are all really clear on the EY vision – it’s embedded in their culture and people
  • Alvarez & Marsal management consulting – A European disruptor that is recruiting from competitors with higher salaries

Delegate key thoughts, reflections or actions from the first two modules

  • Client and colleague feedback on current approaches
  • CRM system – client analysis
  • Competitor analysis
  • Client feedback analysis
  • Performance reports from previous campaigns/projects to see where we can improve
  • Market and business intelligence platforms
  • Contact/Connection analysis for each of our partners
  • SWOT analysis and feedback and campaign ROI
  • Blue sky thinking / brainstorming with teams
  • Trustpilot reviews
  • Google analytics

Delegate key takeaways 

  • Look at where we need to unlearn old ways of thinking



  • To move from a support to a strategic function, initiate those strategic discussions – to do that we need to go through the strategic process at least to some extent – analysis is key!
  • Choosing to be different Really interesting to learn about proper strategy tools and frameworks, I’ll definitely be looking into a few of those books and resources mentioned to continue my learning Book review: The Strategy Book by Max McKeown (
  • The idea that trying to do everything isn’t strategic – I’m going to try to streamline our activities, making sure they meet a long-term/overall aim, and that they’re sustainable
  • Start with a small/targeted competitor analysis Pitching, differentiation and competitor analysis (
  • Integrating emergent strategy with intended strategy ((Mintzberg and Waters)
  • Look at starting a client selection committee or equivalent
  • Our firm has recently started up an alumni programme so I’ll be looking into Bird & Bird’s successful programme to gain some tips! Employee Communications and Alumni Programmes (
  • Promote through improved branding and collaboration Book review – Managing Brands (
  • Re-visit existing strategy and perfect!

 Future learning

Delegate poll results

Which sector do you represent?

  • 67% Legal
  • 25% Accountancy, insolvency, actuaries
  • Property/engineering
  • 8%      Consulting
  • Other (financial services)

How would you rate your experience in strategy?

  • None
  • 25% A little
  • 58% Average
  • 17% A lot
  • A huge amount

Which topic is of most interest to you?

  • 25% Thinking strategically
  • 17% Understanding business strategy/strategic analysis
  • 58% Marketing and Business Development strategy
  • Something else

Which area presents the biggest challenge?

  • 25% Strategic analysis
  • 17% Strategy options
  • 25% Strategy choice
  • 33% Strategy implementation

Do you have a marketing qualification? 

  • 17% Yes
  • 8%  Sort of
  • 75% No

Which element of strategic analysis do you think you most need to improve at your firm?

  • 17% Internal analysis – Strengths and weaknesses
  • 17% Internal analysis – past clients and sources of work
  • 33% External analysis – competitors
  • 17% External analysis – sector issues and trends
  • 17% External analysis – far environment (PESTLE)

 Which of the following is closest to describing your goals?

  •            Really well designed – objectives and KPIs for financial and other measures
  • 33% Well defined – revenue, reputation and relationships
  • 42% Partially defined – there are some goals and objectives
  • 25% Poor – there are activity-based goals but not results-focused
  •            Poorly defined – it’s unclear what we are trying to achieve

 Which frameworks have you used or do you use?

  • 50% Segmentation, targeting and positioning
  • 10% Ansoff’s markets and services
  •            BCG’s portfolio analysis
  •            Positioning/perceptual maps
  • 10% Porter’s generic strategies/Five Forces
  •            McDonald’s marketing plan
  • 40% SOSTAC
  • 30% STAR (Digital Marketing Strategy)
  •            RACE (Digital Marketing Strategy)

Where is your main strategic focus?

  • 50% Firm overall
  •          Sectors
  • 17% Department/service line/practice group
  •         Territory
  •          Individual fee earners
  • 23% Campaigns

Which segmentation approaches are used in your firm?

  • 92% Market or industry sector
  • 25% Size of business
  • 58% Job function
  • 75% Geography/region
  • 33% Nature of relationship
  • 25% Personas

How do you rate your firm’s measurement of MBD effectiveness?

  •          Excellent
  • 25% Good
  • 58% Average
  • 17% Poor

Related “Be more strategic” links 

Be more strategic: Top-down or bottom-up, marketing ( December 2023

Book review: The Strategy Book by Max McKeown ( November 2023

Being more strategic – Case studies and insights (Ireland May 2023) ( June 2023

Managing Partners’ Forum Strategy Summit ( June 2023

Be more strategic – A metaphor: Analyse, join and align the dots ( March 2023

Strategy case studies and more matrices ( February 2023

Annual International Marketing Benchmark – PM Forum and Meridian West ( January 2023

Be more strategic – PESTLE, Positioning and Plans ( December 2022

Future Marketing/BD Manager – Build your personal brand ( December 2022

Key issues in Marketing and Business Development Planning ( July 2022

Be more strategic – Eight insights (February 2022) ( March 2022

Take them on the strategy journey ( September 2021

Strategic thinking it’s a jungle out there ( February 2021

Be more strategic – Strategy in a post-Covid19 world ( July 2020

Improve your strategic thinking – Seven insights (2020) ( June 2020

Be more onion, time out from the tsunami and other strategy insights ( March 2019

Strategic thinking – Audits, assumptions and alignment ( March 2018

Marketing planning in a nutshell – simple and complex plans ( June 2017

Strategy development insights – curiosity culture and change ( March 2017