marketing planning process into a professional service firm

At the recent “Marketing planning in a nutshell” training workshop, the focus was on the best way to introduce a marketing planning process into a professional service firm.

While many of the larger professional service firms have sophisticated marketing and business development planning processes, some smaller firms are still trying to engage their fee-earners in marketing planning for the first time.

We spent some time discussing the reasons why fee-earners may not value the marketing and business development planning process by seeing things from their perspective. We considered different approaches and messages to persuade them that marketing planning will benefit them, their practices and their clients. 

Marketers must add value

Fee-earners know that marketers and business development people want plans. But to engage fee-earners in the process we need to persuade them of the benefits of planning and add value.

But first we need to ensure that our knowledge of their markets and clients is comprehensive. And we need to understand how their services help the clients so we must invest in developing our product knowledge. Without this basic knowledge we are unlikely to convince fee-earners to listen to our views. The marketing audit process gives us an opportunity to learn about the market, the clients and the services needed.

We cannot compete with the depth and breadth of knowledge that our fee-earners will have of their markets and clients, but we can guide them through the marketing planning process. And as we do this, we help educate them on a more strategic approach to marketing to replace their more superficial focus on events and communications activities which fails to consider goals or follow up.

Use the marketing audit

The marketing audit provides us with a process to systematically examine the external market in both the far environment with a PESTLE or STEP analysis and nearer trends amongst competitors and local markets.

The audit helps us to identify emerging client needs and opportunities and threats. It ensures that we look at competitive advantage and differentiation as part of the planning process. It also moves the planning process away from the usually inward and short term focus of fee-earners. The Law Society did a comprehensive PEST analysis of the legal market a couple of years ago and it’s a great starting point

This audit knowledge increases marketers and BD people’s understanding of the issues, provides hard data for the fee-earners and creates an opportunity for an informed discussion about gaps and opportunities. It adds value – and a different perspective – to the fee-earners who may not be familiar with the sorts of commercial information generated through market research.

The marketing audit may help identify new issues and ideas and reframes old debates in the context of actual information from the market. It therefore prevents marketing planning discussions repeating old themes and approaches.

Develop goals

It’s pointless developing a strategy and creating a plan if there are no goals. But marketers need to do more than ask fee-earners “What do you want to achieve?”. Fee-earners are focused on achieving their fee and profit targets in the short term so we need to help them develop goals and objectives that we can use in marketing planning.

We looked at ways of breaking down fee and profit targets into discussions about what types of assignments (volume and value) and clients (existing or new) were wanted. The stepping stones approach was demonstrated This also led to discussions about how many of the right sort of staff might need to be recruited as often revenue targets are reliant on the number of fee-earners employed.

We also looked at non-financial goals related to awareness, positioning and reputation. And we considered how marketing and communication measures throughout the sales pipeline might help to connect what happens in the digital space to the resulting meetings and pitches with clients.

We found it helpful to establish goals at each stage of the client journey, decision making process or pipeline. For example, social media engagement, digital downloads, newsletter sign-ups, event attendance, satisfaction ratings, meetings arranged, pitches converted and additional revenue or services cross-sold. Marketing KPIs were also considered.

There was recognition that larger firms tended to focus on developing existing client relationships – so goals relevant to key account management ( and account based marketing (ABM) were discussed. Larger firms might have goals concentrating on developing relationships with just a handful of target clients or referrers.

There are two things to bear in mind with goals. They help us focus in on what is really expected by the fee-earners – what good would look like. So it’s expectation management. The goals should show the longer term results desired and what must be achieved in the shorter term so that we have something with which to monitor and measure progress.

Use workshops to break the planning process into bite-sized pieces

Fee-earners are unlikely to read a marketing plan that has been produced by someone else – yet alone try to implement it. So it needs to be their plan. Fee-earners need to be central to the marketing planning process – involved and making decisions through each step of the planning process. Then it is their plan.

This means that it may not conform to the marketing planning formats that we learned from marketing text books – but that’s OK – any plan is better than no plan. And once you have some sort of plan, you can improve on it in subsequent planning cycles. Good enough is good enough.

There are always questions about achieving buy-in to marketing plans. For me, this is looking at the wrong problem. If we involve fee-earners in the marketing planning process, they will be committed to their plan from the outset.

But time is short. Fee-earners will not want to devote a lot of time to the marketing planning process. So we can break it down into smaller parts and provide information to frame questions and guide discussions so that they perceive value from each session. And they have also time to assimilate information and think about things in between sessions.

I suggested that marketers might organise a series of short workshops (no more than two hours each) where they involve fee-earners in looking at summary research and information we prepare to make decisions at each stage of the marketing planning process:

  1. Analyse external data – identify key challenges and opportunities
  2. Analyse internal data – identify key challenges and opportunities
  3. Set goals
  4. Agree the target markets and segments or personas and the priority services
  5. Discuss strategic options – using research/analysis to select the best one
  6. Agree the actions, prepare a plan and budget
  7. Review and monitor progress (and revise goals, strategy and actions if necessary)

For more details on how to develop a marketing plan see

Start small and avoid jargon

Where you are still educating fee-earners about the benefits of structured marketing planning it is important to avoid jargon and overload. Start small. Think about the essence of the planning process by asking the following questions:

  1. Where are we now? (the audit)
  2. Where do we want to be? (the goals)
  3. How will we get there? (the strategy)
  4. What must we do? (the tactics)
  5. How much will it cost? (the budget)

Sometimes it is easier to introduce the concept of planning by focusing on a specific campaign. Guidance on developing a simple campaign is here

While marketers and business development professionals need detailed plans to document the data gathered and decisions made during the marketing planning process, the fee-earners only need a summary. Present and communicate the entire plan on a single sheet or screen (ideally as a simple flowchart or diagram) so that that can see the headlines – and give them the option to drill down to inspect the supporting data and project plans if required.

And remember that we need to regularly communicate progress against the plan if we are to remind fee-earners of the goals, what has been achieved and what remains to be done. Otherwise, the plan will be forgotten and fee-earners will revert to ad-hoc, tactical and one-off activities that are unlikely to generate the desired results.