At last week’s “Marketing planning in a nutshell” workshop by Professional Marketing Forum the delegates requested that I write a blog on selecting strategies.

The first part of the session focused on the marketing audit – analysing internal and external sources of information in order to identify strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats as well as core challenges. The research and analysis was also used to help hone segmentation and targeting strategies and develop appropriate client personas.

Then we spent time looking at both goal and objective setting as well as a series of potential metrics and KPIs that could be used to measure marketing performance as well as return on investment (ROI) calculation. Naturally, we also talked about how to involve partners and fee-earners in discussions so that buy-in to marketing and business development planning was achieved.

Strategy is about choice. So there were numerous discussions about the range of different strategies available in order to help fee—earners achieve their somewhat different objectives depending on the results of their initial analysis. Selecting a strategy depends on what you are trying to achieve.

So here is a list of some of the possible strategies – many of which are on the ladder of growth – that were considered: 

Differentiation – As a generic strategy, most firms are trying to avoid low and lowest cost strategies so differentiation is the general aim. This can be achieved in a number of ways but requires an understanding of the competitor offering and the present position in the market. We touched on Maister’s eight dimensions of professional service firm distinction. 

Brand – Branding is a strategy to achieve differentiation. For people businesses such as the professions, branding is a time-consuming and expensive strategy as it requires vigorous analysis into the market and the firm to identify points of difference that are valued by the market and also an investment in internal training and communications to ensure the branded service is delivered consistently by all professional and support staff at all touchpoints. See 

Profile raising – New market entry usually suggests a strategy where the profile of the firm and/or its experts are raised through a comprehensive communications programme. There are numerous blog posts with case studies of successful profile raising campaigns. 

Portfolio management – Firms with an extensive range of products and services may use portfolio management to allocate resources to just a few in the range to concentrate and improve their focus. This results in altering the balance of the portfolio and changing the shape of the firm in the longer term. 

Innovation and new products and services – Innovation and investment in new products and services – whether delivered in a traditional manner or through digital means – is another strategy to differentiate a firm or possibly to disrupt the market. See Some firms adopt a service or process mapping approach to identify ways in which service can be delivered more efficiently which results in innovation. The lack of R&D (research and development) teams within most firms is seen as a hindrance to this strategy although the increasing interest in technologies such as artificial intelligence will change this.

Client intimacy and relationship management – A strategy to increase the level of client intimacy often goes hand in hand with client behaviour modelling and a focus on relationship management as a way to differentiate service delivery.

New market development – Where existing markets become saturated or mature, there may be a strategy to develop new markets whether this is geographical, sector or some other method of segmentation. This might be achieved by direct promotion to new markets or by collaboration. See

Recruitment – In situations where a firm is developing new markets or services, or where growth is constrained by a lack of appropriately qualified professional staff, the strategy might focus on recruitment. And this, in turn, may require the firm to increase its overall profile and reputation and/or its approach to retention.

Pricing – When the primary goal is to improve profits, then pricing is often a strategy. Skimming – taking the best clients and work only – is one adopted by many of the global firms. Other firms combine this approach with moving away from those clients who are seeking commodity services and/or are extremely price sensitive. However, the need to differentiate and add extra value in some way is usually an aspect of such strategies.

Niche development – Whilst segmentation and targeting (see  is required in all marketing planning, the identification or creation of a niche is a strategy often adopted by smaller firms who can’t compete head-on with the large firms in their pond.

Thought leadership – Research to obtain some deep insight into the market or clients and/or to form a foundation for an integrated and sustained programme of original content (a content management strategy) and communication is a common basis for strategic thought leadership programmes. Sometimes this will be used to support a niche development strategy. See

Existing client development – Larger firms with a high quality and established client base may adopt a strategy of mining it through relationship management and Key Account Management (KAM) programmes (see which may extend to collaboration and strategic alliances.

Internal marketing – Linked to a strategy to develop existing client relationships, some firms adopt a strategy that concentrates on educating the internal audience and cross-selling. This strategy is often adopted by practice areas who rely on other practice areas for the lion’s share of their work.

Digital marketing – Where there is a direct approach to potential clients and particularly where there are consumer clients, it may be that a digital marketing strategy is developed. This might include digital and social marketing methods and an attempt to promote engagement through on-line communities. See and

Contact marketing and selling – A direct marketing strategy. Where a firm has a strong profile in the market and a good source of quality leads, the focus may shift on establishing contact, building relationships and conversion so that a contact marketing strategy is adopted. Sometimes this strategy is focused on just a few target organisations and at other times it might include a large number of events. Some firms may adopt telemarketing and sales skill training programmes. These would generally be considered business development or sales strategy. See

Referrer and intermediary management – An indirect marketing strategy. Where work generation is primarily through external third parties, the strategy may focus entirely on developing these relationships – either adopting a focused or exclusive approach or by raising awareness and developing relationships across a host of third parties. See