Impact of technology on marketing

The 18 delegates at the April PM Forum day workshop on “The Proactive Marketing and Business Development Executive”  were evenly split between legal and accountancy firms with a slight majority from law firms. Throughout the day there was lots of interaction through polls, break out exercises and discussion. Here I have extracted the main themes as a reminder for the delegates. Proactive Marketing and BD Executives – Data, Reach, Qualifications, Skills, Metaphors, Relationships and Confidence.

Data challenges

Throughout the day there was discussion about the importance of prospect, client and referrer data and the behavioural, process and systems challenges involved in collecting it. Particularly as there was a growing wealth of information available from digital marketing analytics.

Some commented on the difficulties in obtaining data about businesses and individuals being targeted. This requires buy-in from fee-earners, smart subscription mechanisms, “scraping” data from numerous sources and cleansing projects to maintain accuracy. Compliance with GDPR continues to be a concern.

Some felt that the Covid pandemic had accentuated data issues as there was now more reliance on email information supporting centrally produced e-alerts, newsletters and webinar invitations. Some commented on the need for different information – for example, home addresses – so that materials could be sent by post to stand out from email communications. At an exercise on another topic, someone suggested “Don’t be too proud to stuff an envelope” which was interesting. We also talked about the increasing use of door drops for some private client marketing which overcame the need for accurate data. (Door drop guide from 2014).

There was also a view that opportunity, sales and pipeline data was less easily captured. Partly because often fee-earners manage these processes themselves and there are often no firm-wide standards. And sometime because targets, prospects and the sales cycle cross financial years.

In terms of measuring client satisfaction, five delegates were in firms that measured satisfaction regularly and across the firm. 10 reported some client satisfaction measurement – or for the largest clients. But often this data is not integrated into CRM or KAM systems.

There were also gaps in information about the source of work – only one delegate was in a firm where this was measured well across the entire firm. Eight reported that it was analysed and monitored well in some teams. Whilst eight reported that source monitoring was managed “OK” or “not very well”.

Where firms build M&BD KPIs into performance and reward systems there are additional data challenges – especially when the KPIs used extended beyond time recorded, matters opened or fees billed or received. Or where success must be attributed to more than one source or fee-earner.

Greater reach

One positive outcome from Covid was the much greater reach and engagement achieved with virtual events such as webinars and online networking. Many more clients and contacts – from a wider geographical reach – were now participating. Whilst this greater reach was generally considered a good thing it poses interesting questions:

  • Will we ever return to face-to-face events? Or will we adopt a hybrid model with both in-person and online events offered in future?
  • How do we maintain the momentum from so much engagement in online events? Are follow up and relationship nurturing processes more challenging after virtual connection?
  • How do we maintain interest and quality? As more firms offer high quality online events, there is more noise and choice in the market. How do we stand out and capture attention and interest?

Others commented on the need to improve internal processes so that ideas for content or events can be picked up and turned around quickly – without lengthy delays for approvals that is common in some firms.

But we were all keen to know the client reaction to future communications – will they prefer to continue in the digital space or will some prefer in person? This may require further segmentation within existing market and client classifications and presents another potential data challenge.

The need for marketing qualifications?

An early poll revealed that 60% of the delegates had formal marketing qualifications. Yet a quiz revealed that even those with qualifications found it challenging to recall key models and processes. Some felt that it had become an unconscious competence.

So it was no surprise that there was debate about the importance of marketing qualifications for future careers. I made it clear that while I thought marketing qualifications were important (you wouldn’t hire an unqualified lawyer or accountant!), some M&BD directors place more emphasis on relevant skills, experience and track record of results.

A number of delegates were in the final stages of their level 6 CIM papers (see this article for an overview of the CIM syllabus) and found them tough going. We talked about the difference between academic marketing qualifications and those – like CIM – that are practitioner based.

It was encouraging at the end of the session to see that several delegates were going to speak to their directors and HR people about sponsorship through the CIM qualification process.

Additional marketing and BD technical skills identified

Thinking about your current role and how you want to progress can provide a gap analysis of what skills are likely to be needed in the future. Nine delegates reported that the majority of their time was spent in M&BD planning, four in existing relationship development and four in awareness raising.

A poll revealed that only one delegate had received formal sales training and six were self-taught. This left 11 delegates with no awareness of sales and selling concepts which is surprising as selling is so critical to business-to-business (B2B) business development. This article provides an introduction to the decision-making unit and signposts introductory books on selling.

We also talked about the value of project management skills and qualifications. And I mentioned the previous CIM qualification on project management in marketing. Campaign development and management competencies were also a theme here.

Some delegates picked up on the importance of thought leadership in providing a foundation for strategic marketing plans, major communications campaigns and content management. Some delegates decided that they would read The thought leadership manual” by Tim Prizeman which remains a valuable guide. I published an update on some of the latest thought leadership campaigns in professional services in November 2020  which some may find helpful too.

Power of metaphor – Magicians, Jerry Maguire and Olympics

During one of the exercises on internal engagement, stakeholder management and buy-in the delegates allowed their creativity to flow in the use of metaphors.

There were magician images to explain that in some professional service firms fee-earners expected marketing and BD staff to do magic. This reflected perhaps the lack of knowledge of what marketing and business development could achieve in a professional services firm. We spent some time talking about the important education and expectations management role that marketing and BD professionals must play in firms.

I was impressed with the fast creative skills of one group who presented some fabulous graphic images to show how fee-earners regarded M&BD professionals as well as their expectations. The famous “Show me the money” line from Jerry Maguire was skilfully converted to “Show me the product, results, findings and profits”.

But in explaining how M&BD could work best one group used the analogy of an Olympic Sports stadium. Of course, there are the athletic stars competing to win medals. But behind each star there is a team of coaches, physiotherapists, trainers, family, sponsors and other technical experts who provide behind-the-scenes support for years to help their stars reach their potential in a quick race and win.

Dealing with difficult relationships

A poll revealed that 11 delegates occasionally had problems in fee-earner relationships while five often had problems. Only two did not experience challenges in fee-earner relationships.

Some time was spent on how we can improve our relationships with our internal clients – the fee-earners. Naturally, we explored how to develop our empathy with fee-earners. The basics of empathy and emotional intelligence are explained in this short video. And the building blocks for better business relationships are the subject of my 2018 book.

Whilst exploring how to deal with difficult interactions, a number of resources were explored:

Some delegates found the ideas around reframing particularly useful.

Building confidence and soft skills

To be proactive requires confidence.  The confidence to take the initiative. The confidence to speak up and share ideas. The confidence to get things done. We talked about building confidence throughout the session. The idea of “seeking forgiveness rather than permission” was the topic of some energetic contributions – where the culture of a firm plays a significant part.

Confidence was one of the key themes I discussed in this podcast interview I did in August 2020 with the Cambridge Marketing College. It considers other critical soft skills (e.g. communication, curiosity, creativity and collaboration) for marketing professionals in the future.

At the start of the session, delegates were polled on how confident they felt in their roles – and the largest vote was for 7 out of 10. I am delighted to report that by the end of the session, the largest vote was for 8 out of 10. And all other scores had shifted up too.

Linked to confidence was the need for more assertiveness. Often we need to push back and challenge fee-earners. Giving feedback was another skill explored.

Other soft skills mentioned throughout the session were persuasion and negotiation – particularly for engaging fee-earners and achieving buy-in and accountability. This book on persuasion by James Borg is a good introduction. This short video summarises Cialidini’s six principles of persuasion  and this video helps with active listening skills.

My reflections

I have been running these sessions for Proactive Marketing and Business Development Executives for over 10 years. I constantly update the material to keep up with the changes in the professions, in marketing and in the nature of the work demanded of Marketing and Business Development Executives.

What struck me (and Kazee – our wonderful technical co-host) at this session was the extent to which the skill, experience, responsibility and contribution by marketing professionals at this level had escalated incredibly in recent times.

I am sure that the extra demands placed on marketing and BD professionals during the Covid pandemic – especially its shift to digital communications – has been a major contributor to this trend. And I shared my thoughts on this in the leader article in the Winter 2020 edition of Professional Marketing magazine. I also reported the results of research across the professions – lawyers, accountants and surveyors – on the other positive impacts of Covid pandemic in December 2020. The idea was also explored last month at a workshop for M&BD assistants.

Related articles about Marketing and BD Executives

These and other PM Forum training sessions  run regularly. The articles below summarise the key points from other sessions:

marketing case study – Clark Hill redesigns its marketing and BD team ( January 2021

Proactive Marketing/BD Executive (Oct 2020) – Session highlights ( October 2020

Insights into assertiveness, confidence and effectiveness ( October 2020

Emerging marketing and business development roles ( September 2020

Six themes for Proactive Marketing and BD Executives (2019) ( January 2020

Top 10 takeaways – Proactive Marketing Executive (Feb 2019) ( February 2019

Proactive Marketing Executive – Eight top tips ( February 2018

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

Proactive Marketing Executive workshop ( February 2017

seven building blocks of a proactive marketing executive ( October 2015

Marketing Executives develop empathy in fee-earners’ persepective ( October 2014