At the Professional Marketing Forum, we ran our first digital version of the popular full day “Proactive Marketing/BD Executive” training workshop at the start of October. We were over-subscribed so will be looking at further dates soon (please contact PM Forum if you are keen to know in advance). This article summarises the main discussion points from the day – as a supplement to the materials already received by the delegates.
It was an intense but fun day – a series of six short lectures interspersed with polls, quizzes, public and private chats, six group break out exercises and group discussions. And it seems that everyone made some valuable connections with whom to continue the discussions. I am grateful to the delegates for their active and enthusiastic participation.
Aims and questions
Delegates at this session – from across the UK and Germany – represented legal, accountancy and consultancy firms in roles such as marketing, business development, communications, bids, directories and events; promoting services such as litigation, arbitration, regulation, M&A, business crime, patents and investment; and in markets as varied as financial services, energy, science, real estate and hospitality. About half of the delegates had no formal training in marketing and a few had legal backgrounds.
Amongst the most common reasons for joining the session were:
- Obtaining an understanding of the roles and responsibilities in marketing/BD careers
- Identifying how to become more confident and proactive
- Learning basic marketing and BD theory
- Gaining a grounding in strategic marketing and campaign development
Quizzed on marketing
An early exercise had delegates tackling a quiz on common marketing and business development concepts. Those without prior marketing knowledge found this challenging whilst others could recall material from their previous studies.
Everyone acknowledged the value of marketing theory – if it was tailored for the professional services context (this is a great book on professional services marketing). Most delegates realised that they knew more than they initially thought – and were actively using many of the frameworks without realising it.
There was a short debate about the value of using marketing terminology (jargon) as a short-hand when talking to other marketing and BD professionals but caution to avoid using it where it might alienate those who were not familiar with marketing theory.
The range of operational marketing and BD tactics and tools
With the significant changes forced upon us as a result of the Covid pandemic, the group exercise discussing different operational tactics was illuminating. Some of conclusions were:
- Define the audience – There was a discussion about audience analysis and segmentation and the need to choose the most appropriate platform (channel) and format (content) for each segment. There was support for thought leadership in niche markets and digital events and social media for wider reach.
- Choose the right tool – Each promotional or communication method has strengths and weaknesses, and different cost and effectiveness profiles. Choice would depend on the aims, audiences and the resources available. Some methods required more preparation which made them less suitable in tight timeframes and when urgent action is required. Some techniques were reliant on accurate data which can be challenging in some new business development scenarios.
- Latest developments – The environment and expectations are changing all the time. For example, LinkedIn posts use more imagery now and the time of posting is more important. On-demand content needs to be quickly and regularly updated. Podcasts can be more relaxed and allow more personality to shine through and use informal stories and experiences. Email – notwithstanding the GDPR and system challenges – allows for much more targeted communications.
- Time and cost – It is critical to anticipate and calculate the time and cost of different approaches to ensure that they would be effective. For example, podcasts are inexpensive but time-consuming to produce and the commitment to produce high quality content on a regular basis can be too onerous for many technical experts. However, they might be more easily accommodated within a team-based campaign if a good content management strategy was developed.
- Measure engagement – Whilst it is relatively straightforward to measure engagement and effectiveness of digital communication, it was more challenging for traditional methods such as face-to-face meetings. My article on ROI using Jesse J and Einstein was mentioned.
Insights into communications methods
Four groups were established to consider the more in-depth requirements and demands for some communication methods. The teams reported back as follows:
Digital PR and content marketing
- Increasingly important as face-to-face communication is restricted
- Content marketing allows you to demonstrate your expertise
- Social media and blogs are great for reaching a large audience
- It can be hard to adjust material to meet the needs of lots of different segments
- It is easy to collect and analyse data for digital communications
- It’s a good way to raise profile and share news
- A core challenge is how much time is required to develop great content
- Content marketing plans must guard against over-loading the audience
- Another challenge is how to make sometimes dry and technical material engaging
- Mishcon de Reya was identified as a firm that had a strong brand that is reflected in its web site and all communications
Campaign development and thought leadership
- An effective method to work with external organisations which shares branding and promotes understanding amongst members
- Campaigns should have clear, measurable aims to manage expectations and a succinct plan
- You should consider how to calculate Return on Investment (ROI) in advance and know what acceptable and good results would look like
- Segmentation is vital – to understand the needs of the different audiences and to tailor activities to meet those needs with varied messages and platforms
- An integrated approach makes it easier to introduce others from the team and wider in the firm (i.e. cross-selling)
- Thought leadership is essentially a soft sell that adds real value to the audience
- There needs to be advance consideration of how relationships will be developed after initial contact
- We need to educate our content creators about the need to consider the client experience
- It can be challenging to select the right method to share information
- The time required to develop and implement a successful campaign can be significant
Selling and new business development
- The first priority for selling is thorough research
- Everything must be tailored to the client
- Identify a key selling point and differentiation
- Time management for pitches is critical
- There’s an internal communication challenge for engaging different offices and teams
- Select the right team and acquire the necessary resources in advance
- Schedule time for team meetings and rehearsals
- Time is required for people to get to know each other and develop rapport
- Include stories, examples and evidence to support engagement and credibility
- Brand experience must be consistent across marketing and selling
Relationship marketing and KAM
- Match personalities and build trust
- Build in next steps and follow up actions
- Use networking opportunities to connect people and provide information
- Develop systems to keep the right people aware of activities and progress
- Ensure that clients feel valued at all times
- Demonstrate that you care for clients
- Use CSR initiatives to show you share common values
- Maintain your reputation by always providing a good experience
- Ensure there is enough time and attention available for key clients
- Be aware of restrictions and legislation with hospitality
- Try to be different – as most firms are all doing the same thing
Lunch time reflections
During the lunch break, delegates were encouraged to reflect on the key insights from the morning and to ask questions on the implications. Many were concerned with how to achieve engagement and buy-in – both at the outset in planning and during implementation. Maintaining focus and momentum is a challenge for all it seems.
Others were pleased to see statistics on the efficacy of different marketing methods. Many appreciated having a comprehensive overview of relevant marketing and BD theory. Some asked for more details on conducting marketing audits, segmentation and preparing marketing plans. One person had an epiphany on the importance of an all-embracing approach to brand.
Most were also concerned with current workloads leaving little time to take proactive action – so we talked about some strategies to free up time. Some commented that they felt worn down by fee-earners constantly pushing back and we talked about the role of marketing/BD as educator – and the need to rely on support networks such as the PM Forum.
Others asked about future skills for marketers so I referred them to an interview with Totum (specialist business services recruitment agency) and a podcast with Cambridge Marketing College (August 2020) as well as data on various skill research.
It was interesting to hear that whilst Covid had been a major concern for everyone, it had effectively created an impetus for change and encouraged firms to be more bold in their approach.
Some reflected that in the past some had lacked confidence in offering opinions and ideas in meetings but now felt more empowered to do so. So that was a great outcome after just half of the session.
During an exercise on the transition from doing to managing there were many insights. Some focused on the need for strong relationships with stakeholders and team members and aligning goals and communication accordingly.
Creative drawings depicting fee-earner communications
I wasn’t sure whether a creative drawing exercise focusing on fee-earner communications would translate into the digital space but the delegates really rose to the challenge.
There were Internet-sourced quote images (“I want to be in the room where it happens” Aaron Burr), composite drawings (including a wizard and rabbits in hats as “marketing isn’t magic”) and a series of images drawn by team members (including a battery, doors, the world, noses and inner children).
Future marketing careers
The final break out exercise looked at future career development. Whilst the delegates found that their roles were really varied which made comparisons difficult, there were some themes:
- Adapt, expand and deploy existing skills and knowledge
- Embrace technology (digital transformation) whilst not forgetting the importance of developing soft skills for relationship management and coaching
- Develop product, client and market knowledge to better anticipate and understand emerging needs
- Ability to challenge (and sometimes decline) inappropriate work requests to focus on strategic tasks
- Be more agile and responsive to changes in the internal and external environment
- Develop your personal brand and visibility so that you stand out from your peers
- Explore the skills required in selling, KAM and ABM
- Demonstrate success with ROI and other metrics and evidence
This book on advanced marketing management is also relevant here. And so is Malcolm McDonald’s recent talk on the future of the marketing profession.
Other articles for Proactive Marketing/BD Executives
Top ten takeaways (Feb 2019)
Eight top tips (Feb 2018)
Seven standout subjects (Feb 2017)
Building blocks (Oct 2015)