At the recent Business Development for Professionals – 2024 Virtual Conference – MBL Seminars I presented a session entitled “Supporting Fee-Earners in Sales Targeting”. I’ve summarised the key points here as a supplementary learning resource for the delegates. And I’ve noted the highlights of the sessions by other speakers (How the BD function can be more influential, Rethinking your online strategy, Digital marketing maturity and Best practice for KAM) below. Here is a summary of the sales targeting toolbox for professional services firms.
Rationale for a focus on targeting
There are several reasons why I chose to focus on sales targeting:
Interviews with fee-earners during recent consultancy projects revealed that assistance with sales targeting (and research support from Marketing & Business Development (MBD) teams) was an area of interest for them – particularly for accountants and tax advisers
I’ve had several requests recently – particularly from domestic and overseas law firms – for training programmes for fee-earners on the topic of sales targeting
Whilst some firms have a wealth of data to help them with targeting (especially if their digital marketing is mature), many firms still suffer from a dearth of data. This means that many modern targeting methods are not feasible
Some fee-earners are disconnected from marketing campaigns and focus their efforts on direct selling – so targeting is of critical importance
Targeting is a topic that bridges the gap between marketing campaigns delivered by the central MBD teams and the relationship and sales activities of individual fee-earners
Many professional services marketing people have little expertise or experience in sales and selling yet are expected to guide and coach fee-earners in sales targeting
Targeting is a topic where marketers and business developers need to understand fee-earner aims and expectations in order to deliver effective, well-targeted marketing campaigns. And targeting approaches and tools are helpful in promoting coaching conversations with fee-earners.
Why are segmentation and targeting critical to marketing and business development success?
In the highly regarded business strategy book “Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works” (by former leaders of Procter & Gamble Lafley and Roger) the strategy cascade process is broken down into five key questions. The second question is “Where will we play?”. This puts segmentation and targeting at the top of the strategy agenda
A Marketing Week survey in 2023 revealed that marketing strategy is the most undervalued skill by businesses. And segmentation and targeting (and positioning) is a vital part of marketing strategy development
US marketing guru Philip Kotler said “There is only one winning strategy. It is to carefully define the target market and direct a superior offering to that target market”
UK marketing guru (especially on marketing plans) Malcolm McDonald suggests the first stage in the marketing planning process is to define markets and segments, understand the value required by clients in those markets and compare them against competitors. And to evaluate the relative attractiveness of different segments Malcolm McDonald on value propositions – How to develop them (kimtasso.com)
In professional service firm (PSF) marketing there is the challenge that we often span both B2B and B2C markets, across multiple sectors and for sometimes hundreds of service lines in different territories.
Our target markets span large and small businesses; private, public sector and not for profit sectors; centralised and decentralised buying processes; procurement and user-led purchasing behaviour. So targeting is often more important and more challenging.
Talking about targeting with fee-earners
Surprisingly, fee-earners are sometimes unclear about who they are targeting. When MBD professionals ask fee-earners about their targets and ideal clients they are often met with generic answers that are not helpful such as:
This lack of targeting can then result in disappointing, inefficient and ineffective marketing campaigns. Without targeting there is the risk of “spray and pray” content being sent into the ether. And fee-earner personal networking strategies which could be described as “cast the net wide and see what we capture”.
Marketing competencies are typically well defined (see Preparing M&BD professionals for the future – learning, skills (kimtasso.com). But when we look at business development, sales and relationship management competency frameworks for fee-earners (as opposed to professional sales people) there is less clarity. In my business development competency framework, I place market analysis and targeting as an early core skill.
Many leading sales processes describe prospecting or targeting phases in the sales cycle without providing much insight into how to do this. Especially when there is a lack of data.
As I mentioned, whilst some firms have highly sophisticated and mature marketing processes and are rich in data to support targeting efforts, many firms have inadequate and patchy data from their CRMs and digital analytics.
And even where there is a lot of valuable data, sometimes it is overwhelming. Furthermore, analysing and extracting knowledge and insights that support targeting may not occur within the marketing functions yet alone amongst fee-earners.
As fee-earners have limited appetite and time for business development, it is even more important that they focus their time and energy investment at the right target clients.
The Targeting Toolbox
Over the years I have found and used multiple targeting tools. And discarded a few. Some are really simple and others quite sophisticated. Firms and fee-earners at different levels of business development maturity will be attracted to different approaches. So my talk took a whirlwind tour of some of the most useful targeting approaches.
Targeting: Analyse the past
There’s an assumption with this approach that future clients will be the same as past and current clients. It’s a helpful tool though for a mature team or fee-earner with an established practice. Tools include:
Analysis of past clients – Often taking the major clients (on the Pareto 80:20 rule) and looking at data over the past three years or so: source, need/issue, onboarding process, satisfaction and potential fee/profit opportunity. Sadly, this approach may mean that outliers and smaller clients – who may indicate an opportunity or be a weak signal of market and client changes – may be overlooked
Client classification matrices – There are many approaches here such as matrices comparing, for example, cost to serve and lifetime revenues. Essentially a focus on the most profitable clients. An HBR article offered a similar matrix with costs to serve vs willingness-to-pay.
Relationship Characteristics – Some firms have segmented their client base using criteria such as relationship development stage, age, number and quality of contacts, number of services used and Net Promoter Score. This can then form the basis of targeting exercises based on those clients in the most desirable segments.
Targeting: Analyse the present
The assumption here is that fee-earners already have a large number of contacts in their network but maybe need some help in prioritising them and deciding where to focus relationship management time and attention. These approaches are helpful with intermediate fee-earners who are already good at building and extending their networks – but perhaps need help in focusing.
Pipeline analysis – Looking at the range of contacts in a fee-earner’s network, categorise them into stages of the sales funnel or opportunity pipeline phases (e.g. suspects, contacts, warm prospects, opportunity identified, proposal sent, proposal won/lost, developing client loyalty etc). A retrospective analysis may reveal the characteristics of those that moved through the pipeline quickly – to help with targeting criteria. On a simpler level, a red-amber-green (RAG analysis) will help fee-earners focus their time and attention on those contacts with the most potential
Competitors – Analyse who your major competitors are advising and adapt their targeting methods (I’m a little uncomfortable with the current trend to use LinkedIn to review your competitors’ contacts and target them yourself!)
Capacity planning – Research suggests that humans can probably manage a maximum 150 to 250 close relationships. Client relationship management (CRM) – how many close social (kimtasso.com). So using an ideal number of key relationships to focus attention can help targeting. Especially when they will need to balance their business development and relationship management activities such as groups for: targets/prospects, existing clients, introducers/referrers/intermediaries, influencers and those for insight/inspiration/information.
Contacts within a large organisation – Some fee-earners have a few major client relationships within which hundreds of individuals might be targeted. Using a matrix comparing seniority (value, influence and power) and loyalty (recognition, reputation and recommendation) helps identify those to target for relationship development activities – whether initiation or retention. This approach is suggested by Liz Whitaker in her book “Power of Personal”People | Propella
Relationship Maps A related tool is to produce relationship maps within a key client or major organisation. Some experts align this with their “field of play” approach. A manual process with fee-earners drawing these maps has the advantage of promoting discussion. Some automated systems (e.g. Intapp leads the way with client lifecycle management (CLM) solution (kimtasso.com)) produce digital relationship maps automatically by scraping email exchanges and using AI to estimate the strength of relationship.
We also looked at client perception ladders (how does the client see your firm?) and Relationship Protection Index (RPI)
Targeting: Think about the future
These tools are helpful where you have a blank sheet with regards to targeting – such as when you are entering a new market. They might also be helpful to younger fee-earners who are just starting their business development journey.
Sector marketing – We know that sector marketing and developing niches is a successful strategy in professional services. Once you have identified the relevant sector or sub-sector it is relatively easy to dip into the research of sector specialists to obtain lists of major players and key associations within that sector. There will be many lists available from commercial providers too.
Market mapping – Where there isn’t an established sector group with a handle on research knowledge on a sector (which may occur in new and emerging sectors) a big picture market mapping exercise may help to identify the key groups, associations and networks to infiltrate and learn about the main players organisations and individuals from there
Selection criteria – An alternative approach is to list out the attributes for the ideal organisations to target. Established approaches might break those criteria down on the basis of client attractiveness and competitive advantage. Other approaches may consider strategic, market position and income criteria.
Triggers and filters – This is a variation of the selection criteria approach. But considers the triggers (or green flags) that would indicate a target and filters (or red flags) which would suggest no action at present.
Personas – These work with segments. They are an imaginary target client – like a thumb nail sketch – that helps people visualise the type of person they are targeting. They are helpful when guiding the production of content to match buyer needs and interests.
Marketing leads – The marketing team will generate leads and these can be analysed a number of ways e.g. lead capture, lead magnet, lead qualification and lead segmentation to support future targeting. I mentioned the need to promote engagement with a Call To Action (CTA) so that target and lead information could be captured. Methods to capture target information include: surveys, adverts, web site visits, analytics, landing page pop ups, forms/subscriptions, Chatbots/LiveChat, emails, content marketing (especially thought leadership), blogs, social media and videos. As well as prospecting tools for CRM (Vainu, Apollo,Bloobirds).
Join an established community – A completely different approach is to discover the communities where your likely targets will congregate. For example, for accountants this might include Quoted Companies Alliance, UK Finance or Federation of Small Businesses. For law firms these might be GC 100, International Bar Association or the Association of Corporate Counsel. In property or real estate it might be the British Property Federation, British Council for Offices or the Country Landowners Association
Targeting within the Marketing & Business Development Plan
Whether the targets are for an individual fee-earner or a team of fee-earners they need to be incorporated into individual or team marketing and BD plans.
This will bring a strategic and tactical focus.
We talked about two common planning frameworks: The three stage plan:
I urged delegates to consider how the different targets will move through the client buying journey (typical stages: awareness, interest, purchase, service, loyalty). And how the value proposition and content messaging needs to be adapted to different targets at different stages of their buying journey.
And I finished with some case studies and how they had used LinkedIn Sales Navigator tool to improve their targeting and sales success. I aim to share these and other case studies in due course.
Questions on sales targeting from delegates
There were a number of interesting questions from delegates:
What if you have too many segments?
Professional services firm tend to be complex organisations – with a large number of potential markets and an even larger number of services that they are attempting to promote into them. This often means that there are far more segments and targets that can be adequately supported by the marketing and BD team. Firms then spread themselves too thinly and have minimal impact.
One solution is to have a stronger firm-wide marketing/BD strategy that focuses attention on a few core markets and segments. This follows the principle of “Do less, but go large”. An alternative is to schedule segments throughout the year – perhaps with two segments being targeted each quarter.
How do you encourage targeting of internal segments?
Cross-selling remains both a great opportunity and a great challenge. The silo nature of professional service firms means that it is often difficult to persuade fee-earners in different departments to join forces to target those clients where they have a common interest.
A sector go-to-market approach can help bring multi-disciplinary teams together. Similarly, a Key Account Management (KAM) or Account Based Marketing (ABM) approach may help. There are many articles on both of these topics. But in essence, this is an internal cultural issue – do you have a “one firm” approach?
Do you have personas case studies and templates for law and accountancy firms?
Yes, I have many examples of how law, accountancy and property firms have successfully used personas. Unfortunately, this information is often confidential. There are some publicly available marketing and business development case studies (search on this web site) but few provide details of personas as this is often ”behind the scenes” information.
However, there are many templates to help legal and accounting firms with the development of personas. For example:
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