Get the Best Return for Your Marketing Investment (and Make Sure Your Plan Doesnt Flo …
In the past few years of my career developing marketing programs and strategies for professional services firms (and working closely with them in executing their plans) I’ve noticed very common threads among all types of firms. These are so important because no matter how great a plan, the approach and commitment, the internal processes can greatly impact the marketing plan execution and return on investment.
Keep in mind these key best practices to allow the plan to “do its job” for your firm:
Understand What Marketing is and What It Isn’t. Let’s start at the beginning. It is unreal how often the same company owners who say “we need to get a marketing program” often don’t have a clue what “marketing” is (and isn’t), what the roles are within a typical marketing department, and how to utilize each role effectively. In particular, there is confusion over marketing, business development, and administrative tasks. This blog post describes some of the differentiation in roles, but to put it simply – marketing strategizes, positions the firm positively, creates awareness and essentially “warms up the market;” business development focuses on making direct connections and relationships, hopefully “closing red hot prospects.” Once you have this understanding, you’re at a great starting point!
Get Management Team Buy-In and Consensus. Before you embark on engaging in a formal plan, have an open discussion with the management team. Is everyone on board? It’s best to air out everyone’s feelings regarding putting resources into the effort and come to a consensus. It’s essential to remember that a good marketing plan often involves not just a series of miscellaneous tactics, but a strategic program of tactics that work together and impact one another, like interlocking cogs. When one is stalled, it throws off productivity. Too often we find that a firm invests in a plan and partial execution, but because certain key firm leaders opt not to participate, (possibly they never were on board with the plan, but maybe never voiced it, or were never asked) some items are held up and the entire plan is less effective.
Institute Strong Leadership. Usually professional services firms have a management team of partners or shareholders, often with equal participation in decision making. When it comes to pushing a marketing plan forward, it’s essential to have:
- a strong decisive personality making decisions on behalf of the firm; and
- a leader who values the marketing effort and is willing to hold participants accountable.
Account for Staff Capabilities / Willingness to Participate. Before delving into drafting a marketing plan, a marketing professional will likely interview those who will be active in its execution. It’s critical to choose a team with varied capabilities and include only those willing to participate. Trying to “strong arm” someone into participating in marketing is rarely successful. It tends to be inefficient and a loss of valuable time for billable firms. Account for not only what team members are capable of doing, but what they enjoy doing. Emphasizing these as marketing plan tactics will help push activities, and the firm’s common goal, forward.
Commit to the Program. Once a marketing plan is drafted, your marketing professional will typically present and explain it to you for initial feedback. When it’s in final draft, the next step is to present it to the team, gather any last items of feedback and air out any issues before proceeding. At the conclusion of this meeting the plan should be set and everyone should feel comfortable making a firm commitment that they will carry out the responsibilities and goals set forth.
Give Feedback. We all make plans, whether they are life plans, vacation plans or marketing plans. However, plans change. The market changes, staff changes, and often we need to stop and take a step back to assess what’s working and what’s not. The great thing about a marketing program is that it’s nimble, flexible and fluid — it’s meant to adapt as things change. When your company, the market, or any other circumstances change, or you simply find that one tactic isn’t getting great feedback, it’s critical to communicate this to your marketing professional. A good marketer will retool, restrategize and adjust the plan accordingly. Conversely, when you find, for instance that you are getting great feedback from an article you authored and distributed, communicate this as well. Positive and negative feedback are equally valuable in adjusting the plan to realize the best value.
Invest in the Development of Younger Staff. One of the biggest hurdles for professional services companies is the commitment of otherwise billable time into marketing. The benefit of involving younger staff in the process is twofold:
- their time is obviously less costly and;
- getting involved in marketing the firm is a great career development tool for younger staff.
They learn the firm’s values and differentiators, and begin to build skills and knowledge through researching and writing. They also start building their circle of influence younger. All of this grooms young professionals to be dedicated to the success of the firm and builds an entrepreneurial spirit – which is important, especially if they are on track to become part of the firm’s future leadership.
It’s always gratifying to see a firm realize value through their marketing program, so I think it’s important to share these findings. Please let us know of any other barriers to marketing success that you’ve experienced, or perhaps share some of your keys to success!
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