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Getting Marketing and Business

Development on the Same Page


By Robert Buday, Bernie Thiel, Susan Buddenbaum, and Tim Parker           

Leaders of professional services firms can begin to increase the returns on their marketing and sales investments by asking one simple question: Are marketing and business development playing the same game, on the same team, and using the same game plan and scorecard?

Are your marketing and business development teams playing from the same game plan? For the majority of professional firms, our research and experience tells us the answer to this question is "no." Despite the fact that marketing and business development people are both charged with expanding their firm's client base, at any given time they may be promoting different services to the same companies or speaking about the same services in quite different ways-thus confusing their clients. They rarely know which side has interacted with each prospect, or when and what happened. This leads to poorly timed and inappropriate pitches. And many marketing and business development groups within the same firm use different metrics to gauge their respective performance. That can put them at cross-purposes. It also usually fails to give firm leaders a solid indication of whether revenues are poised to grow or shrink.

A survey The Bloom Group completed in late 2007 suggests that when marketing and business development are on the same page, a professional firm has a significant competitive advantage. By working in concert, successful firms' marketing and sales activities create many more viable leads. A much higher percentage of those leads turn into work, and much faster: they accelerate the sales process. And, our experience tells us, these firms sell bigger and more profitable projects.

pdf Download full article with survey results and graphs

The key, we've found, is that the most successful firms:

• View marketing and selling not as independent activities but rather as an integrated process in which marketing and business development have defined, complementary but different, roles.
• Organize their demand-creation process in a way their clients prefer to buy complex, high-cost, high-stakes offerings, which are hallmarks of all professional services.
• Concentrate marketing and sales activities on fewer service offerings rather than more to avoid fragmenting resources and reducing market exposure for each service.
• Base their activities on strong points of view-well-researched and rigorous insights on business issues and how to solve them-that redefine the way their target clients think about these issues and enables the professional firms to shape leads to their advantage and stop responding to standard requests for proposals.

The Same Game Plan: Creating Demand, One Point of View at a Time

The issue boils down to this: Regardless of their marketing and business development models, most professional firms are not playing the same game on the same team, using the same game plan, or keeping the same scorecard. By game plan, we mean they aren't pitching the same services and bringing the same "point of view" to market at the same time. By the same game and same team, we mean that marketing and business development don't see themselves as part of a larger integrated demand-creation process that has clear steps and roles for each of them. And by the same scorecard, we mean they don't share a common way of measuring their progress and impact on the firm's business.

Clearly, collaboration is critical to marketing and business development effectiveness. But how do professional firms achieve such collaboration, especially in a large, complex, multinational firm where marketers and business developers are likely to be dispersed across many countries and time zones?

Solving the problem begins with creating a multidisciplinary team that is organized around a specific campaign that brings to market one point of view at a time. Why a multidisciplinary team? The skills to create and execute such a thought leadership campaign include conducting research, writing white papers and articles, conducting media relations, disseminating marketing materials to clients and prospects, giving presentations on the topic, and holding meetings with target buyers, among others. These skills are typically not resident in a single individual or function within a professional firm. Thus, we advocate that each thought leadership campaign be developed and executed by a team comprising at least the following:

• A marketing generalist skilled in managing large-scale programs and events who can act as the overall project manager of the campaign
• Editors and writers who are experienced in communicating management concepts and writing about them in a compelling way
• A public relations professional who can communicate the point of view to appropriate media and analysts
• Digital media experts who can leverage Internet-oriented channels
• Business developers who sell services covered by the campaign or who can act as a liaison to the broader business development community
• Fee-earning professionals who are knowledgeable about the content on which the campaign is based

The team should be supported by an integrated contact management database that enables team members to track and manage their interactions with prospective clients throughout the duration of the campaign. (This is something that the leaders in our survey were more likely than laggards to have in place-75 percent versus 56 percent.)

The Same Team and Game: Being Part of the Same Demand-Creation Process

By organizing in this way, a professional firm substantially improves the chance that its marketing and business development organizations will be "on the same page" -i.e., working off the same campaign.

However, if the content of this campaign is weak, the campaign is not likely to be effective. Every successful thought leadership marketing campaign begins with a powerful point of view. By this we mean deep, novel, proven and codified insights about a specific business problem and how to solve it. A point of view is not to be confused with a bunch of views-i.e., opinions based on few facts that do not go deep on any one issue. Buyers of professional services deal with significant problems and, thus, are attracted to firms that display deep familiarity with their problems and how to solve them. Compelling points of view have irresistible appeal to target clients. Without a superior point of view, a campaign-regardless of how well packaged and orchestrated-will generate little client interest. (For more on how important a point of view is to a successful campaign, see the sidebar at the end.)

Once a team confirms it has a powerful point of view to promote, it must develop an integrated campaign that is consistent with the way prospective clients prefer to buy professional services. This can be quite different from the way the firm has been marketing and selling its services.

Purchasers of professional services need significant levels of trust before they select a firm. That is one of the big differences between professional services and most other services and products. Much is at stake for the decision-maker and his company: big money (often hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars of fees in a short period of time); business success and sometimes survival; and often careers. In effect, the buyer often is relying heavily on his judgment of the capabilities of individuals and the firm. A successful outcome will depend on how good his judgment is.

In our experience, a professional services marketing and sales campaign that steadily increases trust has three distinct phases, each of which corresponds to the appropriate phase in the client's buying process.

The first stage in the buyer's process-qualifying-is one in which the prospect is looking for expertise on an issue that's critical to their organization. The task of the professional firm is to use marketing to make an intellectual connection with the prospect-i.e., demonstrating the firm's expertise on the issue at hand. Such awareness-creation activities are one-directional communications to the broadest possible number of target clients and are usually led by the marketing professionals on the campaign team (working with the subject-matter expert where necessary). These activities can include:

• Articles: These are bylined by firm professionals for placement in management journals and industry publications, or self-published articles in firm newsletters and websites.
• Conference speaking presentations: These should be educational in nature, not sales oriented.
• Webinars: Even though there's audience participation, it typically is limited, with the presenter spending most of the time going through his material and taking a few questions at the end. We see this as largely one-way communication.
• Press mentions: Getting firm professionals quoted in articles written about the specific business problem.
• Business books: These lay out the point of view in detail.

Our research has found all these activities are key pieces of the mix because they give prospects multiple ways to learn about a firm's expertise. This is critical, because rarely does one activity alone-even a Harvard Business Review article (the pinnacle of marketing for many consulting firms)-generate a groundswell of interest in a professional firm.

By earning the trust of target prospects through these activities, a professional firm will find a good percentage of those who have been "touched" by awareness-creation programs to engage in the next phase of the process: relationship creation, which corresponds to the buyer's vendor-selection phase. For a professional services firm, the cornerstone activity here are marketing events-i.e., breakfast briefings, half- or full-day seminars or other conferences that enable prospects to get a greater understanding of the firm's expertise and its people, culture, clients and past work.

These activities serve an important purpose, for both the professional firm and prospective clients: to establish a personal connection. This is a critical difference between professional firms and other companies. Unlike a company that sells a product, the people of a professional firm work directly inside their client organizations. The client's personnel need to respect and work with the professional firm's people. Making a personal connection-ensuring the professional firm will be a cultural fit-is critical to how the prospective client will select a supplier.

Marketing events largely are planned and executed by the marketing professionals on the campaign team, with the subject-matter experts presenting the content. These events enable a professional firm to create an environment it can control (unlike speaking at an industry conference, where the firm must compete against many other speakers and vendors for prospects' attention).

However, a marketing event that happens in the middle phase of the type of thought leadership campaign we describe can be a much more effective and cost-effective way of generating business than cold-call telemarketing or sending salespeople out to chase down unqualified leads. The people who come to such a marketing event have already been prequalified in one important way: They already have made an "intellectual" connection with the professional firm's expertise.

key roles

The third phase-client conversion-begins with many prospective clients who have struck an intellectual and personal connection to the professional firm and its expertise. Already somewhat sold on using the professional firm, the prospect is now looking to understand how the firm woul4bgwebupdated implement its solution in its organization. Conversion rates are higher and cycle times much shorter than they are with cold or relatively uninformed prospects. And, a professional firm that reaches this stage generally faces no competitor, in part because the firm has convinced the prospect that the firm has a unique take on the client's problem and how to solve it.

As a result, closing the deal generally goes quickly and smoothly. The sales presentation-created by the business developer with support from marketing-must reinforce the key messages that prospects heard in the first two phases of the campaign. In the sales meeting led by the business developer and the subject-matter expert (who provides deep content expertise and client experiences), those messages must be tailored to the needs of the prospect. For example, client case studies of the firm's work at similar companies are important. So is describing in depth the barriers the firm can expect to face with the client (based on experience with other clients) and how it addresses them. Any proposal that follows the meeting must echo the messages in the sales conversation or meeting (and the awareness and relationship activities), as well as explicitly explain how the process will work in the client's company.

The marketing professionals on the campaign team-especially the writer-can play an important role in ensuring the proposal is as logical, clear and compelling as possible before it is sent to the prospect. In fact, one company we know found that when business developers enlisted marketing professionals' help in developing proposals, the firm was 40 percent more successful in winning the work being pitched.

And When They're in Synch? The Impact

The approach to marketing and sales we describe is one that can be implemented in any firm-regardless of sector, size or focus area. It requires no formal organizational restructuring, no new reporting relationships and no changes in job definitions. And, because it is campaign specific, it can be piloted on one campaign to gauge its efficacy before rolling the model out more broadly.

Getting marketing and business development to collaborate more closely in the ways we have discussed can have a profound impact on professional services firms. At the most basic level, this approach eliminates one of the thorniest issues that plague the relationships between marketing and sales: the hand-off. Defining where marketing ends and business development begins is something most firms struggle with. But if the two groups are part of the same team driving the same campaign, there is no hand-off and therefore no haggling.

January 2009.            Bookmark and Share

Download full article with survey results and graphspdf

This article is an excerpt from a larger article, in which we explore how professional services firms can more effectively organize and synchronize marketing and business development activities by taking a multidisciplinary, team-based approach to campaigns. We review how such teams can dramatically improve the level of collaboration among marketers, business developers and subject-matter experts. And we discuss how this increased collaboration enables professional firms to create far more effective and integrated campaigns-ones structured around the way clients prefer to purchase expertise.