By Bob Buday, Bernie Thiel, Susan Buddenbaum and Tim Parker
Leaders of professional services firms can increase the return on their marketing and sales investments by asking one question: Are marketing and business development on the same team?
For most firms, our research and experience tells us the answer is “no.”
Although marketing and business development have the same mission – expanding their firm’s client base – they often:
- Promote different services to the same companies
- Speak about the same services in different ways
- Rarely know which side has interacted with each prospect, or when, and what happened
And many marketing and business development groups within the same firm use different metrics to gauge their performance. This prevents the firm’s leaders from knowing whether revenues are poised to grow or shrink.
A Bloom Group survey demonstrates that when marketing and business development work together, marketing and sales activities create many more viable leads. A much higher percentage of those leads turn into work, faster. And these firms sell bigger and more profitable projects. These firms understand:
- It Takes a Team to Do Thought Leadership
- How to Get a Team on the Same Page
- Trust Is Critical in Thought Leadership Marketing, and that they need
- A Thought Leadership Scorecard: Clear Roles, Common Metrics
How can professional services firms organize marketing and business development more effectively? By taking a multidisciplinary, team-based approach to campaigns.
How do you do that?
It takes a team to do thought leadership
Heads of professional services firms (or practices) often see marketing’s job as taking care of the firm’s brand. In their minds, that includes copy writing, and the look of the graphics on websites and in proposals, ads, brochures, and so on.
And dedicated business developers are relegated to lining up meetings for partners with potential clients.
For the most part, these functions evolved separately within professional services organizations. As an unintended consequence, marketing rarely interacts with clients or prospects; that’s for the business developers. And when business developers interact with marketing, it’s not to develop strategies; it’s usually for something mundane, like putting a prospect or client on a mailing list, or editing a proposal.
For example, at one large professional services firm, full-time business development professionals drum up new business, own the client relationship, and call on subject-matter experts to close deals (when necessary). The firm’s marketing department develops materials to support the business developers’ efforts, and conducts marketing campaigns to generate leads that the business developers pursue.
In theory, this model makes sense. In practice, it doesn’t work.
At this firm, as at many others, marketing professionals and subject-matter experts create white papers, bylined articles, research studies, and other thought leadership materials. The idea is that the business developers would bring these materials to their clients and prospects to generate interest in the firm. However, most of the time, the materials were ignored, either because they covered topics that were not relevant to the business developers’ target accounts, or because the business developers were unaware they existed.
It gets worse. When one subject-matter expert working with a client wrote a new white paper with the help of marketing, the business developer who owned the account was embarrassed when his client referenced it. The business developer didn’t know anything about it. The developer, and the firm, looked inept.
This happens when marketing and business development are not in synch. And, for the most part, they’re not. In a survey we conducted [See “Where’s the Alignment?”] of 224 marketers and business developers:
Only 54 percent said marketing and business development activities were strongly coordinated; 46 percent said they were coordinated sometimes, infrequently, or not at all.
The majority (57 percent) were not working off the same demand-creation timeline activities most or all the time.
In about 32 percent of cases, no one was managing the overall demand-creation process.
Exhibit 1: Where’s the Alignment?
Question: Do marketing and business development:
What is the cost of this lack of coordination and alignment? Just 29 percent of the professional firms surveyed reported a high or very high rate of success in creating market awareness for their services. Only 31 percent said they were highly or very highly successful at getting meetings with prospects. An even lower percentage — 25 percent – said they had high or very high success in getting a request for a proposal following a sales meeting. Just 15 percent said they had high or very high success in maintaining relationships with past clients. And less than half (46 percent) had high or very high success in converting proposals to business.
This is not good.
How to Get a Team on the Same Page
Marketers and business developers must work off the same game plan. That game plan is the point of view the firm is communicating to the marketplace, the expertise that represents a service it sells.
Our survey found that in firms that were more successful at creating market awareness, getting meetings with prospects, and generating and winning proposals (call them leaders), marketers and business developers were much more likely to promote the same services at the same time than firms that were less successful in those areas (the laggards).
Not surprisingly, the leaders reported stronger coordination and integration between marketing and business development than the laggards. Leaders were much more likely to say that most, or all their sales and marketing functions are coordinated/integrated (77 percent versus 40 percent). And, leaders were more likely to work off the same timeline of activities (62 percent versus 38 percent); work off the same issue-based campaign (77 percent versus 53 percent); and work off the same client/prospect database (75 percent versus 56 percent).
Clearly, collaboration is critical to the effectiveness of marketing and business development. But how do professional firms achieve such collaboration, especially in large, complex, multinational firms where marketers and business developers are dispersed across many countries and time zones?
Solving the problem begins with creating a multidisciplinary team organized around a specific campaign that brings to market one point of view at a time. Why a multidisciplinary team? Thought leadership campaigns require conducting research, writing white papers and articles, publishing them on websites and in business journals, producing marketing materials, giving presentations, and meetings with target buyers. And that’s probably not all. No one person, or one function in a professional services firm possesses all these skills.
Therefore, each thought leadership campaign should be developed and executed by a team with:
- A project manager/marketing generalist to manage large-scale programs and events
- Editors and writers who can communicate complex concepts in a compelling way
- A public relations professional who knows the right media and analysts to approach
- Digital media experts to leverage internet and social media channels
- Business developers who sell services covered by the campaign, or liaise with the broader business development community
- Subject-matter experts knowledgeable on 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 campaign – something the leaders in our survey were more likely than laggards to have in place, 75 percent versus 56 percent.)
By building this type of team, a professional firm substantially improves the chance that its marketing and business development organizations will be collaborative – working on the same campaign at the same time with the same materials.
The data shows that works. But what should the content be?
Trust Us, Trust Is Critical in Thought Leadership Marketing
Businesses that pay for professional services are dealing with significant business problems and are looking for firms that understand them and know how to solve them.
Purchasers of professional services need to trust you before they marry you. Your buyer has a lot at stake: money (hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in fees), business success and sometimes survival, and often the buyer’s career.
This puts trust at the center of the professional services sell, which is why marketing and sales strategies in professional services differ from those of, say, toaster manufacturers. Trust requires a professional firm to make intellectual and personal connections with prospects. An intellectual connection happens when the firm demonstrates that it has the expertise to solve the client’s problem. The personal connection occurs when prospects get to know the firm and its people beyond what they can glean from the firm’s website, articles, speeches, or books.
In Bloom Group’s experience, a professional services marketing and sales campaign that increases the buyer’s trust has three distinct phases, each of which corresponds to the appropriate phase in the client’s buying process. (See Exhibit 2, “Linking the Buyer’s Process to Yours.”)
Linking the Buyer’s Process to Yours
Exhibit 2: The most effective professional services campaigns reflect the ways clients buy services
In the first stage of the buyer’s process, he or she is trying to identify expertise on an issue critical to his or her organization. The task of the professional firm at this stage is to make the buyer aware that you have it. Awareness-creating activities are one-directional communications to the broadest number of target clients, and are usually led by the marketing professionals on the campaign team (working with the subject-matter expert where desirable). These activities can include:
- Articles: Bylined by firm professionals for placement in management journals and industry publications, or self-published in firm newsletters and websites.
- Presentations: Given at industry conferences, these should be educative, not sales pitches.
- Webinars: Even though these afford audience participation, typically, it is limited.
- Press: Getting firm professionals quoted in articles about specific business problems in journals read by potential buyers.
- Books: If the point of view, and experience, is rich enough, a business book can build oodles of trust.
Our research has found all these activities are important to the mix because they provide prospects multiple ways to learn about a firm’s expertise.
By earning the trust of prospects through these activities, a professional firm will find a good percentage of those touched by awareness–creation programs willing to engage in the next phase: selection. For a professional services firm, the cornerstone activity to get a buyer to select you are marketing events: breakfast briefings, 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 establish a personal connection between buyer and seller. Unlike companies that sell products, a professional firm works inside the client’s organizations. The client’s personnel need to work with the professional firm’s people, and people want to work with people they respect and trust.
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 with other speakers and vendors for attention). Trust levels go up significantly when presentations include the firm’s other clients testifying to the power of the firm’s solutions.
Marketing events can require big investments. However, a marketing event that happens in the middle phase of the buyer’s process – qualifying – can be more cost–effective than cold-call telemarketing, or buying ads, or sending salespeople out far and wide to chase down unqualified leads. The people who come to a marketing event have already been prequalified in one important way: they’re interested in the professional firm’s expertise. (Otherwise, why would they be there? For the coffee and Danish?) Professional firms can spend great amounts on travel and high–priced business developers who fan out to make such sales calls.
This is not to give short shrift to business developers, even those poor souls cold-calling companies in the hope of arranging introductory meetings. In fact, business developers play a critical role in marketing events. First, they can invite prospects to get involved in something where the prospective client could gain insightful, actionable information. Second, business developers should attend these events because they can introduce themselves to prospects who want to know them and their firm. When presentations are compelling, business developers will typically leave with phone numbers and email addresses in their pockets.
At this point, the third phase, selection, begins with prospective clients who have developed a connection to the firm. Already somewhat sold on engaging the professional firm, the prospect is now looking to understand how the firm would implement its solution. A firm that reaches this stage generally has no competitor because the prospect is convinced the firm has a unique take on his or her problem and how to solve it.
Closing the deal should go 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 prospect’s needs. For example, present case studies of the firm’s work at similar companies. Describe in depth the barriers the client can expect to face in implementing the firm’s solution, and how the firm can help the client address them.
The marketing professionals on the campaign team can play an important role in ensuring the proposal is logical, clear, and compelling 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 winning work.
A Thought Leadership Scorecard: Clear Roles, Common Metrics
Measuring how a campaign performs is important for two reasons: It enables a firm to understand the return it is getting on its marketing and business development investment, and it can identify areas that need improvement.
Our survey found that 31 percent of leaders, compared with just 7 percent of laggards, said they were highly or very highly successful in measuring the effectiveness of their marketing programs. Thirty–one percent of leaders, versus only 5 percent of laggards reported the same level of success in measuring their sales programs. Overall, just 14 percent of firms said they had high success in measuring their marketing programs, and only 15 percent said the same about business development performance measurement. (See Exhibit 3, “You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure.”)
You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure
Exhibit 3: How successful are professional services firms at measuring the effectiveness of their marketing and business development programs?
For a thought leadership campaign to have the greatest impact, a single set of metrics should be used to assess the team’s performance and the campaign’s impact. While some individuals within the campaign team will have more responsibility for the achievement of certain results than others (and should be measured individually on their performance in those areas), it’s important the firm use one set of metrics to evaluate (and reward) the team.
In awareness creation, the metrics should be heavily focused on marketing. For example, the percentage of the target audience reached through specific activities; the number of clients responding to an activity, and the number of press mentions and articles placed.
In relationship creation, the team should be measured on the number and level of people attracted to marketing events. These results will be influenced not only by marketing’s promotional efforts, but also by the business developers’ performance in spreading the word among their clients and prospects. That, in turn, is influenced by the strength of the content the subject–matter experts are producing.
In client development, metrics should focus on the number of meetings requested by prospects after attending the firm’s events (in which marketers and business developers, as well as subject-matter experts all play a role), and the percentage of leads followed up on and closed.
The ultimate measure of a campaign’s success is, of course, total revenue generated, which is a function of the cumulative contributions of all members of the team. The team, not individual performance, should be measured.
The Case for Integrated, Team-Based Thought Leadership Marketing
The approach to marketing and business development Bloom Group has outlined can be implemented in any firm regardless of sector, size, or practice area. It requires no formal organizational restructuring, no new reporting relationships, and no changes in job descriptions. And, because it is campaign-specific, it can be piloted on one campaign before rolling out the model more broadly.
Getting marketing and business development to collaborate can have a profound impact. At its 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 with which most firms struggle. But if the two groups are on the same team, driving the same campaign, there is no hand–off, and no haggling.
The integrated approach also enables firms to shift from reacting to demand to shaping it to their advantage. When a professional services firm convinces prospects that it has unique insight into a problem and how to solve it, that creates a substantial marketplace advantage. (Of course, it must be able to deliver. This can be an issue for professional firms that see thought leadership only as a marketing tool, not a way to grow their services.) Firms that possess a strong take on a problem don’t face the situation where a prospect has already determined what he wants done – which means the discussion ends up being about price and not about the value the firm can provide the client.
The returns on integrated thought leadership campaigns can be substantial. Here’s a real-world example:
A global professional services firm launched an integrated campaign from its customer relationship management (CRM) practice. The campaign, based on a CRM assessment tool and a point of view derived from an executive survey, included many activities: direct mailing of the point of view, media relations on the survey results, a management roundtable on the topic co-sponsored by a business publication, and co-marketing of the point of view with vendor partners. The total cost of the campaign (excluding the survey and point of view development) was approximately $120,000. The first wave of the campaign was directed toward the 159 survey respondents and other leads generated through marketing activities. Six months after launch, the campaign had generated $35.3 million in sales across both existing and new clients, with the first win, a $600,000 consulting engagement, coming just six weeks after the campaign began.
These and much larger returns are possible when professional firms develop compelling points of view, and get their marketing and business development teams on the same page in marketing and selling them. In firms that have been successful in creating a collaborative marketing-business development team, marketers and business developers wonder why they ever tried to avoid each other.