“How much should a professional services firm spend on marketing?” is one of the most common questions asked by practice leaders and marketers in professional services. An agency colleague told me recently that the correct answer from most marketers is always “more.” Yet, most partners and business leaders almost always answer “less.” The right answer is an Occam’s Razor response (i.e. the most simple one).
Firm leaders often wait with bated breath for annual breakdowns of marketing spend and the latest marketing tactics (fads du jour). They wonder, “Is 1% of revenues enough? Is 2%? What about 5%?” One would come to believe that people ask the question to rationalize the lowest number. In my experience, the question is asked and the benchmarks are required because firms lack a strategic marketing mindset and/or execution capability. Here’s why:
When clients ask me how much to spend on marketing, I ask them two questions:
- “What strategic objective do you have (growth rate, market share, brand awareness, etc.)?”
- “How fast do you want to achieve it?”
When you are clear on the result and the timeframe, then the investment level comes into sight very clearly. The faster you want to reach your strategic objective, the more money you need to spend. A longer timeframe allows you to spend less. Occam’s Razor.
I suspect that you are now thinking,“…but that doesn’t really give me the answer because I don’t know how to equate time and money with a return.” Great point. That is a different question with a different answer. I call that the Do-Get equation: “What do I get in return for doing (fill in the blank)?” If you cannot answer that question, then your firm is probably not effectively measuring your Marketing’s effectiveness. Let me illustrate by using a simple example for a firm to calculate the Do-Get equation.
How to determine the “right” marketing spend for a professional services firm
Let’s hypothetically say a practice leader wants to grow 20% from $10 million to $12 million (the strategic objective) and wants to know what it is going to take to get there. We need a few historical data points to determine the number of leads and opportunities needed to fill the revenue funnel.
- Your average project/deal size in dollars. (source: CRM)
- Your client churn rate in client number. (source: Accounting)
- Your pipeline conversion rates. (source: CRM)
Using historic conversion rates and churn, you now have an idea of the number of leads you need (180 opportunities/yr. and 15 opportunities/mo.) to reach your goal in the chosen time frame (1 yr.).
If you effectively measure your marketing efforts, you should be able to produce a table that outlines programmatic marketing performance. See table below.
Marketing Effectiveness Breakdown
We can see that sales and marketing produced 149 opportunities last year. To hit the $12 million revenue growth objective in our example within one year ($2 million new + $250K churn replacement = $2.25 million in growth, we require roughly 31 additional opportunities (180 new – 149 historic = 31 gap) to reach our goal. We now have a target.
The table shows that the firm is currently spending 9.6% of revenues on Marketing ($963K Cost/$10 million revenue = 9.63%). If the firm were to change nothing, it would need to increase marketing by $58,528 (31 additional opportunities x $1888 avg. cost/opp.) or 6% to close the gap in one year.
Alternatively, the firm could use the Pipeline/Cost Ratios in the Marketing Effectiveness table, to develop alternative marketing mixes and commensurate investment levels to hit the lead, opportunity, and revenue goals.
There is simply no “correct” or single “How much should a professional services firm spend on Marketing?” number in professional services—or any industry for that matter. Your marketing spend is neither your competitors’ spend nor the industry’s average spend because goals, sales and marketing effectiveness, and risk tolerances differ. Your number is the amount that gets you where you want to go when you want to get there.
If you cannot afford the requisite level of investment, you have three options.
- You can scale back growth goals (lower your revenue number). Not a popular option.
- Reduce client churn. A very desirable goal, but often as much a function of a business model as much as client service.
- Increase sales and/or marketing effectiveness (conversion rates). Get Sales and Marketing better at converting more leads to more opportunities, converting more opportunities to more wins.
Which one of those choices offers the highest Do-Get ROI for your timeframe and investment capacity?
You now have a clear idea about “how much to spend on marketing.” Simple.
Founder & CEO
Jeff’s teams and strategies have helped the world’s top professional services firms achieve industry-leading growth rates, optimize marketing investment and maximize brand value. He was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen.
What is the "optimal" marketing organization? is a question that I get asked very often. It is a great question, but it misses a bigger issue. Marketing in professional service firms can be MESSY. Marketing departments are tossed hither and yon as firms wrestle with...
I often hear partners and practice leaders complain: “Marketing doesn’t understand our business!” The first time I heard this, I thought it quite a remarkable comment. I wondered how people charged with identifying new markets, reaching new clients, launching new...