My wife says that I tilt at windmills when I try to convince the professional services world that Marketing is strategic and more than making things pretty. Business leaders say they have the “strategic stuff” covered. My marketing peers wonder why I expend so much energy and political capital fighting an undefeatable foe. After all, it’s easier to just ride a horse in the direction it is going.
In the immortal words of John McClane in the movie Die Hard, “Yipee ki yay,…!”
Here is a typical conversation I have with audiences after my presentations, with prospects, marketing peers, and alliance partners. There is a theme here.
A CEO comes for help because the firm’s leadership has just completed its strategic planning cycle and is ready to hand it off to marketing to “communicate it to the market.”
He has shown up at my door because he feels like his business developers are having to work too hard to tell the “firm’s story” or he is seeing little ROI from the partners’ investment in Marketing. The problem is normally defined as a Marketing leader who is either too “tactical” and doesn’t understand the business or too “strategic” and won’t get her hands dirty. Either way, the business is paying the price.
The CEO wants to “build awareness” of the firm’s “unique” story or “generate more leads” for business development. The CEO’s desired solution to the “problem” is an effective marketing strategy/plan/organization that delivers a simple, powerful marketing message so that the “market” understands the tremendous value the firm offers. Quickly, of course, the firm’s boat can’t be caught on the beach again as the industry tide rises.
After a sit-down with the firm’s leadership, I learn that:
- There is no agreement on growth priorities
- There are major strategic and operational disagreements among the leadership
- Several key growth-oriented roles are vacant or non-existent
- There are multiple solution, sales, legal, risk management, technology, accounting, pricing, and operational issues that inhibit client satisfaction
- The firm neither understands how the client actually perceives the firm’s solutions generally nor how the client buys its solution vis a vis multiple alternatives
- The firm’s value proposition is so complex that, not only can no one articulate it, no one fully understands it
- Everyone is obsessed with hitting their utilization number instead of client loyalty, intellectual capital production, leadership development, and relationship management
- There is a culture of optionality that reinforces “doing your own thing”
- The institutional client data in CRM (if there is a shared system) is garbage
- The firm offers competing solutions
- The firm verbalizes no point of view on its market or offers conflicting views
- The firm has no clarity about which clients actually value–and are willing to pay a premium for–the services the firm provides
- Sales capability and discipline are non-existent, sparse, or inconsistent
- Partners don’t trust their client relationships with their colleagues
- There are no relevant sales and marketing metrics from which to learn
The theme: Firm leadership seldom sees the forest for the trees because they think Marketing’s role is to “making things pretty.” No marketer, even if he were the heroic John McClane, could make a mess like this “pretty” without strategic perspective, intervention, and action.
In business, Finance counts and disperses the money. HR recruits and pays people. IT runs the gears of the modern machine. Legal reduces risk. Sales close the deal.
Marketing does what the rest of the organization either does not do, cannot do, or will not do. It identifies the customer to “get,” determines what it takes to “get” them, and guides the firm to “keep” them. Strategy, culture, the voice of the client, solution development, intellectual capital, sales capability, channel management, pricing, target selection, reputation, IT, ease of doing business, client satisfaction, and service delivery are not the business’ silos. They’re Marketing’s levers.
Marketing is NOT communications. Marketing is NOT making things pretty. Marketing is NOT an afterthought.
Marketing is THE thought.
Marketing is the business.
Marketing is the forest.
“Yippe ki yay…!”
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.
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