Why is marketing planning so difficult in a professional service firm?

Posted on: July 21, 2007

Having discussed this issue with lots of delegates on my recent “Introduction to marketing planning” and “Advanced marketing planning” training courses and faced them directly over the years as I helped my clients create (often for the first time) business and marketing plans I presented a light hearted and images-only session at a recent PM Forum session. Chris Gorden, marketing manager at the Institute of Chartered Accountants, wrote of this session on the PM Forum web site:

“‘Stealth’, ‘lions’, ‘mauling’, ‘bloodied corpses in the corner’ – was this some form of extreme activity day? No, just another discussion on surviving the marketing planning challenge. The Forum had gathered in the new conference suite of hosts, Sacker and Partners, to hear a lively presentation by Kim Tasso, of Practical Marketing Consultancy, who reassured us that, (1) we were not alone and, more importantly (2) we could do something about it.

Kim was keen to acknowledge that planning in the professional service firm was not as easy as the textbooks might have us believe. There were various reasons for this, including:

  • firms often reluctant to commit time and resources,
  • fear of ‘getting it wrong’,
  • conflicting agendas,
  • lack of motivation,
  • difficult to measure effectiveness of plans,
  • a culture of ‘what’s in it for me?’,
  • unrealistic timeframes and expectations,
  • lack of senior support.

We were encouraged to take a systematic approach to negating the forces against marketing planning and accentuating those in favour.

A moment of reflection. Why did we need marketing plans at all? Was it because this is what we were trained to do? Who needed these plans? Was it actually us, as opposed to our firms? Often, if we were honest the plans gave us structure and the confidence to feel that we had covered all bases.

Maybe it was time to forget the process of planning and to instead focus on the destination. In this way we might be more effective at engaging our firms. And, while we were at it, did we even need to call it a marketing plan?

We were firmly in the area of marketing by stealth and Kim was able to use her background in psychology to give us with some useful hints on how to motivate our firms.

Why not start with those who actually wanted to work with us? Once we’d demonstrated some success, we might be pleasantly surprised that the less enthusiastic parts of our organisations were now queuing up to grab a piece of the action!

It was important that we developed an understanding of the mindset of the partners and other professionals with whom we worked. We needed to learn to walk in their shoes and to understand what motivated them. We had to look at our own skill-set as part of this process, including the ability to empathise and also to sell.

If the words ‘marketing’ or ‘brand’ were a turn-off, how about using phrases such as ‘client development’ instead? Kim encouraged us to develop a far greater understanding of our product. This meant becoming well-acquainted with the technical advice which our firms provided – Including reading textbooks and the specialist press, speaking to trainees about their work, attending CPD sessions and basically immersing ourselves in the product.”

 

I do not restrict access to the FAQs but I politely request that you let me know by email and acknowledge the source (www.kimtasso.com) if you wish to use the material anywhere.

As always, if there are particular topics you would like me to address in the future, please let me know. You will also find a source of more and up to date information on a broad range of management and marketing issues in the professions by checking out the blog where I also post regular reviews of books that might be helpful.

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