Relationship marketing and professional services firms
Relationship marketing is the answer to the needs of customers and the way to optimize the performance and growth of professional services firms
Marketing is the art of giving clients what they what profitably. To be a successful marketeer you need to tap into the needs and wants of the client. If you can address their pain points, then you add value.
When you distill marketing down to its most basic level you can see that all businesses “do marketing”. When you add layers of complexity and jargon, this basic starting point can be lost. That is to everyone’s disservice.
Relationship marketing grew as a concept in response to those who viewed marketing as focused on transactional, one off purchases. It shifted the focus of marketing towards sustained interactions with clients or customers. This notion of marketing seems to fit more neatly with professional services companies who have perhaps always been wary of the concept of marketing.
How many times do partners say that work is won because of who they know and the relationships they have built, rather than anything that could be considered “marketing”? Indeed, in professional services firms the term “business development”, which in most companies translates to sales, is an amalgamation of what marketeers would describe as marketing and sales. This results in a confusion in terms of what actions are needed to create a brand and support professionals in building relationships, with the actions that professionals need to take as (sharp intake of breath) salesmen. It also means that what marketing is becomes lost.
Why does this matter?
Professional services firms won work because of the relationships the professionals had with their clients. This is still fundamentally true today. However, what has changed over time is that clients have become more complex. Companies have a breath of relationships. Individuals within companies will have relationships with more than one advisor. Within the company there are many individuals charged with instructing advisors, they will each have their own networks.
Decisions on who to appoint need to stack up to the board, to investors, to employees. Relationships are still the thing that wins (or loses) the work, however, the evidence to support that decision often comes from earlier on in the customer journey. Often these early touch points have come from marketing. In successful firms these will have formed part of the firm’s strategy.
Marketing speaks for the client. It has an important place in business. In professional services companies there is still perhaps a tension as to what that place should be. By bringing marketing back to its underlying objective – meeting the client’s needs profitably – marketing can gain a seat at the table. The seat of the client. Professional services firms that have been able to bring the service professionals (lawyers, accountants, etc) and marketing professionals together, have optimised performance and growth.