Bruce W. Marcus has written an article that professional service firm marketers and the fee-earners in those firms should read. Titled "Why Professional Services Marketing 3.0 Matters for Your Future - and What To Do About It," the article takes us back to Professional Services Marketing 1.0 (where some firms sadly still live) and the Bates decision (1977) which struck down the ethical rules that prohibited any promotional activity for legal and accounting firms.
Marcus asserts that the Bates decision created the beginnings of the marketing practices used today and it introduced the concept of competition as "the major driving force in not only developing new marketing practices, but in changing the nature of the professional firm itself."
In the early days after the Bates decision (and I would argue up until the 1990s), most accounting and law firms had not begun to adapt and the condescending line quoted in the title of this post was likely often said and heard. (An aside: I know professional service firm marketers today who have been heard such language - even been the subject of it.) These firms were, as Marcus puts it, in the 1.0 stage of professional service firm marketing.
Stage 2.0 is "the growth and development of contemporary marketing" and Stage 3.0 is "the emerging marketing practice in which professionals fully participate in—and are even beginning to be the initiators of— the marketing process" which further accelerates the change in professional firms, according to Marcus.
Marcus notes that the evolutionary process from Stage 1.0 to Stage 3.0 results in change and that change, "particularly in a dynamic economic environment" makes it difficult to plan for the long-term. Yet, plan we must. He offers steps to planning for a 3.0 firm (or those heading towards 3.0). I have bolded the points that resonated most with me:
- Recognize that competition is one of the most important factors governing the contemporary practice. Anything you do should always be in a competitive context.
- Recognize that change is inevitable—you can't escape it and still thrive in today's business environment.
- Recognize the difference between long- and short-term planning. Many of the likely business circumstances are foreseeable in the short term—less so in the long term, which is why long-term planning rarely works out. There are too many random and unforeseeable events that alter plans.
- Recognize that the key factor in planning is not "What kind of firm do we want to be," but how much you understand about the market for your services. (One of the factors in the recent rash of firm mergers involves law and accounting firms too deeply immersed in a declining industry.) For a manufacturer, long-term planning involves the market as well, but also plant construction and transportation, neither of which looms large in legal or accounting practice.
- Go as deeply as possible into your clients' business and industries. Look for trends. Read the trade journals and attend industry organizations and conferences. Don't guess. Try to know.
- Competitive intelligence is crucial in a competitive environment. Innovation is not imitation; it's improvement over what others are doing.
- Understand that successful marketing is client-based strategy, not a collection of marketing skills and mechanics routinely applied, and that it is client-focused, not firm-focused. "This is what I'm selling" is not the same as selling from a clear understanding of client needs.
- Understand that change is not an event—it's a process. Its future is rooted in its past, which is why understanding its past is important for understanding its future. Nor is it always a straight line—it's opportunistic. It's responsive to a changing environment, so pay attention to your profession's and your market's environments.
Marcus says it best when he wraps up the article:
Today, there are firms still in 1.0 and firms thundering forward in 3.0. The 3.0 firm is the one that is most likely to survive the future.
This is all part of his new book, Professional Services Marketing 3.0, which I hope to be reading soon.