As we experience the economic fallout of Covid-19, we know the coming months are going be challenging. Focus and perseverance will both be essential. So, when it comes to your marketing and business development strategy, what should you and your firm focus on?
1. Review your strategy
If you have a business development strategy in place, it is time to review it and make sure it’s still the right way forward. You may need to pivot to develop a new specialisation, industry focus, product or service. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Some secondary desktop research will help you determine where some of the opportunities may be. Ask a selection of clients in different industries about what they feel will be their biggest challenges. Then, one or two strategy sessions with the leadership team will help you brainstorm some of the issues and develop solutions.
Now is not the time to wait and see what happens. The firms that had clear actionable plans coming out of the GFC did the best in the years following. If you don’t have a business development and marketing strategy, it’s time to develop one. From Hinge Marketing “Marketing Planning Guide for Professional Services Firms”:
“Without purposeful marketing, business growth becomes a function of luck and individual partner efforts. And there is a mountain of evidence pointing to the value of a strategic marketing plan in creating business growth and profitability.”
After the GFC we saw a shift in client expectations. Sophisticated clients now expect professionals to be more responsive to them, have a better understanding of them and a better understanding of the commercial pressures they face. This will be even more important now.
You’ll need to be truly collaborative, creative and empathetic to work with, not just for, your clients. You’ll need to help create solutions, not just present solutions. Innovation is about changing the culture within the organisation, to engage and collaborate with clients, working with them to work through their unique challenges.
Strategic marketing and business development in today’s business environment is about building a solid framework where marketing activities support sales activities and professionals learn to build better relationship selling skills.
Hannah Norton in “Six Strategies of High-growth Law Firms” says:
“Firms that had experienced high-growth – or revenue growth of greater than 10 percent – each had six different factors prevalent in their business strategies. Of those six strategies – five of them are marketing disciplines. I think what we are seeing here, although it is somewhat unspoken, is the emergence of marketing as a strategy for growth, particularly in small to medium law firms.”
2. Lead the way with trust and integrity
Engaged employees provide better client service. A study by the Hay Group indicated businesses that have high levels of engagement show client satisfaction scores 22% higher than companies with low levels of engagement, but companies that both engage and enable employees demonstrate a total increase in client satisfaction of 54%.
There are going to be some difficult decisions to make and the last thing you want are disengaged employees as a result.
Paul Beesley at Beyond Theory found there was a reaction from the GFC that led many businesses to abandon engagement programmes in favour of cost-saving exercises.
“Recession and the credit crunch didn’t help – companies were focused on survival, but it is at this time that you need engagement most. Statistics have shown that companies with high level of engagement see their levels actually increase during tough times. It’s that idea of pulling together when things are difficult. Since the recovery through the last ten years, the companies that weren’t good at engagement are seeing their employees leave, because they weren’t engaged during the tough times.”
We know that a key driver of employee engagement is trust and integrity, which starts with empathy. We now have conclusive evidence that empathy is a key trait of an effective leader. In her Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, The Hard Data on Being a Nice Boss, Emma Seppala cites research by Harvard Business School’s Amy Cuddy:
“Leaders who project warmth – even before establishing their competence – are more effective than those who lead with their toughness and skill. Why? One reason is trust. Employees feel greater trust with someone who is kind.”
Another key driver of engagement is line of sight. Employees need to feel that you know where the organisation is going, now more than ever. Staying positive is important. People need to have a goal to work towards. Something positive to look forward to, to give them the motivation to keep working hard.
3. Actively increase your visibility
In a professional services environment, your brand is your reputation as a professional and the quality of the services you provide. In troubling times, a positive brand reputation is more important than ever. People need to trust you and your firm. Your personal brand, your online (digital) brand, and your behaviour in-person, all influence your success.
According to Aaron Taylor at Hinge Marketing:
“When you share your knowledge and teach people in your target audience how you solve the kinds of problems they have, something magical happens. You position yourself as a special kind of expert — one who not only demonstrates a mastery of the material but is unselfish, approachable and utterly helpful. You become essential and easy to trust.”
Right now, you need to be continuing to develop your personal brand, as well as support the development of your firm’s brand. To achieve positive personal branding and powerful firm branding you need to be strategic and proactive. Hinge calls it becoming a Visible Expert®. Visible Experts are professionals who have achieved prominence in their area of expertise. They are individuals whose expertise and exposure rise above the rest and stands out in the market, which is crucial when clients are looking for specific expertise in times of uncertainty.
If you have identified a new target market, a content strategy will help you increase your visibility by using well-positioned content, including thought leadership, in your area of expertise. You need to develop relevant content that will resonate with that audience. It can help you cut through and become recognised as the expert clients are looking for. The key is to develop a targeted, structured, and informed visible expertise strategy, including a detailed content calendar.
Don’t get hung up on perfection. A good strategy, which you have given some thought to, will be good enough right now and will allow you to actively build and achieve visibility to attract clients needing help.