Service Marketing Secret

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  • 1. The Secret of Service Marketing James L. HortonIt was years ago, but I haven’t forgotten what opinion, and no one to forge agreement.a managing partner of an accounting firm said Indians who do the work are left confused andto me. We had been asked to audit the laboring at cross-purposes. When a partnermarketing PR of the firm’s New York office refuses to subscribe to a strategic marketingand to recommend a plan. The office had two program or unilaterally changes direction,PR people who answered press queries when activities stall and/or lose effectiveness.they came in, arranged events and wrote Consistency of application and persistencereleases. Its marketing head was an disappear. A successful professional with aaccountant who didn’t know what to do, and thriving practice can dominate an office andthere was no plan. Professionals spent overshadow other disciplines.hundreds of thousands of dollars annuallyprinting brochures to market their practices Partners don’t know marketing and PR, eventhen left them in closets. Inefficiency was if they work with clients on marketing issues.everywhere: Treatment of marketing and PR A lawyer may advise on licensing, but notstaff was a step above sub-human. know how to run a licensing program. A consultant may know the market demand for aWhen I told the managing partner that his product or service but not know how to buildoffice could fund a proper marketing PR and fill the need. An accountant auditingprogram just by managing expenditures on books of a marketing firm understandsbrochures, the partner dismissed me with the numbers but not the activities that producedwords, “As long as they keep revenues them. An executive recruiter may knowgrowing 15 percent a year, I don’t care what marketing executives in an industry but notthey do.” That ended the job. It also what they do. Marketing is not a primary jobillustrates why service marketing in for partners even though they bring in newprofessional firms is hard. Service firm business. Some partners sell and discover amarketing departments are often production talent for it: Others will not try. There is aunits with little regard to strategy. PR is hit- reason that professionals who are good atand-miss depending on the interest of bringing in new business are calledindividual partners. Some practices do well: “rainmakers.”others sputter. Fiefdoms are everywhere andcooperation absent. The structure of a service firm also affects marketing and PR programs. Frequently,The secret of service firm marketing is no service firms are in many businesses, andmystery. Successful service marketing takes there is little cohesion among them. This iscommitment and consistency, but they are especially true in consulting, where disciplineshard to achieve. Firms such as accountants, often have no relation to one another and nolawyers, consultants and executive recruiters common customer set. While consultingfail to commit to consistent marketing. Some professionals might nod toward anare structural and some annoyances, but the overarching theme or message, they cannotresult is that service marketing fails more relate it to business they generate in thisoften than it succeeds. practice with these clients. Moreover, because there are many businesses, over-Barriers arching themes are often vague and have littlePartnerships are inimical to marketing and meaning. (These are paeans such as “WePR. There are many chiefs, each with an hire the best and brightest,” or “Our solutions 1
  • 2. work,” or “We are a global firm.”) Marketing soars. Unfortunately, service marketing isand PR programs trumpeting such themes are most effective when continuous rather thanoften noise and not orchestration. sporadic. When a firm has a continuous and consistent message in the marketplace,A third reason for a failure to commit to sooner or later, it becomes identified with themarketing and PR programs is the nature of message, which makes relationship sellingservice firm selling. Service marketing is easier. Clients and prospects know what torelationship driven. It is individuals you know expect and can winnow candidates for a joband who know you and respect your skills. before contacting firms.One need never “market” in the sense ofbuying ads or doing PR as long as one is A final reason service firms fail to commit toknown by key customers and prospects. marketing and PR programs is time. Time isMany firms have avoided making a public money: One sells personal time to clients.name for themselves and successfully built Time spent in marketing is time taken frombusiness in the shadows. Their professionals producing revenue. If there is choice betweenare closely connected to business and political spending time in marketing and spending timeleaders: They get access that others envy. earning revenue, service professionalsMarketing is reserved for firms without access choose revenue. Especially in law firms,but with a need to sell services. But even in professionals are evaluated on the hours theythis case, marketing and PR supplement bill and slippage is a cause for discussion.relationship selling: They do not supplant it. Associates and partners often put in 12 hoursMarketing programs raise awareness of the a day six days a week and do marketing andwork a firm does and the expertise of its PR on top of that. It is little wonder marketingpractitioners, but that is all. Sales come from and PR are slighted.partners working with prospects or clients. The SecretSales to prospects and clients are most often Commitment and consistency to servicethrough response to Requests for Proposals marketing do not require swinging for home(RFPs) sent by clients and prospects. RFPs runs with a high strikeout average. It isoften require a great deal of time to prepare. punching singles, occasional doubles andRFP submissions can be thick binders filled triples and perhaps, once a season, a homewith relevant, and sometimes irrelevant run. Presence over a prolonged periodmaterials to convince a prospect that a firm establishes one as an expert more thancan do the job. One RFP can take dozens of brilliant insight or salesmanship. Few peoplehours to assemble even if most of the material ever have earth-shaking insights and thoseexists in template form. Time spent preparing who do usually cannot sustain deep thinkingRFPs often comes straight out of marketing for prolonged periods. “Star players” whoand PR programs. The problem with this is bring home giant projects are rare, and theythat time spent on developing an RFP for one burn out quickly. Committed and consistentprospect is time taken from raising the service, counsel and marketing establish oneawareness of the firm among many prospects. for the long term.Marketing and PR help sustain the flow ofRFPs. Service businesses are often shortsighted about consistency, and there is a reason forYet another reason for a failure to commit to myopia. One big account can sop a firm’smarketing and PR programs is inconsistency. billable hours quickly, and one big account isIt is not unusual in service firms to have a usually easier to administer than many smalllevel of marketing activity that is the inverse of ones. But, the percentage of big-account winsbillable hours. When a firm is busy, marketing is low. And, big accounts can extract steepslack offs and even, disappears. When a firm rate cuts as a condition of staying put, or theyis in a slump, time devoted to marketing go away before a service firm can recover the 2
  • 3. investment in winning the business. In the available in service-marketing departments.worst-case scenario, they do both. They Professionals, not wanting to spend theextract deep rate cuts and go away quickly money, use marketers who are good inanyway. tactics, such as sales brochure and video development, but not in the service businessThe question is how to establish consistency itself. Writers who understand a businessin an inconsistent environment. One answer discipline and can write about it in depth areis to accept the environment as it is. Learn to rare, expensive and often in consultingadapt. There have been many attempts to themselves. Hence, marketing ends in achange how service businesses and service stalemate. Marketers want to help but don’tprofessionals market. Few are successful. know how, and professionals want help butNattering at professionals to pay attention to are not convinced they can get it.marketing, endless marketing meetings,numerous marketing plans all go down in time One way to avoid the stalemate and toas useless expense producing little revenue or achieve consistency is to ration the use ofearnings. Advertising and promotion expensive talent. Start by developing oneprograms that avoid input from service event/study that defines a firm and/or practice.professionals increase awareness but just as Use this event/study to gain recognition thatoften add to noise. (Professionals view them can be solidified throughout the year in littlewith suspicion as well.) But, it is events, articles and interviews. The key to anunderstandable why marketers resort to event/study is to find something that theadvertising and promotion. They give up marketplace needs to know but doesn’t ortrying to herd professionals into marketing. would like to do, but isn’t. This requiresGiving up doesn’t solve the marketing research into what competitors have done orproblem: It papers it over with largely are doing. With the Internet, it is easier tounproductive media. track what is being said in an industry and to generate ideas that can advance industryThe secret of consistency is to develop knowledge. Expensive talent performs initialprograms that fit a service professional’s work, research, generates useful ideas andschedules and culture and gain the implements one or a few over a period ofprofessional’s commitment. This requires years until the study/event are established. Aanalyzing an individual’s business and study/event turns into a positioning vehiclebehavior to find things the professional can when prospects and clients start asking for itimplement regularly with minimal impact on regularly.billable hours. The downside to this approach is that in anySimple programs are best. Simplicity is the competitive marketplace, high-profile studies,time it takes to complete a marketing cycle such as compensation surveys, have beenand the amount of work required from a taken and often are the subject of copycatprofessional. Ideally, both are close to zero. surveys. It requires adroit use of a firm’sSimple programs place nearly all production intellectual capital to find a different approach.into staff supporting the professional. The The greatest value is usually found in what aprofessional audits what is being done and firm does day-in and day-out. (Use existingprovides approval. This is especially true of intellectual capital first before creating newwriting. Professionals rarely have time to intellectual capital.) If clients pay the firm towrite articles that position themselves and perform studies, what is the information thattheir practices at the leading edge of their clients are most interested in and why? Howindustries. It takes individuals below the can the firm exploit the information it producesprofessional to turn the professional’s insights without giving away proprietary data?into copy. The downside to this approach is Intellectual capital is an integral part of servicethat skilled support staff are often not marketing and should be an annually 3
  • 4. renewable product targeted sharply topractices. Avoid one-off essays and studies Working a room is hard work: Some are goodthat waste time. Concentrate on longitudinal at it and some not. Professionals who can dostudies and build a franchise with the media, it should be assigned to meet specific guestsprospects and clients. not otherwise covered by professional staff. This means breaking down a guest list inA downside to one event is that in a advance with assignments to eachcompetitive marketplace, high-profile events professional. Some will rebel against this, andhave been taken. Industry trade shows, they should be asked to learn more aboutconferences, golf and tennis outings, box clients they serve. But, one should not beseats for football and baseball, awards surprised that some professionals cannot, ordinners are common and often viewed by will not, even do that.clients and prospects as little more thangiveaways. Finding or developing an event The challenge of learning about clients is whatwith the right mix of positioning and cachet to do with the marketing data to maintaintakes hard work. The AT&T Pebble Beach consistent communications. ProfessionalsOpen is an event, which consistently draws often carry vital details about clients in theirclients year after year, as well as The Ryder heads or in their Personal Digital Assistants.Cup matches every two years. Both existed The details never reach a central sourcebefore corporate sponsors associated where it can be put to use. While servicethemselves with them. Unfortunately, they are firms have improved in discovering andexpensive. Only the largest firms can invest centralizing information about clients andthe millions required. Smaller firms need prospects, database systems need care andcreative solutions that seize opportunities maintenance. That is not a job forlikely to grow in recognition. professionals. They’re too busy. Some service firms leave this task to professionalsAs a rule of thumb, it is better to fund one big anyway and suffer the consequences ofevent than many smaller ones, each of which inconsistent and incomplete lists of clients andwastes resources in planning and execution. prospects, sporadic and dated information andHowever, some clients don’t like sports or duplication of names from one professional totheater or waterside parties. Choosing what the next. Customer relationship managementto do begins with finding things that clients systems are available for service firms andand prospects are eager to attend. It is not even if they are used for the lowest commoneasy and it may take the help of a consultant. denominator, list management, they are betterIt is also important to remember that events than misdirected communications andare for clients and not professionals who tend mailings that waste marketing budgets.to pick events they want to attend. Also for consistency sake, it is better to takeEvents are opportunities to deepen materials distribution duties away fromrelationships with clients and prospects. They professionals. They don’t know how to do itshould not be giveaways or perquisites, nor and they often do a bad job. Marketing shouldshould clients or others attend an event prepare mailings: Professionals should signunaccompanied by a professional. It is in an letters and/or scribble notes and no more. Ininformal environment that one often gains the best of all cases, the professionals pre-insights into a client or prospect that facilitates approve a letter that is sent for them withthe sale of new business or deepening of notice to the professional that it was done.existing business. Insights are often chance Marketing also should handle response toor off-hand remarks that shine light on an communications unless there is a request forissue about which the service professional is a visit or presentation that involves aunaware. This is why it is important to “work professional. Routing this kind ofthe room” at events. communication through a central source can 4
  • 5. be risky when marketing is bureaucratic and and refresh content because web sites ageout of touch with professionals on a day-to- quickly. A service firm, even of modest size,day basis. It requires vigilance to maintain should have a Web editor who builds andclose contact with professionals. maintains a library of content that is aggressively merchandised to clients andKeeping professionals out of customer and media. A service firm should have questionsprospect marketing contact is not the best way and answers about its areas of expertise thatto operate but it is better than suffering are simple and clear explanations useful tomarketing inconsistencies that plague service the media and others with contact informationfirms. Ideally, professionals should be for finding out more.interested and involved in marketing andsupportive of marketers, but this is not always Another good way for service firms to producethe case. And, it is not uncommon that when consistent marketing is to maintaina professional is interested, the individual is relationships with professionals who leave theunskilled and naïve. (In fact, these individuals firm for corporate positions. Some firms arecan prove more troublesome to marketers brilliant in building alumni networks: Otherthan professionals who discount marketing.) firms can’t get started. Depending on service professionals to get this job done rarely works.Web sites are a particular instance where Marketers should develop and send regularnaïve professionals can do great damage to communications to alumni, to keep themmarketing consistency. Some service firms updated on the firm’s activities and to openknow what to do with the Web, but most don’t. doors for them to contact the firm forMany web sites are for recruiting only and not assistance. In fact, it is probably better iffor marketing. They are exercises in fancy marketers do not depend on professionals todesign, but empty of content and if they have inform them when someone has left. It shouldcontent, it is poorly structured and hard to find. be reported directly from the HR department,In fairness to service firms like the law, and it should be the marketer’s task to contactconsulting, accounting and tax, there may be professionals to determine how an individuallittle one can offer on a Web site that is of use should be handled as an alumnus or alumna.to clients and prospects. On the other hand,newsletters that firms publish with updated Advertising and PR have roles in maintainingcourt decisions and tax advice could be consistent marketing. Advertising raisestransferred easily to the Web with greater awareness of a firm’s name and can betimeliness and updating. Some firms have powerful if a firm has a compellingdone this, and ultimately, all firms will probably differentiation. PR can raises awareness andgo that way because it is better client service establishes a firm’s expertise. Bothand less expensive. advertising and PR require access to a firm’s intellectual property in order to fashion it intoWhat Web sites need most of all is a effective communications vehicles.marketing strategy that balances the needs ofthe service firm in content, structure and Most firms develop in-house experts aspresentations. One part of the site could be resources for media, but it is not enough. Theoriented to recruiting and a second part to experts must be willing to talk to the mediaclients and prospects with hyperlinks to and have something to say. Further, theycommon data such as the firm’s history and must say it well. Media training is an essentialprofessional’s bios. Strategy should be element in establishing a PR program.consistent with the overall marketing thrust of Service marketers should not be surprisedthe firm, and it should allow for interactivity when their most knowledgeable professionalswith clients and prospects that is mutually are the least articulate in media interviews.beneficial. Site updating should be the duty of Some cannot express themselves simply anda Web editor whose sole job it is to develop clearly: Others are adept. Here too, 5
  • 6. marketers work with the talent they have.They may have little choice, especially whenpolitics intrude. For example, an associateprofessional is excellent in interviews, but asenior professional won’t let the person speak.SummaryThe secret of service marketing is no secret atall. It is sticking with a process until onebreaks through: It is commitment more thancreativity. The job of PR practitioners andmarketers is to find the processes thatindividuals are comfortable doing and to fitprograms to them without dissipating overallstrategy. This is difficult but achievable. Itrequires flexibility and firmness to adaptprocesses without compromising messages.Across-the-board consistency is achieved oneprofessional at a time. One starts where he orshe is allowed to begin and builds over aperiod of years. This resolves as well a baneof service marketing departments. They canbecome centralized units functioningautonomously out of view of professionalswho don’t trust them. When marketers are outof sight, they are out of mind. Servicemarketers should remain in the line of sight ofprofessionals they serve and attached todepartments or practices where they see first-hand what works and what doesn’t. Themarketing head coordinates their efforts –aneasier job today, even with multi-office firms.Service marketing is like the old miner whoripped the heart out of a mountain with a pickand a mule. The miner’s secret was that hewent to work everyday and did the same jobover and over and over. ###Jim Horton, the founder of www.online-pr.com, has worked in service marketing formore than 20 years. 6