7 Steps to Successful Marketing for Your Firm
Chances are your firm has done some marketing, whether it’s ads, events or social media. The chances are equally good that you did not get the results you wanted.
Too often, what passes for marketing is a collection of tactics that are not firmly anchored to business goals. The result is initiatives that may look successful -- a Twitter account with many followers, for example -- but do not result in a sustained stream of new clients.
The simple truth is this: to reliably gain business, you need a professional marketing plan.
This is not just a list of ideas, but rather it is a systematic approach that identifies a competitive advantage, retunes your firm to focus on that advantage and then takes that advantage to market with a concrete plan. As such, here are seven steps you can take to create a successful marketing plan for your firm.
1. Understand the Business Situation Your Firm is Facing
A marketing plan only has one purpose: to help achieve your business goals. If you don’t have a clear idea of those goals then no marketing plan will be effective.
Take the time to evaluate what you are seeing in the marketplace. Are you getting squeezed by price sensitivity? Are new competitors appearing regularly?
You have to have a realistic understanding of the business landscape before you can market. A SWOT analysis is a good first step, listing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
But that analysis will be filled with common wisdom unless you take steps to challenge your assumptions. Statistics show firms that use a regular, systematic research to study competitors, understand client needs, and identify opportunities grow more quickly and are more profitable.
2. Research and Understand Your Target Clients
You know your clients, right? Most service professionals would say they do and most would be at least partially mistaken.
Time and again, I have seen research open a professional’s eyes to client needs and priorities that were previously unknown. Often, this is a specific business problem that needs solving.
Almost always, there is new information to be learned about how clients hire professional services and what they value. When conducting research, you should focus on the clients you value most, the ones you want more of. This will equip you to attract more of them as you execute your marketing plan.
3. Position Your Brand in the Marketplace
Here is where it pays to be a bit contrarian. In a perfect world, you would elevate your firm above the rest with demonstrable and valuable differences.
Humans are drawn to things that are different. So a firm that stands apart will have a natural advantage. The way to create this is to focus on your firm’s differentiators, the specific services, advantages or qualities that make it unique.
An honest differentiator must pass three tests:
- True. Differentiators cannot be fabricated. They must be things you can deliver daily.
- Provable. A differentiator must be something you can easily demonstrate, even when a prospect is skeptical.
- Relevant. A differentiator must have value to a client who is in the selection process, or it will not help you land new business.
No firm needs a dozen differentiators, three to five will do -- and one good one can be powerful. Write them down.
The next step is to use these differentiators to write a positioning statement. This is a short paragraph that states clearly what your firm offers, who you serve and why you are different from competitors. The elements in this statement will position you in the marketplace and become the heart of your marketing and service philosophy moving forward.
4. Define and Refine Your Service Offerings
Do not assume your existing service offerings are getting the job done. Using your research, make sure that the services you offer meet the needs of the clients you want. By evolving your services according to client needs, your competitive advantage will emerge.
5. Identify the Marketing Techniques You Will Use
This is where most marketing efforts are focused, and it is easy to get swept up in trends. But you are going to approach it differently. You have research.
By identifying how your target clients get their information about services and how they behave when hiring, you can speak to them in their preferred channels. It is there that you will make your expertise -- your differentiators -- more tangible. We call this visible expertise.
Our research shows that an equal balance of offline (traditional) and online (digital) tactics is most effective at the start. These tactics should be aimed at every level of the marketing funnel, turning unknown people into prospects, prospects into opportunities and opportunities into clients.
6. Identify the New Tools, Skills and Infrastructure You Need
One thing that is often overlooked in a professional marketing plan is what your firm is missing. Do you need new tools, infrastructure and skills?
A modern website, along with search engine optimization (SEO) and social media to make it visible, are important tools. Marketing automation platforms like Hubspot and Marketo, which automate and track email marketing campaigns, are pieces of infrastructure that can lend a huge competitive edge. And don’t forget that your firm is likely to need new skills. You have to provide what your clients need.
7. Document Your Operational Schedule and Budget
Without a schedule and a budget, your plan is just a collection of ideas. Codify these ideas, however, and the results can be powerful.
Your marketing calendar should contain everything: conferences, speaking engagements, emails, blog posts, webinars and whatever else is in your arsenal. Make it at specific as you can stand: specific tasks with specific deadlines and timelines.
Your marketing budget should match your calendar, and contain all the costs you will incur. Together, these two documents create a professional marketing plan that allows you to directly measure performance -- and the results can be used to refine your plan.
Lee W. Frederiksen, PhD, is managing partner at Hinge, a marketing firm that specializes in branding and marketing for professional services. Hinge conducts groundbreaking research into high-growth firms and offers a complete suite of services for firms that want to...