Why Is Marketing So Undervalued By Leadership in Professional Services Firms?

Why Is Marketing So Undervalued By Leadership in Professional Services Firms?

About halfway through my career I shifted from technology and publishing into professional services. I love working with professional services firms and am so energized by the work that they do. But there are many things that surprise me about professional services, namely how undervalued and underfunded the marketing function is at many professional services firms. Marketers are quick to blame leadership and their lack of awareness and understanding, but is it really their fault?

The answer is yes, and no.

When it comes to undervaluing marketing, leadership and the marketers in those firms are equally to blame. Before I explain I want to say that there are many amazing professional services firms who value and actively invest in marketing and they are killing it as a result. However, there are many firms that are not and it is just one of the reasons why they are struggling to compete. In those firms both leadership and marketers are at fault for devaluing the marketing function. Here’s why.

Leadership’s Culpability

Leadership is to blame because they have actively chosen to operate from a position of ignorance and ego. Many of the leaders of the firm are technical professionals who have ascended the ranks into management. They are excellent at executing the work, and may even have some business development or operational skills. As a leader and decision maker of the firm, they have a responsibility to learn all the ways to grow and sustain a healthy business, but many have chosen to ignore their own professional development and haven’t learned about all elements of a successful business—primarily the value of investing in marketing. To them, if its not billable it doesn’t matter, and that’s a very narrow and flawed view of business.

The data to support marketing is abundant. Regardless of industry, studies have shown that firms that continue to invest in marketing, even in a downturn, will not only maintain market share during the recession, they will also see tremendous gains in market share and revenue once the market picks up again. Marketing is also critical as competition increases, client procurement habits change, and as clients and firm leaders move to retirement.

It’s important to note that many of the activities that professional services firms call “marketing” are in fact business development activities and not marketing. The recent article from Zweig highlights the point well, arguing that marketing is not proposal development, and although important, a firm needs to balance its proposal efforts with true marketing as well.

Marketing’s Culpability

Marketing’s fault comes from not thinking strategically, not tying marketing goals and activities to firm goals, and not demonstrating value. Marketers often fail to invest the time and effort into understanding the firm, their leaders, and how to secure buy-in and support. Many immediately give up and choose to be forever frustrated and blame leadership for “not getting it.” Granted there are some leaders who will never get it, but most are willing to learn and do what is necessary to compete. They just need to be shown how social media, email marketing, a new website, etc. translate into billable hours and bigger profits for the firm.

The marketers who are able to build departments and secure titles such as VP are the ones who have learned to provide strategic value and to connect and speak to their technical leaders in a way they understand and value. Complaining doesn’t change a person’s mind; it only makes them stop listening. Yet many marketers default into the blame game and complain about being held back, unvalued, and misunderstood instead of taking charge of the situation and learning how to influence, negotiate, pitch, and convert their leaders into fans of marketing.

Professional services firms in all industries, from finance to construction, are facing tremendous change and competition. Staying ahead and thriving in this climate requires a sound talent strategy, competitive advantage, customer-centered tactics, and a multi-disciplinary menu of services—all of which are influenced and supported by marketing.

For those firms who “don’t get it,” here’s my call to action:

Leaders, invest in learning about marketing best practices, study what the competition is doing, and tap into the knowledge and experience of your marketing team to help you pull away from the pack.

Marketers, take ownership for your career, learn what matters to your firm, speak leadership’s language, and earn a seat at the table.

Social Media is Not a One Size Fits All Solution

Social Media is Not a One Size Fits All Solution

In the 10+ years since I’ve become familiar with social media, I have watched it emerge and evolve. New platforms are released almost daily, with only a few reaching mass adoption status. “Gurus” rise and fall in kind, spreading “tips and tricks” and hysteria fueled by zealousness for a platform and not for sound marketing strategy. Can every company benefit from a social media strategy? Absolutely! Should every company have a presence on every platform? Hell no!

Nothing against the zealots, I love their passion and they are doing a great deal to drive business and people into a vibrant, connected world, but the majority of companies don’t need and can’t handle a ten to twenty channel, multilayered social media program. Social media is not a one size fits all solution. For many, their customer is not searching or buying or even present on certain platforms, at least not in numbers to justify an investment. For some, Facebook is quite literally a waste of time while other companies can make a killing on Facebook. Some should put an Instagram account way on the bottom of the list, while others should jump in with both feet.

Are they both amazing platforms? Of course, but different platforms serve different purposes, attract different types of people, engage in different ways with clients, and require different types of content. A sound social media strategy pairs the goals and competencies of the company with an analysis of their target market to find the right social media platform and right social media tactics to connect the company with its customer in a way that is profitable and grows the brand. For one company, that may mean focusing on LinkedIn and Twitter. For another, Pinterest and Instagram may make the most sense. For those with more resources to commit to social media, they may want to engage on 3-5 platforms, maybe more. Most, however, don’t have the resources of a global company and shouldn’t be sold the same package.

For any company, selecting which social media platforms to utilize is based on the following questions:

What and how many resources does the company have to commit to a social media strategy? This includes time, staff, money, etc. Also consider frequency and consistency of delivery here. If one person is only able to commit 25% of their time to social media marketing, how often can they consistently post quality content and on how many platforms?

What social media platforms naturally have the highest concentrations of their customers engaging in activities that would feed them into the sales and marketing funnel? Its better to “go where the fish are” and invest your time where you know you are getting in front of the most potential customers. There is an abundance of research on the demographics of users on each platform as well as which industries are best served by each.

If the company is handling their social media in-house, what level of expertise do their responsible parties have in the relevant social media platforms? When handling your social media in-house without a dedicated specialist, it’s better to start where one is comfortable, build out a workflow and gain traction, then dive into more unfamiliar territory.

Across the board, its better to start small, build a consistent and quality practice, then expand. Know and understand your company (and team’s) competencies and your customer’s online preferences and habits and then build a social media strategy that reflects you and your situation, not the high-pressure sales tactics of a social media zealot.