In the past two months members and friends of ICON, the association for business-to-business marketing professionals in Australia and Asia, have gathered to celebrate its 30th Anniversary. ICON was previously known as APSMA (Australasian Professional Services Marketing Association) and I was one of many who volunteered as a Board member. The anniversary got me thinking about the projects the association delivered – and what has changed over three decades.

This one is noteworthy because the principles have withstood the test of time.

In 2005 APSMA commissioned Jennifer Smokevitch, Managing Director of Roundtable Consulting, to investigate the position and challenges for CMOs in professional services firms.

Here’s an excerpt- the executive summary of the research’s findings and 6 recommendations.

Does Marketing Have a Seat At The Table?

How strategic are we today as marketers in Professional Services?

It was only a little more than a decade ago in the early 1990’s that professional firms began to realise they needed marketing as much as consumer retailers and manufacturers. Yet now, as marketing has become the norm rather than the exception as a dedicated function within professional services, what role are you playing?…and how can you step-up to not only make a bigger impact, but also to make your impact known, understood and appreciated?

In collaboration with the APSMA, the only organisation within Australasia dedicated to assisting Marketers and Business Developers working in the professional service sector, Roundtable Consulting Partners surveyed the APSMA membership in order to understand the current state of marketing within professional services.

Specifically, we studied whether marketing is playing a strategic role and what are some of the barriers preventing it from doing so.

The APSMA membership surveyed includes more than 1800 individuals from 270 member firms representing legal, accounting, assurance, tax, business consulting, recruitment, engineering consulting and architecture across Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

The first survey of its kind in the region, we attracted an enthusiastic response rate of 20%.

The study found four key areas that marketers will need to improve to become more effective at a strategic level.

1. Alignment.
42% of respondents thought marketing plans were not strongly supportive of the longer-term strategic goals of the business.

2. Participation in strategic planning
Only one-third of respondents reported that marketing participated throughout the strategic planning process; and nearly 15% reported either not participating at all or only contributing inputs.

3. Marketing planning that pushes high enough, and digs deep enough
30% of marketers indicated their organisation did not have a formal marketing plan at the highest, firm-wide level. And in an industry where client relationships are crucial, 35% reported a lack of marketing plans for individual clients.

4. Demonstrating results
25% of marketers said they are not measuring results at all, and nearly 80% lack a rigorous approach that either evaluates ROI or the longer-term, intangible impact of marketing initiatives.

6 thingS Marketers Can Do To Improve Their POsition

At APSMA’s 2005 annual conference, six recommendations for Marketers were distilled in response to the research …

1. Build a Shared Understanding of Marketing’s Role and Vision Among Marketing
and Firm Stakeholders

Both the business and marketing need to be on the same page with regard to marketing’s purpose, role and accountability. Likewise, in cases where marketing simply want to ‘take the next step’ and play a more impactful, integral role, start by developing and agreeing your vision with senior leadership.

Including the business in these discussions builds buy-in and improves understanding of marketing and the challenges being faced.

Some key steps to conducting such a discussion are:

  • Share views on current & desired states. Use a framework such as Kotler’s Four Levels as a basis for discussing views on where marketing sits today, and when you would like it to be. By presenting a ‘tactical to strategic’ picture, this will help non-marketers comprehend and appreciate the greater role that marketing can play.

  • Choose a Marketing Model that suits the needs of your organisation.

    Research conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton and the Association of National Advertisers on the rise of the CMO suggests three emerging models – Marketing Service Provider, Marketing Advisor and Driver of Growth. They range from more tactical to strategic and reflect different senior leader expectations. While the thrust of our study suggests aspiring to a more strategic role, the practical realities and needs of individual organisations may warrant something different in the near term.

    Marketing Service Provider. Manages marketing services that provide
    organisation-wide benefit, plays a support role, focuses on efficiency rather than strategic thinking. Responsible for developing and monitoring compliance to the brand, and coordinating marketing materials, events and relevant external marketing suppliers/agencies.

    Marketing Advisor. Align marketing plans to strategy, represents the voice of the customer, translates customer requirements to service enhancements, and ensures longer-term marketing considerations are part of senior leader discussions. Plays an adviser role and has peer-to-peer standing with partners and senior leaders.

    Drivers of Growth. Drives the growth agenda, as well as the brand and business development strategy, with greatly expanded authority to make marketing decisions and direct marketing budget. Plays a very strategic role – the marketing function will be led by a seasoned marketing executive who is well respected both in and outside the firm.

  • Agree marketing’s key priorities with the senior leadership. Marketers and the senior team need a unified view of how, from a big picture perspective, marketing supports the firm’s direction. These priorities can then ‘set the stage’ for marketing plans and should be calibrated periodically.

  • Consensus on what success looks like – measures. In terms of setting expectations, measurement is where the ‘rubber hits the road’ and ensures learnings and expected outcomes are specific and clear. Simply having this discussion will be a step towards demonstrating results.

2. Work “With” and Facilitate Rather Than Impose

A common theme across many of the sessions was the need for partners to be more involved in marketing’s process. Marketers admitted that they often mistakenly assume partners understand the marketing principle. Instead, marketers can gain buy-in and build marketing knowledge for partners by:

  • Clearly explaining rationale and marketing principles & hence, building knowledge

  • Inviting questions, input and feedback – even debate. It’s through discussion that ideas are internalised and commitment gained.

  • Learning about the business from every marketing discussion with a partner. It’s possible that marketers might be missing valuable insight from partners; in many cases they will have more experience in the business than you.

3. Engage Around The Client

Clients are at the centre of a professional services business. Clients should matter to everyone, particularly to partners. This presents a natural common focal point, marketers should capitalise on this as a means to break down the silos and work more closely with partners. Essentially a ‘no brainer,’ we would suggest having high standards in the areas of:

  • Producing and maintaining client plans for every client relationship which reflect marketing priorities and strategies

  • Measuring client satisfaction and loyalty – not just of the service, but also of the relationship

  • Action plans for any client dis-satisfaction issues

4. Make it Relevant – Speak in Their Terms

Marketers who were successful in building buy-in and support from the business said a key learning was to adopt the partner’s perspective. They suggested starting with what was relevant and most important to partners, and demonstrating how marketing can deliver results in these areas. A useful tactic is to identify key concerns or issues, and select 2-3 where marketing can make the biggest difference.

5. Hold the Mirror – Provide Value Information And Feedback

Marketing can play a vital role in providing the external perspective that, as practitioners, the partners lack. Also marketers identified that they can add value through channelling ‘bottom-up’ feedback to the business. Conversely, from a strategic standpoint, marketing should help the business understand the marketplace and the firm’s place within it.

6. Build a Cadre of Marketing Champions

Astutely noted by marketers was that marketing does not need to ‘go it alone.’ Marketers should find their proponents and advocates in the organisation and forge strong working relationships. These individuals can help to extend the reach of marketing by highlighting marketing’s successes and contributions, and by providing feedback and insight back to marketers.

If targeted well, this tactic can be particularly useful in creating the buy-in needed for greater involvement in such areas as strategic planning.

Marketers might also consider building champions across their segment. Through the sharing of marketing success stories and best practice between organisations, professional peers can learn from one another.

Associations such as ICON can play a role in promoting these conversations.


Get in touch with Sue-Ella or schedule a call here.

DeLegge P (2020) Marketing Department Priorities Often Differ to CEO’s Agenda

Sue-Ella is the Principal of Prodonovich Advisory, a business dedicated to helping professional services practices sharpen their business development practices.

She works with professional services firms that focus on positive client relationships, and with individuals who want personal, intelligent support.