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Marketing Brain Fodder

Perspectives on Strategic Marketing, Communication and Values in Today's Marketplace

Making “Client-Centered” More Than A Marketing Copy Point

Posted in Customer Experience, Marketing

Everyone talks about being client-centered.

Those who back up all the talk with real substance are rare.

The legendary father of advertising, David Ogilvy, was so committed to acting in the client’s best interest, that in the early days some thought the preoccupation a product of eccentricity.

On one occasion in the late 1950′s he and his team had been invited to make a presentation and pitch for the advertising and marketing account of Greyhound Bus Lines. When Ogilvy entered the pitch room, in true Mad Men fashion the art boards of a competitor’s creative presentation stared him in the face.

When it came his time to speak, Ogilvy turned to the assembled Greyhound execs and informed them that, though confident and proud of the presentation he and his team had created, the ideal solution to Greyhound’s advertising needs had already been presented — by one of his competitors.

Hence launched the successful and long-running Leave The Driving To Us campaign.

David Ogilvy didn’t build one of the most successful and decorated advertising agencies in the world by making a habit of selling work for the competition. But he did have the reputation of consistently acting in what he believed to be the best interest of the client.

Yes! We Are Client Centered (Really, We Are)

If it could be spoken into existence, we would all be masters in the art of being client-centered.

Peruse websites and marketing collateral and it is clear that the idea of coming at things from the client’s point of view is deemed worthy of marquis status.

But as anyone truly committed to it knows, client-centeredness is not as simple as crafting a headline and a few eloquent proclamations. Even award-winning attempts to script it into the offerings of a service organization often come up short when tested against what clients say and believe.

Why? Because client-centeredness is an attribute that either resides at the core of an organization, or tends to be easily brushed aside when push comes to shove in decisive moments.

When present, the client-centered attribute is manifest in experiences that communicate far more effectively than the best website service description ever written.

The Path To Trusted Advisor Status

I’m betting most of us remember a handful of times when the experience we received transcended any tangible marketing claim or promise. With deference to that old adage, we possess first-hand knowledge that experiences speak louder than words. 

Yet, it is easy to do precious little beyond talking about great client service. If we talk about it long enough, maybe it will be real!

Two things are worth noting. First, the experience you deliver IS your marketing message. Talk about it in collateral materials, announce it on your website and proclaim it until you lose your voice; but if what you say doesn’t align with the experiences you deliver, one message will be loud and clear — your game is all talk.

Second — the only real path to trusted advisor status is to consistently deliver an experience that demonstrates the client’s interests and concerns are paramount. Nothing will differentiate you in the market place more emphatically or more quickly.

And just in case it sounds like I’m suggesting your written message doesn’t matter, let’s pause. I believe in the power of the pen. I have been a writer since before I had a career. This is not a suggestion that the content on your website isn’t important. It is to say that when marketing content doesn’t align with the market’s experience, no amount of award-winning prose will help.

Client-centeredness is not a copy point. Copy points don’t live, and they are easily dismissed or forgotten.

Being client-centered is the byproduct of a core belief. And as is so often the case, the communication of core beliefs is most profound when seen and experienced. It is a fortunate consequence for the rare few who operate from a client-centered position that the experiences we deliver are memorable, differentiators and the most articulate marketing message possible.

Want To Instigate Dialogue and Lead? Choose Your Words Carefully.

Posted in Art of Listening, Communication, Leadership, Marketing, Values In Today's Marketplace

Words matter. If the goal is to connect and build bridges, you’ll choose them carefully.

They set tone, dictate parameters and conjure experiences that shape interpretation.

The right words can comfort, support, strengthen and inspire. They can tap into memories and stir new dreams.

Yet, for all their power, they are imperfect and incomplete. Packaging and presentation can have everything to do with how words are received. To further confound, meanings can change right before our ears.

And, as we learn early, they can do big-time damage. That playground ditty many of us learned — “sticks and stone may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” — that’s wrong. We learn the handful of epithets sure to cut any conversation short.

Remembering Mom’s Advice

My mother was always big on the way we used words. In her view, words like stupid, idiot and ignorant had no place in the conversations of a family. They did nothing to build bridges. Slang (not to mention expletives) signaled what mom thought to be a limited command of the language — if not laziness. Experientially she underscored the admonition “if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.”

Mom believed a positive spirit was the best way to connect with others. And the words we choose should be indicative of that spirit.

I suppose it is her influence that echoes when I’m tempted to call someone a derogatory name. (Not suggesting I don’t give in — just saying I still hear her voice when I do.)

And maybe this is why I feel such discomfort with how quickly we seem to fling nasty names and ugly characterizations at those with whom we have differences.

Whatever the source — and whether right or wrong — I’m weary of what seems to me to be little more than playground name-calling, accompanied by a conviction that he who talks loudest, Wins — from playground to boardroom to media feed.

If Conversation Is The Goal

Conversation — honest give-and-take — is one of the joys of friendship, and a basic element of community. It adds dimension and fabric to relationship. It broadens and deepens experiences.

At a pragmatic level, it is essential to partnership, collaboration and leadership.

Anyone that knows me knows I enjoy a good debate. But increasingly I find myself shying away from interactions with those who see nothing good around them; who are quick to point out inadequacies; who are convinced they (and those who agree with them) possess the only right view. In my experience at least, there is little real dialogue with these friends or colleagues; their mission is singular — to fix what is wrong.

Where this spirit persists there is little exploration or intentional listening. And decidedly limited progress.

The possession of a point-of-view, a big voice (or potent amplifier), and a pulpit is no guarantee that a message has what it takes to resonate, instigate dialogue and influence direction.

So, to the degree an old dog can learn, I’m trying to listen for common ground, choose words carefully, and abide by mom’s advice — if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.

The Issue With Messages That Fail

Posted in Communication, Customer Experience, Marketing

Maybe — just maybe the single biggest issue with messaging that fails to generate the desired response is the degree to which it is closer to fiction than fact.

Heretical to suggest such a thing, I know; few of us set out to deliberately mislead. But hang with me.

What might some messages look or sound like if terms like client-centered had to pass a truth-test before insertion into marketing content?

What if, before we could boldly proclaim client-centeredness, we were forced to at least consider the implication to clients of significant operational initiatives?

Or what if, before a culture could be characterized as warm and collegial with no room for (euphemism alert) jerks, we had to actually call-out the jerks in our midst?

The Audience Knows

Sooner or later (and in most cases, it is sooner), the audience — internal or external — instinctively recognizes the unaligned, never mind the fabricated message.

It may be the by-product of service that doesn’t stand-up in the marketplace. Or the sum of actions indicative of a lack of respect. In any case, when words — however eloquent — fail to align with experience, the message will eventually be dismissed.

The Power of Alignment

What if an all-knowing monitor-of-bull were able to delete messages that fail to align with intention?

My friend Roger Hayse recently spotlighted the six law firms appearing on Fortune’s most recent list of 100 Best Companies To Work For In America. And while it goes without saying that no institution is perfect, the fact is that these firms are almost certainly intent on an ideal. This intention is manifest in priorities. And actions taken.

Whatever we’re marketing — ideas, programs, services or products — it eventually becomes very difficult to hide a disconnect between what we say and what we do. And once recognized, no matter how creative or poetic, this message will never create positive action, generate a desired response or move the needle in the right direction.

Just saying it on the website doesn’t make it so.

And if you’re hoping the articulation of a marketing message will suddenly make up for product, service or strategic deficiencies, expectations are about to be dashed . . . again.

An “Aha!” Moment In Law Firm Sales

Posted in Business Development

A Guest Post by professional services sales innovator and law firm sales & marketing leader, Steve Bell.  ______________________________

A correspondent recently asked me: “When did you have your first ‘Aha!’ moment about law firm sales?”

It’s a great memory, and it actually occurred long before Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice became a pioneer in the legal profession and asked me to serve as director of sales.

The Real Beginning — An Accidental Volunteer

The path that led me to professional service (and eventually, legal) sales goes further back than I care to admit. I was an Associate National Director of Marketing at Price Waterhouse LLP — long before the merger with Coopers & Lybrand.

The legendary Price Waterhouse Vice Chairman of Tax, Pete Hart, was – appropriately — asking revenue questions of International Tax partners, who had put together many elaborate marketing brochures, staged numerous wonderful educational sessions, and traveled abroad with international tax planning concepts. (Any of this sound familiar?) But, in spite of great investment and much activity, the group wasn’t “connecting the dots with the cash register” as well as Pete would have liked.

“Who,” Pete asked, “will follow up with the people who attended the seminars to meet with them face to face? Who will make phone calls to the people receiving the fancy brochures to see if they have any questions?”

In old World War II movies, there are scenes about the unwilling volunteer.  In these scenes, a commanding officer asks for volunteers to step forward.  Inevitably, a newbie stands still while the wizened hands all take steps backward.

Those scenes remind me of how I “volunteered” to make the move from professional services marketing to sales; I “volunteered” by not declining to do so.

Fortunately, I’d had some professional services sales experience prior to joining Price Waterhouse, and, in addition, at Price Waterhouse I was able to participate in Miller-Heiman’s “Strategic Selling” courses.  So, when the opportunity presented itself, I was ready.

The focus of our fledgling sales effort was to “connect those dots”, and we began scheduling follow-up meetings with potential clients.  Thankfully, my training had equipped me in the art of connecting, and the science of keeping opportunities on track. And, over time (the sale of professional services rarely occurs overnight), we were able to achieve some of the conversions Pete Hart knew to be critical to success.

“Sales” began to develop some strong roots at Price Waterhouse as well as other accounting firms, as the accounting profession caught wind of the possibilities. Sales became a critical competency in the professional services arena — eventually (albeit, with reluctance at many turns) the idea has crept into legal.

By Any Name, It Is About Connecting The Dots

Each of us at some point in a career faces the very practical questions Pete Hart posed to the Price Waterhouse Tax Partners — who is going to take the steps necessary to connect with prospects?

Whether marketers, business developers, strategy architects, accountants or lawyers — few, if any of us can afford to wait for the market to come to us. If you’re reluctant to lean on the “S” word, think of it as simply connecting the dots between the needs of your prospects and the service and counsel you can deliver.

When it comes to efforts that hit the bottom-line, that’s the “Aha Moment”.

Steve Bell is the Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of the law firm of Womble Carlyle. He has deep experience in professional services business development and sales, and previously led the sales efforts at Grant Thornton and Price Waterhouse. He is a legal marketing thought leader, innovator, speaker, and also serves as Marketing Vice Chairman, Americas of Lex Mundi.

Follow Steve on Twitter. And find him on Linked In, here.

3 Keys To An Authentic Voice — The Building Block of Social Media Marketing Success

Posted in Art of Listening, Communication, Marketing, Social Media

Dispute its reach if you like. Bemoan its shortcomings. Even refuse to participate (if you dare). But Social Media has exploded. And the reason should capture the imagination of anyone marketing a service or product.

How so? Because for all the hype, falderal, misuse and criticism swirling about, Social Media is, simply, about the dynamics of community.

Hence some confusion. And the challenge.

Is it community? Or is it media?

If media, complete with the prospect of reaching the masses, we immediately focus on the message. (A mistake in its own right; but that is another discussion.)

Community, on the other hand, is about neighbors, conversations and collaboration. It is about building relationships.

Social Media is both. And (this is one of those good-news-bad-news notes) it gives everyone in the community a voice. This is the reason for the explosion. And the source of difficulty.

The Challenge of Authenticity

The universal availability makes the social community a noisy place.

So if you aspire to communicate and market using Social Media, the first job is to develop a voice that will rise above the noise, and resonate with the target audience.

This is not unique to Social, of course. Students of speech will remember the story of Demosthenes, the orator of ancient Greece. To overcome an impediment that made it difficult for his audience to listen, he practiced achieving clarity of speech with stones in his mouth.

Then along came tools that could broadcast a message to the masses — which often only serves to amplify the challenge. Recall the story of King George VI, popularized in the 2010 film, The King’s Speech.

The fact is that not even pivotal moments or profound content can guarantee a message will connect. Or be received.

And now Social suggests we deliver a message 140 characters with millions of other messages swirling about. Or via a Vine or an Instagram. And who knows what a “Like” or “endorsement” really means?

Top 3 Keys To An Authentic Social Voice

If you spend time in any social community you’ve likely encountered the social broadcasters — the messengers too busy dispensing canned content to be bothered with conversation or collaboration.

You also know it when you encounter an authentic voice.

What is the difference?

I recently had the pleasure of doing a guest spot on the popular weekly Twitter program for marketers, MMChat. (If you’re a marketer, you might enjoy participating — check it out every Monday evening at 8:00 PM Eastern, using the hashtag #MMChat.) The topic was the Keys To Developing An Authentic Social Voice. It was a lively exchange, and here are three ideas to emerge from the conversation.

1. Listen Intently. As opposed to an initial preoccupation with what you will say, begin with a focus on listening. Pay close attention and your market is likely to reveal precisely what it takes to become relevant, what resonates with them, and what is dismissed as noise.

2. Engage With Your Market. This is the DNA of social communities. And one of the most dynamic forms of engagement is to participate in the dialogue and agendas most important to your market. This is the most basic form of collaboration. And supporting other authentic voices allows you to leverage their resonance and credibility.

3. Deliver Value. This is about more than the service, product or solution you’re marketing. Social is about building and nurturing relationships. Relationship is about trust. Trust has roots in giving. Seek to understand your Targets’ needs; then provide a solution. This is the ultimate in delivering value. And by the way — the value you deliver may have little to do with the product or service you ultimately provide. Value is defined by the community. Want to be part of the community? Understand what it values.

Social Media presents challenges, to be sure. But the more voices vying for attention, the more authenticity differentiates, and rises above the din. Practice these three keys with consistency, and your voice becomes more and more authentic. And this is the beginning of a marketing message that connects.

The Legal Service Value Conundrum: Who Is The Beholder?

Posted in Art of Listening, Business Development, Client Feedback

A Guest Post, by lawyer, law professor and process consultant, Larry Bridgesmith

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” — Margaret Wolfe Hungerford , Molly Bawn, 1878

Our son was born with orthopedic challenges which required him to be in thigh high casts from the day he was born. He was also born “sunny side up”, or face first. As a result, his bruised and swollen face and both legs in casts made him look like the loser from a brawl in the nursery.

What surprised my wife and me was the worried and sorrowful glances our friends cast in our direction when they first saw him. In our eyes he was as handsome as our own Prince George. (Which is exactly what he turned out to be.)

The question of value pricing is all the rage in legal services circles today. As is the case in the determination of beauty, the issue is – who gets to decide what constitutes “value”?

The Client’s Perceptions

Long before the Great Recession of 2008, client dissatisfaction with the price of legal services was mounting steadily. It has not slowed.

Globally, the realization rate for billed legal invoices stands at 83%. In other words, despite the rate reductions  and discounting that law firms have implemented, 17% of all legal bills remain unpaid. That is an enormous economic loss or “unappreciated value”.

If we require tangible evidence, the metrics tell the story; the client determines value.

Like beauty, the determination of value is largely subjective. What’s missing is the means of agreeing upon value between client and attorney.

How is this possible in law when outcomes and the steps needed to achieve them are so unpredictable?

Defining Value in Legal Services

It requires conversation, listening and reaching agreement.

  • Conversation – Every legal engagement begins with the lawyer/client conversation.  This is not earthshattering.  What might be novel is how much depth is required to determine exactly what clients want and need to achieve their goals. The lawyer who can take time to determine with clarity “what’s the problem we’re trying to solve?” and “what does success look like?” has gone much further than most to explore how the client determines value. Helping the client answer these critical questions provides the lawyer with a road map to assure a successful outcome measured from the client’s perspective. Advice and counsel, the lawyer’s stock in trade, comes to bear to help the client understand the obstacles and options to better define the journey to achieve the client’s objectives. A significantly different beginning point has been achieved: one with the end in view.
  • Listening – We lawyers are notoriously urgent.  Cutting to the chase and getting to the bottom line are characteristics in our DNA, and often a great skill set to possess. However, at the outset of an engagement this innate urge must be throttled. It has been said, the greater the ego need, the smaller the ears.  That’s why elephants have such big ears.  What do they have to be afraid of? By learning to listen to our clients, their stated and unstated needs, fears and expectations, we significantly improve our ability to satisfy them.  We need to be secure enough to listen to the answers. In spite of a tendency to make quick assumptions about what is best, only the clients are able to ultimately define need. We must learn how to become the master of the question.  Not interrogation or cross examination, but open ended inquisitive questions designed to learn what our clients need and expect. Our clients are our colleagues; and we need to understand, as best we are able, what they need from the engagement. If they are corporate clients, who are the internal clients (stakeholders) they must satisfy and how would they define success? This listening process leads to the all-important engagement letter which defines the terms of the engagement, the scope of the project (and what is out of scope), the terms of payment and the means by which changes in scope are to be negotiated going forward.
  • Agreement – As simple as the above process sounds, it is difficult and contrary to the basic nature of most legal engagements today. The collegial, collaborative relationship established at the outset of each engagement defines value as the client and attorney determine it to be (not simply as assumed by the lawyer). Most importantly, it is not a static contract, it is a living agreement which matures over the course of the engagement. Done well, the agreement between lawyer and client results in the pre-negotiation of each invoice before it is received by the client. There are no “45 day surprises”, or invoices which lead to refusals to pay for unexpected legal fees. The original scope of the engagement only changes through conversation, listening and agreement. It’s a cyclical process. The process defines value.

The practice of law should return lawyers to the role of trusted advisors.  Our business cards can label us “Counselors at Law” again. Realization rates can approximate (but never fully achieve) 100%.  Less waste. Less unrealized income. More value.

Legal services value is neither binary, nor exclusive.  It is the collaborative and mutually agreed upon outcome of great lawyer and client engagements.

It is not rocket science.  It is just good customer relations.

It can be beautiful.

Larry Bridgesmith has practiced law for over 35 years. He is a conflict management professional, a professor of law at Vanderbilt School of Law, and a consultant to businesses and law firms in process improvement and profitability enhancement.  He is a co-founder of ERM Legal Solutions which provides legal pricing and planning software solutions to legal departments and law firms, and he brings deep experience and credibility to the discussion of the business of law.

Connect with Larry on Linked In here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Marketing, Business Development, And The Pursuit of Better Conversations Online

Posted in Business Development, Marketing, Social Media

You might be able to reach everyone.

That’s the siren-song of the digital innovations that turn everyone into a publisher or broadcaster.

Perpetuated daily by something new gone viral — video of a pet, or a baby, or a stunt — it is a fantasy that slowly morphs into — hey, maybe this is possible.

We watch with analytics-envy as the Like, Share and View numbers mount. And — admit it — in spite of our skepticism, we begin to scheme.

What would it take to create something that might go viral?

It is insidious. Not because it can’t happen; but because each time we are seduced into reaching for the masses, we take our eye off strategic targets. Never mind the fact that we likely settle for an irrelevantly low common denominator.

If More Is Better, It Is An Easy Game To Play 

In order to rack up views, the editors of a respected professional service firm’s blog actually began creating the most provocatively searchable titles possible. The goal? Supposedly, the buzz might generate valuable media attention. (Want to pile up clicks? Figure out a way to use the words “wet t-shirt contest” in your next blog headline. Your analytics will never look the same.)

But in our guts, we know that Page Views are not the measure of success.

As an old marketing guy I can appreciate a touch of P.T. Barnum at the right time; but when we begin to artificially manipulate content to accommodate search strings, never mind the inclusion of salacious tags solely because they will garner “views,” we have one or both of the following problems:

  • we’re not sure how to create content that instigates conversations around a value proposition; or,
  • we’ve completely lost sight of the target.

In a recent post — In search of meaningfulSeth Godin had a message for anyone creating content for the purpose of marketing:

If it’s not worth subscribing to a particular voice or feature or idea, if it’s not worth looking forward to and not worth trusting, I’m not sure it’s worth writing, not if your goal is to become meaningful.”

For the professional service provider, turning a connection into what Godin terms a subscriber is about having a series of better conversations. Better than price. Better than data on a CV. Better than the guys across the street.

In case I need to say it — this is not to suggest that depth of experience and other curriculum vita are not important. Nor is it an argument against the value of key words and quality SEO.

It is to suggest that the instant the content that really speaks to your target gives way to a contrived phrase created for what amounts to fake “optimized” search results, we may be in danger of missing the point. Further, content that does not deliver a measure of value does little to differentiate — hence, little to really market the services of a firm.

Highly effective marketing messages transcend analytics, connect with strategic targets, and deliver something of value.

Why do we value content? Because it is the DNA of conversation. And better conversations are the lifeblood of thriving relationships.

Digital has torn down walls and changed the arithmetic, to be sure. Social media presents real opportunities. But when it comes to business development for the professional services firm, the challenge is still about smart targeting, and an investment in the stuff of relationship. Because one relationship is worth more than a thousand page views.

Professional? Or Poser?

Posted in Leadership, Values In Today's Marketplace

We can talk about it until we’re blue in the face. We may write about it, speak on it, and build entire initiatives around it. If we have enough juice, in some circles we might even be able to insist we be called one.

But when it comes to what it really means to be a professional, as is always the case, titles, labels, and all manner of verbal branding have little to do with reality.

What we do speaks much more eloquently than what we say. (Or what our business card says.)

Professionalism is a characteristic. It is the sum of a set of traits that form the foundation for behavior in defining moments — whatever the venue might be.

When And Where Professionalism Is Defined

The truth is the only thing most of us are able to control with respect to this discussion is our own personal pursuit of the traits we deem central to professionalism.

The temptation is two-fold:

  • To believe that defining moments come with high visibility — are heralded in some way; and,
  • To believe that the right response to such moments is punctuated with bold exclamation in the form of title or label.

In fact, professionalism is defined daily — in scores of moments that are often more private than visible. There is little fanfare.

And, as we all know, simply calling someone (or something) professional, does not make it so.

In the interest of a productive pursuit, and with acknowledgment of personal blind spots, here is a six-pack of some of the traits I believe to be present in the consummate professionals I have had the opportunity to know.

  1. Professionals accept responsibility. They don’t whine or shrink in the toughest moments. Nor, it should be noted, do the best of the best demand the spotlight for sustenance.
  2. The professional possesses crystal-clear self-awareness, and is constantly honing the ability to identify personal limitations. This trait is manifest in honesty, intentional listening, and a big-picture perspective.
  3. Professionals don’t engage in meaningless turf wars, and do not tear down others. Rather, they build bridges, and are apt to deflect credit.
  4. The professional doesn’t avoid difficult moments, conversations or problem personalities.
  5. Professionals follow up, and follow through. Always. No matter what.
  6. The professional is always professional — without respect to position or title.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. Have thoughts and/or additions that might be instructive for anyone aspiring to professionalism? Please contribute.

Five Keys To A Highly Productive Marketing Culture

Posted in Business Development, Marketing

Your marketing team is bigger than you think.

Recognized or not, and without respect to title or placement on the org chart, your firm is investing mightily in the human resource side of the marketing equation.

Doubt it?

When guests encounter the receptionist, a marketing message is delivered.

Every time a billing clerk, administrative assistant, IT or finance manager has a conversation with a client, vendor or allied professional, the firm’s brand is being enhanced. Or diminished.

And yes…even the partner that puts as much distance as possible between her/his profession and the marketing staff is a reflection on the brand of the firm.

Protests aside, in today’s enterprise everyone is a marketer.  Whether this extended force is delivering a message and experience consistent with an over-arching go-to-market strategy depends on the marketing fabric of your firm’s culture.

Zappos has it. The Ritz-Carlton has it. A couple of airlines seem to try hard…and get partial credit. The same is true for one or two unnamed big retailers. You may have a favorite restaurant that looks for ways to connect from the moment you walk in.

And it should be a watermark of your firm.

But you can mark this down: wherever fights for credit, perpetual turf wars, or disparate goals and objectives occupy attention and energy — not to mention, wherever there is a pervasive CYA mindset — your culture is at odds with the potential you otherwise possess.

Building Blocks of a Marketing Culture

A marketing culture is not at odds with the decorum of a dignified profession. Nor is it about one department being more important than another. This is not a provincial discussion.

Rather, a highly functioning marketing culture is rooted in a firm’s mission and vision. It connotes a mindset that maximizes every intersection with the market. It seeks opportunities for interaction with targets and clients. It is about seeding and nurturing strategic relationships.

In the best organizations, it transcends department, and is embraced by all.

In his book, Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit, Jim Stengel documents a decade long study of the world’s 50 leading businesses. According to the study, businesses that invest in culture experience a growth rate 3 times that of other companies.

Adapting Stengel’s findings to the professional services sector, here are five ways in which leadership can cultivate a culture that leverages human resources for, growth and business development.

1. Share the vision.

Most firms establish business goals. But culture is about two things that transcend goals, action plans and budgets. These are:

  • what brings you together — what consultant Roger Hayse of Hayse LLC refers to as shared aspirations; and,
  • communication — the kind that gives rise to the relentless pursuit of a clearly understood vision. This pursuit becomes the framework for initiatives, the test for opportunities, and the foundation of a pervasive marketing perspective.

2. Define the language.

Every culture shares a vocabulary that reflects what is valued. It is easily accessible, and resonates inside as well as outside the firm. Far from marketing fluff or spin, it is the lingua franca of priorities, principles and even big hairy audacious goals.

3. Build for the pursuit.

A firm’s vision is as unique as its makeup. The pursuit of that vision calls for a set of unique capabilities. The highly productive and profitable organizations maintain a laser-like focus on what is required in pursuit of the vision. This focus shapes growth and investment.

4. Establish the highest standards.

Visions that stir are seldom second-rate. The standards for the performance of everyone in the firm should be no less aspirational. An insistence upon excellence taps into the best that a team has to offer. And it is a cultural hallmark of organizations that win.

5. Recognize and reward.

Reinforce the culture you value by putting recognition where your mouth is. It need not always be an economic reward; HR and behavioral scientists have long extolled the virtue of a spectrum of recognition. But make it real. Recognize those that embrace the pursuit of the vision.

Culture communicates. It becomes its own eloquent and memorable message. When aligned with aspirations and vision, it underscores and instinctively supports strategically targeted business development efforts.

It does not supplant the highest caliber counsel and service as a firm’s chief deliverable. But a culture of marketing — a perspective that seeks the opportunity to connect with the market as a tangible representation of the firm’s commitment to serve — might be one of the most significant investments in growth and profitability a firm can make. It is certainly a key to empowering a legion of (oft times reluctant) marketers.

What Went Wrong When Marketing Failed To Deliver

Posted in Art of Listening, Business Development, Marketing

Where did marketing miss the boat?

Attendance was half of what was expected. The new website didn’t make the phone ring. The new tagline or logo or color combination hasn’t made the development of new business any easier.

You’ve tried LinkedIn and micro-sites. Maybe even Twitter and (gasp) Facebook.

You’ve revised profiles, and have great new photos.

You’ve written brand-spanking new practice descriptions (carefully modeled after what the successful competition uses). And you’ve invested in high-priced SEO.

You speak and sponsor regularly.

Still, no one comments on (or even seems to know about) your blog.

And the revenue needle has barely budged.

What went wrong?

One Possibility

Maybe things went awry when we decided to invest in everything except the identification of what our target audience cares about most.

Somewhere, somehow we began to equate marketing with messaging, publicity, events, and — at its best — the employment and execution of creative genius.

Maybe things went a bit wrong when we started to plan and invest as if simply articulating who we are, what we offer and all that we’ve accomplished is all that it takes to move a target in our direction.

Don’t misunderstand: I firmly believe creativity in all of its manifestations is a critical piece of the puzzle. Great copy, killer production value, insightful and innovative media plans scarcely scratch the surface of essential creative components.

But if the message doesn’t emanate from the kind of listening that precisely identifies the point of connection experiences, concerns, aspirations — we should not be surprised when the market barely moves in our direction.

What If We Listened First?

What might happen if, for a season, we invested in innovative listening? What if we found a way to lend an all-hearing ear to our clients/customers/targets? (Caution: perfunctory satisfaction surveys do not count.)

This isn’t half-listening-half-scheming; it isn’t something we fake, while believing we already know what is best for the market.

This is Intentional Listening.

It employs the creative (and opportunistic) resources of the mind’s ear, with one objective — to learn. This kind of listening is a relentless quest for common ground and points of connection.

Call it market research if conventional labels are more comfortable. By any label, this is the seed of success for our marketing and business development efforts.

And here’s the payoff. Your targets highly value intentional listening. Build it into your efforts, and the market will reveal what it cares about, what it is searching for, and what it takes to sew the seeds of loyal, enduring relationships.

Armed with this kind of baseline information, we might surprise even ourselves with the impact creative and innovative marketing and business development efforts have on the bottom-line.