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In the last two weeks, I've heard from two global professional service firms about their desire to rebuild their marketing function. They've begun the process well: Selecting and interviewing a well-rounded group of senior leaders and influencers in order to determine what these internal clients want and need....


In both cases I've been asked to provide some guidance after this step has been completed. In both cases, though, I'm concerned about what appear to be potential potholes along their pathway to an effective marketing function.
These potholes are all about unrealistic expectations.
Internal clients said they are skeptical of getting a good ROI from their investment in marketing. This, despite their inexperience in defining what they mean by "good ROI" and what they mean by "investment." (In these cases, their idea of "investment" was limited to a particular out-of-pocket dollar amount or budget percentage, and didn't include their own time and effort.) On the flip side, in their interviews, the marketing leaders provided no guidance as to what might be an appropriate ROI and expected time-, effort- and talent-investment on the part of the revenue-generators.
One can argue that the listening phase is not the time to set expectations. It's only to gather input and to understand needs. This is a valid point, but ends up being problematic, given the way these particular interviews were positioned (as most internal interviews of their kind are). In this case, the desires expressed through "listening" become unrealistic expectations.
When asked what they want from a marketing function, these fee-earners said, in essence, "build favorable awareness about the firm and its services." They think that marketing communications (a.k.a promotion, publicity, visibility, or the amorphous term "messaging") is where the biggest bang for their marketing investment lies.
I challenge that notion. This is like allowing the tail to wag the dog.
In both these cases, the marketing teams' listening exercises are in danger of boxing everyone into an outmoded idea: that marketing's only purview should be to promote the firm, and not to lead (and provide results in) other crucial functional areas including identifying optimal clients through market research, managing competitor intelligence, retaining clients through loyalty and relationship management programs or being involved in services innovation. Or more.
The problem is two-sided: On one side, many professional and business-to-business service practitioners have a limited understanding of what a full-fledged marketing function could look like. Most of these people started their practices with an almost instinctual knowledge of their clients, competitors, service offerings and marketplace. As soon as they could off-load promotional activities, they did so. In most cases, therefore, marketing has been home-grown (even for these large companies), and is considered a support function. Talk about expectations!
On the other side, part of the expectations problem is the way marketers themselves are viewed. Many marketers don't appear to possess expertise in strategic areas besides marketing communications. How about skills in qualitative and quantitative market research and analysis? How about an understanding of corporate strategy? How about economics? Emerging markets? Service portfolio management?
Finally, all too often, both sides don't insist on a robust evaluation phase that includes a review of the investments the firm has agreed to make in the first place. Marketers marginalize themselves by not setting up their own performance parameters or acting like they are true partners in the firms' competitive success. It's as if the revenue-generators have said: "We told you what we wanted, don't bother us anymore. Just perform what we originally asked for." This leaves no room for improvement or an appropriate evolution of the marketing function.
The result is that no one is happy because everyone failed to define expectations appropriately before embarking on new marketing initiatives.
And we all know the next step: "That didn't work the last time we tried it, so let's not try it (or a variation of it) again...."
Oy.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Suzanne Lowe is founder of Expertise Marketing, LLC and author of The Integration Imperative: Erasing Marketing and Business Development Silos – Once and For All – in Professional Service Firms and Marketplace Masters: How Professional Services Firms Compete to Win. She blogs at the MarketingProfs Daily Fix and her own blog, the Expertise Marketplace.

Before founding Expertise Marketing in 1996, Ms. Lowe spent more than a decade leading the marketing programs for top-tier management consulting and business-to-business organizations. Before that, she spent more than a decade managing and implementing strategies for political candidates and organizations.

She spearheads the only widely disseminated research initiative on strategic marketing perceptions, practices and performance of professional service firms around the globe.

In addition, Suzanne Lowe has written or been quoted in nearly 100 articles on the topic of professional services marketing strategy. Her work has appeared in the a rel="nofollow" href="http://harvardbusinessonline.hbsp.harvard.edu/b01/en/hbr/hbr_home.jhtml">Harvard
Business Review, BusinessWeek.com, CMO Magazine, Harvard
Management Update
, and scores of profession-specific magazines and journals, including MarketTrends, Marketer, Marketing the Law Firm, Accounting Today, Engineering, Consultants News, Structure, Journal of Law Office Economics and Management, The Practicing CPA, Environmental Design and Construction, Massachusetts High Tech, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, and the Legal Marketing Association’s Strategy. She is a contributor to the second edition of the book Marketing
Professional Services
, by Kotler, Hayes and Bloom. She has also been instrumental in the development, writing and publication of five books and nearly 50 articles and book chapters for her consulting clients.

Suzanne speaks regularly around the world to leading trade associations, industry groups and in-house firm audiences. Her work has also been presented internationally, most recently at the American Marketing Association's annual Frontiers in Services conference. She facilitates a Roundtable of Chief Marketing Officers from some of the world's largest and most prestigious professional service firms. She has guest-lectured at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and designs and delivers customized executive education programs in marketing for professional service executives.

She advises the leaders of professional service firms, from small start-up practices to large global organizations.

Ms. Lowe received a B.A. from Duke University.