Marketing management

Consultancy marketing’s 3-star rating (and how to improve yours)

Most consulting firms rate their marketing efforts a mere 3 stars out of five. How could consultancy marketers change this, and improve? We recommend these 5 steps:

The numbers are in – and they’re not pretty: As per SPI Research’s most recent “Professional Services Maturity Index,” consulting firms are rating the effectiveness of their marketing functions at a mere 62.5 percent – or three stars out of five.

Should marketers be content with this? And how could they improve their function’s effectiveness if they were to try?

In this post:

  1. The stats behind three stars
  2. But… why push to improve?
  3. 5 steps to high effectiveness
  4. The tl;dr (our conclusion)

The stats behind three stars

First, let’s review the data: The report is very clear about how the state of marketing in the professional services sector, while not entirely terrible, still leaves much to be desired.

The benchmark found that the – self-reported – effectiveness of firms’ marketing efforts has been “flat:” it fell from 3.25 points (out of 5) in 2018 to a mere 3.12 in 2021 and there rose again to 3.24 in ’22.

“1 in 4 firms thinks their marketing is a waste of money”

client friendly

Not the best result in times when business is slowing for consultancies, and firms need a function capable of creating demand.

Even worse though: While over a third of respondents considered their campaigns to be effective or very effective, almost as many believed their campaigns to be ineffective or very ineffective – or, in short:

1 in 4 firms thinks their marketing is a waste of money.

Item #1: The numbers are in – and they’re not pretty: Self-ratings of consultancy marketing effectiveness hover at the 60-percent mark. Source: SPI Research.

But… why push to improve?

Aren’t firms growing regardless?

Well, yes, they do. But how much faster could they do so (and how much more profitably!) if their marketing efforts were much more effective?

The stats in the SPI Research report indicate just how strongly marketing effectiveness correlates with better business metrics:

Firms that reported higher marketing effectiveness also reported a 32 percent stronger sales pipeline, a 28 percent higher win rate, and 50 percent (!) higher EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization).*

So, do we have a case here, or what?

Item #2: Faster growth, higher margins – high-performing firms prove there’s a throughline from marketing effectiveness to business results.

5 steps to high effectiveness

If “yes,” then let’s discuss the steps you could take to increase marketing effectiveness… per our view here at client friendly.

Spoiler: some of them are not even about “marketing” but about business strategy and alignment… But let’s go through them anyway?

Here’s what we tell clients who ask us to help them improve:

 #1. Push for closer business and marketing alignment

In many firms, marketing’s struggles begin with the very foundation, i.e., with the definition (or: lack thereof!) of the function’s ‘job’ within the firm, its objectives, then pretty much everything after that.

Think about it: If you were to ask three to five business executives in your firm about their view on how marketing contributes to the firm’s success… how many different answers would you get?

If your answer is like ours (“three to five, minimum”), then it points directly to the first step you should take: Clarify your function’s role and objectives, plus the expectations around it.

Start with a definition of marketing’s job, then clarify which numbers could be used to measure whether the function does said job well… or not. You’ll be surprised at how much this exercise alone will help you!

Item #3: Key decisions to discuss and make together to improve marketing-business-alignment. Point 2, “marketing’s contribution”, is critical here! Source: client friendly.

 #2. Refine segmentation, positioning, and targeting

In other words: refine your go-to-market strategy. Most firms are still very bizdev-driven, which, among other things, means their marketing efforts are too self-centered, sales-y, and confusing to work.

These firms’ strategies are designed around way-too-broad market segments, come with way-too-generic (and often: firm-centric) messaging, and use mediocre “commodity content” that doesn’t help their prospects to drive behavior that they haven’t clearly defined.

The results? Declining impressions, lackluster engagement, disappointing conversion rates… and rising costs, of course.

If your firm struggles with these issues, review – and revise – all the elements mentioned above: Interview existing clients and companies which don’t work with your firm to get true “client insight” – then, drive a strategy process to define proper segments and to describe client issues, preferences, etc.

#3 Review (and revise) your client journey and offers

Have your strategy and inputs in place? Great! Then move on to the next step, and either create – or revise – your “client journey” and service offerings, i.e.:

Use the insights you’ve driven from your strategy research to design the – theoretical – path your prospects are following, from identifying an opportunity in their business to seeking help and eventually hiring your firm. Then, start creating the content and the offers you’ll bring to market to help them succeed at each critical junction of said journey.

Important: The client journey is not your sales process – it has nothing to do with “leads,” “opportunities,” and so forth – and everything with the issues clients face and the steps they take to resolve them.

Oh, and: the client journey you design will always be a model, i.e., it’ll always be different from the specific way a specific prospect takes … so keep reviewing, revising, and refining!

#4. Shape clear, client-centric stories and campaigns.

Have your strategy and inputs in place? Great! Then move to the next step, and wrestle with the issue of firm-centric messaging and “storytelling.”

This is where you work hard (and: creatively!) to ensure your firm’s messages will be highly client- and issue-specific, super-helpful, and very clear. Oh, and, while you’re at it: put in some extra time to make sure said messages also convey your firm’s culture in a distinct voice.

And once you have these messages in place, make sure they’re “dramatized” well, i.e., put into a story your ideal buyers won’t be able to ignore. Then, turn your story into a marketing plan spanning at least a year, if not two (think: editorial calendar first, channels and formats second!).

Do all of the above, and you’ll already stand out from the competition… Because many firms out there are still busy publishing either LinkedIn posts heralding their most recent “great place to work” award and similar irrelevant “me-me-me” messaging, or creating not-too-helpful “thought-followership” content written by marketers, not experts.

#5. Find new ways to distribute and deliver

And then, finally: invest some time and effort into reviewing – and revising – your marketing channels: Are you hitting the right ones, with the right strategy and the right content?

Chances are, your firm could do better in the digital space – by improving its LinkedIn strategy and execution, let’s say… or by embracing “new” channels like Instagram and TikTok. But there might be plenty of “offline opportunities” you could seize, too – around events, for example. Like, when was the last time you leveraged an in-person event not just to network and “sell” but to drive insights and create content for your digital channels (and the entire year), too?

The simple fact is: Most firms could super-charge their results by simply improving the very “basics” of what they’re doing (think: better content and more frequent posting on organic social; new formats for new channels – think: podcasts, videos for TikTok, etc., etc., etc.), using, for example, a framework like client friendly uses for clients.

Item #4: client friendly’s high-impact marketing framework helps firms to put the “brilliant basics” of marketing in place. Source: client friendly.

The tl;dr (our conclusion)

If you’re serious about improving your firm’s marketing effectiveness, you’ll have to push on two things at the same time: 1) your marketing function’s role in the firm and how it helps to shape strategy, and 2) how it uses said strategy to derive new, more client-centric marketing messages, plans, and campaigns.

In our experience, the four best means to these two ends are:

  1. Improve business-marketing alignment
  2. Refine the strategic inputs which guide your marketing efforts
  3. Clarify your messages, create client-centric stories
  4. Improve campaign delivery and distribution

These steps are merely an overview meant to help you think about where and how to begin – but we’ll continue to post practical measures for how to take them in this blog very soon.

And: there are a few other, slightly smaller areas for improvements for those of you who already have already mastered these steps… and we’ll visit those, too, in a bit.

So, maybe… come back here someday?


* End note: This analysis is based on SPI’s comparison of “high performing peers” vs. “rest” firms, cf. page 43 ff.

More tips like these?

Check out the “unbillable hours” podcast with client friendly’s Florian Heinrichs – out now on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher
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