Marketing management

Why and how fast-growing consultancies run high-impact marketing

Most consulting firms restrict their marketing functions to mere “promotional” tasks. High-growth firms, however, expect much more from theirs… and get it. Here’s how:

What drives the steady growth of the most successful consultancies? In my experience, it’s not just about employing top-tier experts or servicing high-profile clients—but also about running marketing the right way.

In this blog post, we’ll explore how leading firms harness high-impact, strategic marketing capabilities to facilitate growth, pushing beyond mere “visibility” to harvest all the benefits of the marketing discipline like E. Jerome McCarthy would have defined it… which is about much more than mere promotion.

(Remember him and his “marketing mix?” It’s very much this idea, expressed through a specific function design and set-up…).

Let’s dive in:

In this post:

  1. “High growth” and how to get it
  2. The strategic expectations of fast-growing firms
  3. A different model for consultancy marketing
  4. Benefits beyond awareness: securing ROI
  5. Building your firm’s high-impact function
  6. A helpful framework for getting started
  7. the tl;dr (my conclusion)

No time to read? No problem!

Just listen to our “unbillable hours” podcast episode “S19E3 – Justifying investment:”

“High growth” and how to get it

Research from the Hinge Institute reveals a clear trend: “High-growth firms,” those growing over 20 percent per year, invest roughly 17 percent more in their marketing than their slower-growing counterparts (~10 percent vs. 8.5 percent, to be precise; a number which has come down somewhat due to the current uncertainty in consulting markets).

More intriguingly, they are focusing on building strategic marketing capabilities, giving their marketing functions slightly different objectives and roles. But how exactly do these firms do this, and – and why?

Item #1: High-growth firms grow at a median growth rate of 32 percent p.a. Source: Hinge Research Institute.

The strategic expectations of fast-growing firms

The fast-growing firms I get to work with here at client friendly might offer some insights.

My most successful clients see their marketing as more than a tool for visibility and leads – and charge their marketing functions with strategic tasks instead: creating and capturing demand, differentiating their firm, educating and helping prospects, and enhancing service delivery and efficiency by devising firm-wide systems, influencing IP creation and coaching consultants in all things business development.

Somewhat interestingly (at least to me), Hinge finds something similar in their research, too:

Marketing functions in High Growth firms also play a greater role in their firms. [They] are more likely to be involved in researching markets, implementing strategy, and evaluating campaigns. They also tend to be more involved in developing and pricing services and attracting and retaining talents”

Hinge Research, 2023 High-growth study, p. 20.

Let’s review how this works in practice:

A different model for consultancy marketing

Many firms employ a straightforward – dare we say – simplistic model, viewing marketing as a mix of messaging, content, events, and media, or, simply put, “promotion.” These firms often run what I’ll call mere “tactical” marketing functions.

In contrast, high-growth firms tend to position their functions at the intersection of business and marketing; expecting them to influence all the “4Ps” of the marketing mix: Product (services and service offerings), Place (market segmentation), Price, and Promotion (creating demand through valuable expertise content).

This makes them use a slightly different marketing model, which combines tactical with strategic capabilities:

Item #2: Fast-growing consultancies build “high-impact” marketing functions which combine the tactical with the strategic. Source: client friendly.

Benefits beyond “awareness” – increasing ROI

High-impact functions do much more for a firm than increase visibility and bring in some “leads” (i.e., usually, contact info from website or newsletter subscribers).

They fortify the competitive position of a firm by enhancing its expertise, efficiency, rates, and margins, maximizing the firms returns-on-marketing significantly. Need more details?

Here are some key “Returns on Marketing” beyond “leads” you can – and should – expect from a high-impact function:

✅ True insights into ideal clients

Strategic marketing involves defining and researching your firm’s ideal clients. This inevitably focuses and improves not just your marketing efforts but also helps with uncovering new service opportunities.

A firm-wide focus on “issues and outcomes

With a clear understanding of your target groups, you’ll be able to maximize the relevance of your firm’s messaging, service offerings, and delivery. High-growth firms do this by tying all their efforts to 1) their clients’ issues and 2) the outcomes their services can produce.

Differentiating “Points of View” (PoVs)

A robust PoV helps consulting firms to stand out. Strategic marketing facilitates developing clear and sometimes provocative views on the industries your firm serves and the challenges your clients face – a key step towards creating an “expert positioning” for your firm.

A much-improved client experience

Because it impacts things like client journey and offering design, strategic marketing will also help to improve your client experience – from the early stages to the buying journey all the way through the service experience. It never fails to help with upselling, cross selling, and client retention.

Fresh thinking to give you an edge

Strategic marketing promotes new thinking within a firm, primarily by involving both consulting and marketing experts in research, thought leadership, content creation, and offering development efforts.

Formalized frameworks, even new IP

Strategic marketing also forces firms to turn their insights and ideas into practical, sell- and useable frameworks which simplify marketing and sales, support client engagements, and ensure consistent, high-quality service delivery.

✅ Higher bizdev efficiency

And, finally: By delivering the above benefits, strategic marketing will also help to improve the overall efficiency of your business development efforts (because marketing = bizdev at scale… and more effective marketing = even more effective bizdev, at even greater scale).

And, sure: Increased profits

By compounding all the above benefits over time, high-impact capabilities also drive increases in firm profitability. How much will depend on a firm’s specific circumstances, of course (and its discipline in execution) – but if Hinge Research’s data is any guide, the increase should be large:

Item #3: “High-growth” consultancies, with their high-impact marketing functions, are 2x more profitable than their peers. Source: Hinge Research Institute.

Building your firm’s “high-impact” function

So, how could you get your hands on similar benefits – and build a more strategic marketing function?

These are the high-level steps to get started:

#1 Discuss marketing’s role

I’ll recommend you start by having conversations to review and refine the role of the function in the firm: How, exactly, could it contribute even more to your consultancy’s business strategy and objectives? Then, expand the function’s current set of objectives and KPIs.

#2 Refine your strategy and org

With their new “job description” in hand, your marketing experts will then be able to draft a revised marketing strategy (this has to come first!) – and then build the capabilities, roles, services, and processes they’ll need to deliver. Important: Don’t forget to specify contributions by the business!

#3 Build capabilities, step by step

This is a multi-month (multi-year, even, in some cases) process, of course – and best pursued step-by-step along a clear, multi-phased plan. Start with the quick wins – involving marketing in “offering development” is often an easy one, for example – and expand responsibilities over time.

Pro tip: Prepare before you begin! Interviewing businesses executives to learn their views is always helpful, as is bringing a “mission statement” and marketing framework for the future function (see below):

A helpful framework for getting started

When discussing how, exactly, marketing could support the business, it’s helpful to have a framework explaining “high-impact marketing” at hand.

At client friendly, we use the following, which has proven to be both helpful and practical over the years. It describes 4 areas of impact (or “building blocks”) and details the key things to do for each.

The recommendation is to implement “minimum viable versions” of each block in the very order in which they’re presented, starting with “strategy:”

Item #4: Our high-impact marketing framework describes your future function’s responsibilities, jobs, and deliverables. Source: client friendly.

Feel free to leverage these charts, by the way – I’ve put them here as a PowerPoint file which you can download for free (no e-mail required).

the tld;dr (my conclusion)

Many of the consultancies I encounter underutilize their marketing functions, restricting them to a tactical role and mere “promotional” tasks. This usually leads to subpar results.

In contrast, high-growth firms leverage their marketing capabilities to influence all facets of the marketing mix (“4p”). This much more strategic best practice lets them enjoy benefits far beyond mere market visibility – and delivers higher “returns-on-marketing.”

Hence, my recommendation: Do revisit your firm’s view of and expectations from marketing – and see if you can make both about not just increased visibility, but differentiation, improved service delivery, and higher efficiency and profits.

Like the charts from this post? Get them as editable Powerpoint here, for free (and no e-mail required!).

More tips like these?

Check out the “unbillable hours” podcast with client friendly’s Florian Heinrichs – out now on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher
or wherever you listen to podcasts!

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