Tag Archives: marketing research

Marketing Failure at Professional Services Firms: Who’s to Blame?

imagesKRCJCX00The Hinge Research Institute – a division of one of the nation’s smartest B2B marketing consultancies – recently published the results of its survey of 530 professional services firms representing accounting and finance; technology; marketing and communications; architecture; engineering and construction; legal; and management consulting disciplines.

In its report, 2015 Professional Services Marketing Priorities, Hinge examined current business challenges and approaches to implementing marketing initiatives at small and medium-sized firms, with annual revenues ranging from less than $5 million to more than $100 million. Owners, partners and principals represented 60% of survey respondents, marketing professionals represented 23%, and the balance were operational or senior level decision-makers at those firms.

Although this was not the intention of this study, or the expressed conclusions of Hinge, the research findings provide insight into why marketing fails to deliver a reasonable return at most professional services firms.

Failure to Connect the Dots

In the Hinge research, here’s how small and medium sized professional services firms ranked their current business challenges:

  • No surprises here. “Attracting and developing new business” (72.1%) is understandably the most significant challenge for any business;
  • However… “Strategy / Planning Issues” (26.8%) are either something professional services firms believe they have under control; are not greatly concerned about; or fail to associate with new business development.

Activity without Purpose or Accountability

The apparent disconnect between strategy / planning and actual marketplace results is reinforced in the marketing initiatives that professional services firms planned for 2015.

According to the Hinge survey, the focus of most professional services firms is on the tactical aspects of marketing, reflected in their plans to:

  • Increase the visibility of their brand (57.9%) and their experts (54.5%)
  • Upgrade their websites (54.9%)
  • Make clients more aware of services (53.5%)
  • Create content marketing programs (47.2%)

Conversely, the strategic aspects of marketing are all at the bottom of the 2015 to-do list for most professional services firms:

  • Develop marketing strategy / plan (45.5%)
  • Find stronger competitive advantage (40.8%)
  • Conduct research on target market (33.8%)
  • Conduct client satisfaction research (22.7%)

It might be argued that strategic marketing tasks did not make the list of 2015 planned initiatives because professional services firms already have those disciplines covered. But our own experience counseling professional services firms over the past 20 years suggests otherwise.

One of the first questions we ask a new or prospective client is this: “Do you have a written marketing plan?” Most often, and consistent with the Hinge study, the answer we receive from them is “No.”

Who’s to blame for unmet expectations in marketing professional services: The senior managers who focus on tactics without a strategic foundation? Or the marketing professionals who should know better?

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Managing Customer Expectations and Being Picked Last

Soccer Can Be More Exciting Than Lawn Bowling

This past weekend, I joined a group of pre-teen relatives and their neighborhood buddies in a friendly game of soccer – a sport that had not yet made its way to America when I was in school, and has never been of any interest to me. Guys in shorts + lots of running = Snore-fest.

Maybe the kids sensed my underlying disregard for their sport. Maybe it was my gray hair. Or my middle-age one-pack abs. Whatever the reason, when they chose up sides, I was picked dead last, and the team that got me acted as though they had just been handed a red card. Humiliated, I took up a defensive position…assigned by a 12 year-old soccer hot shot…to keep the ball from getting near our goalie.

For the next hour, as balls whizzed past my head, through my legs and into our net, ignoring the impolite remarks from my cranky teammates, I nursed my wounded ego and considered the impact of expectations on performance and perception.

Perhaps I was playing poorly only because my teammates expected me to stink. I’ve certainly been a victim of low expectations on the golf course, where fellow hackers accuse you of “sandbagging” if you start playing better than your handicap suggests…so you quickly revert to double bogey performance.

There are a host of related studies on this subject: Students who outperform peers in tests because their teacher convinces them that they are smarter than other kids.  Patients who experience better clinical outcomes because they believe in the effectiveness of the therapy or medication. Factory workers who are more productive because their co-workers are supportive and want them to succeed.

But here’s an interesting twist: attempting to manage customer expectations can backfire.

Exceeding customer expectations may be a key to customer satisfaction, but a Journal of Marketing Research study suggests that seeking to define their expectations in advance can cause consumers to focus on the negative aspects of the purchase or experience, and to view the experience more negatively than customers whose expectations were not solicited.

The lesson here for marketers looking to measure and improve performance: Don’t ask customers to define their expectations before you deliver
the experience. Following the customer experience, ask them if, how and why it met their expectations.

The lesson for middle-aged, aspiring weekend soccer stars: Avoid the humiliation of being picked last. Buy a whistle, make yourself permanent
referee, and call ridiculous fouls on all those pimply neighborhood kids.

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