Over the past few months, we’ve spoken to dozens of managing partners in professional services firms about ways they find new business. Every person interviewed said that a vast majority of new business was generated via their “networks and trusted relationships.”
Trust is a shared belief that you can depend on one another to achieve an objective. Trust is built through interaction, integrity, success/failure, transparency and consistency.
How do your firm’s current marketing activities strengthen the personal networks of the managing partners or help build trusted relationships?
If you have a vague feeling of B2B marketing malaise, it may be due to the growing recognition that modern marketing-think is steadily transforming itself into sales-think. In sales-think, the conversations, the relationships, the personal network and persuasion have always been the de facto currency.
Your unease may stem from the fact that the marketing function as we know it is changing dramatically. This may be due to audience fragmentation or the shift of power from the seller to the buyer or hundreds of other equally valid reasons.
For those practice managers and managing directors interested in more efficiently finding new business it begins by aligning marketing with the task of increasing the number of highly-qualified trusted relationships in the portfolio, not closing a deal. For marketing, it is important to recognize that new business development as a disciplined activity is steadily morphing into an exercise in “personal branding.”
If you are uncomfortable with the term “personal branding” because it minimizes the power of the corporate brand, welcome to the club. But if people buy from people and if a brand is really the sum total of a customer’s interaction with a company, then it follows that in professional services, the personal brand is really all that matters.
Traditional B2B marketing-think such as intrusion, hard-sell tactics, product-push, branding and controlling-the-message activities just don’t resonate anymore. Marketing-as-control has been undermined by customer access to information, networks and experience far beyond the marketing department’s ability to control and manage. The marketing department is being forced to accept that authentic, inclusive, people to people-driven information is becoming the dominant method for inviting prospects into relationship that can be nourished into customer relationships.
This is even more complicated by the fact that the isolated points of encounter between a company representative and a prospect aren’t just sales encounters, but social encounters as well. These social and network encounters don’t lend themselves the traditional linear progression of a sales pipeline diagram.
There are some stand-out marketing organizations that have embraced this truth. Yet there are others who are just not capable of authenticity because they are so far removed from the customer.
This is why some professional services organizations are delegating the function of authenticity to the managing partners and practice managers. The managing partners, responsible for thought leadership are now also responsible for promoting and demonstrating that same leadership through their actions.
Today, the cost of content production and distribution has shrunk dramatically, the information freely available has grown to include not just sellers but buyers eager to share their own needs, challenges and experiences; and reaching interested people with relevant offerings is a much more fractured challenge. The challenge is aligning personal relationships with the sales funnel in a way that supports meaningful and valuable discussion as well as trust building.