How to grow your professional services firm – Part 2

(And why thought leadership is like barbecue sauce)

In Part 1 of this post, I suggested that maybe it was time
for marketers to get back to basics. CEOs certainly
feel that way, as a survey by the Fournaise Marketing Group revealed: 

“CEOs feel marketers have
forgotten that technology [system integration, funnels, processes etc.] is only
a support tool that does not create demand per se – only accurate strategies
and campaigns pushing the right products, product benefits, content and
customer value propositions do.”

The last part of the above sentence is especially important. Why? Because remarkably few firms actually have a useful, meaningful value proposition. This is stunning when you consider that the greatest
marketing need of the 21st century is to express and deliver value. 
To grow, companies need to follow a four-step approach. First, they need to seek
out a singular, succinct value proposition by carefully analyzing their own
resources and those of their competitors. Then they need to develop and articulate a virtually impregnable strategy that plays to their
strengths. Third, they may need to update or upgrade the processes and resources that will deliver on that strategy. And last, they need to reinforce the strategy via consistent, memorable communications to customers and employees. 
Collins and Rukstad beautifully elucidated this approach in Can You Say What Your Strategy Is? (Harvard Business Review, April, 2008). These four steps still remain the proven path to success. Of course, Collins and Rukstad are careful to point out that other key elements must be in place, namely an appropriate organizational structure, compensation strategy and operating methodology that are aligned to support the value proposition. 
In my view, and in the view of an increasing number of business owners, what truly enhances the value proposition so that it differentiates
the firm, is its ability to publicly demonstrate its expertise through thought leadership. 
Yes, I
realize that term (thought leadership) has been tossed around more often than barbecue
sauce at a rib roast. But just like barbecue sauce, a thought leadership program
helps make the message tastier and more memorable. And that is the key to successful execution.
It’s no coincidence that many of the largest companies in the world
invest millions of dollars into their thought leadership programs. They not only want their clients and customers and prospects to get some insight into how they think, but how they can add value. 
Just as important, they want to constantly remain visible and relevant by offering timely solutions to a variety of pressing problems. Who are these firms? IBM is one of them. They
devote an enormous amount of time and resources at their thought leadership site, the IBM Institute for Business Value, to making sure their customers and prospects continue to see their
company as relevant, innovative and strategic. They pride themselves on being
voted the number one thought leadership firm in the world according to the
latest White Space Thought Leadership Rankings released in February, 2014.
Why are so many firms failing
to take advantage of thought leadership when three quarters of professional
services marketers see thought leadership as the greatest source of differentiation? Strategy and communications
consultancy Man Bites Dog surveyed one hundred marketing professionals at top
25 legal, accountancy and management consulting firms and found that there is “an
epidemic of thought followership in the professional services sector. Three-quarters
(74 percent) of marketing leaders admit their firms tend to “jump on the
bandwagon” rather than set the agenda, estimating that two thirds (65 percent)
of their so-called “thought leadership” content is in fact “thought
Why are so many thought
leadership programs ineffective? One reason is simply that the thought leadership strategy hasn’t been well thought out enough (pardon the pun), either though failure to
provide adequate resources, or because the principals are conservative and prefer to mimic what’s out there rather than blaze new trails. As a result, the pleas
of their marketing professionals are ignored.

Even if the thinking and the content
within the program is compelling and useful, there is one more obstacle to overcome: the blog or website isn’t being seen by the right people. 
How can you make your thought leadership
content more visible? And how can you leverage this visibility to generate growth? We’ll tackle the answers to those questions in Part 3.

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