By Pieter Looijenga, Account Manager at LexisNexis InterAction
No industry has been invulnerable to the pandemic and the professional services sectors such as legal and accounting and financial services (A&FS) are no exception. A new survey finds that (perhaps unsurprisingly), in firms around the world in these sectors, business development and sales efforts were the hardest hit.
Now over a year into the pandemic, in potentially an even more competitive marketplace, professional services firms need to revisit their modus operandi – from long term commercial strategies and staffing and skills requirements, through to business development (BD) approaches and technology necessities. This will poise them well for the future uncertainty that Covid-19 might still bring.
Digital is the future
Last year, professional services firms rose to the challenge that Covid-19 presented, making changes that will take further hold this year. Foremost on the talent acquisition and recruitment front, in contrast to previous economic downturns, many firms increased headcount in 2020 in their marketing and BD departments. The traditional marketing and BD tactics proved not to be as effective during the pandemic, compelling firms to bolster effort to achieve their pre-pandemic business targets.
Firms also altered their strategies to retain clients and win new business – as evidenced by the above-mentioned survey that 76% of A&FS firms overhauled their BD strategies to win new business, with the corresponding figure sitting at nearly 70% in the legal services sector. Noteworthy has been the switch to digital outreach, given that typically professional services firms have relied heavily on referrals to grow. Eight out of the top 10 marketing techniques used by firms were digital, including tactics such as website, social media, and email campaigns, among others. Some firms were more sophisticated in their adoption of digital techniques – such as webinars, virtual events, video content and podcasts – and they were rewarded for it with higher growth compared to firms that didn’t adopt these methods.
To execute against these programmes, in 2020, professional services firms logically leveraged technologies. Platforms for email marketing, customer relationship management, analytics and content management topped the list of adoption.
New challenges – data quality and metrics tracking
Whilst professional services firms have pivoted to digital-led marketing and BD, two challenges have emerged – that of data quality and the ability to track metrics – which are critical for these organisations to address for future success. The quality of the database used for marketing and BD is of course extremely important to ensure that the programmes are reaching the right audience. Thereafter, the ability to track metrics is essential to ensure that key performance indicators are being met, and analytics are needed so that firms can determine patterns that lead to success or ineffectiveness (as the case may be) so that timely course-correction can take place to drive more effective strategies. The survey supports this viewpoint. For example, law firms that saw high growth in 2020 were four times more likely to use tracking metrics for marketing and business development efforts, compared to those firms that did not grow. This illustrates BD maturity.
Fortunately for many firms, a key technology that supports a metrics and analytics-led approach to marketing and BD – i.e., customer relationship management (CRM) – is widely deployed in these sectors. On the flip side, not all are utilising the technology to capture prospect and client insights and data, gain better visibility into their sales pipelines and access reporting – all of which can help them make more timely and impactful decisions related to business priorities and opportunities.
Technology adoption for competitive advantage
There can hardly be any contention that a digital approach to marketing and BD requires technology for execution, data analytics and forecasting to in turn enable better planning, budgeting, and selling. With the right technology, firms can automate administrative and repetitive functional tasks, manage contact data, improve client engagement, optimise relationships through pipeline management and indeed ensure regulatory compliance and governance of the overall BD function. Most of all, with accurate data insights, firms can confidently develop new service offerings and devise new strategies in tune with changing business conditions, for competitive advantage.
2020 has shown that with an appropriate combination of strategy, agility and technology, BD can facilitate business growth – despite disturbances of the level that the pandemic caused. Perhaps which is why most firms – either buoyed by their success in a difficult year or in recognition that they need to do more – are increasing their marketing and BD spend in 2021. Many have also realised that prospects and clients themselves are leveraging technology and so want to work with firms where technological and mindset-led synergies exist.
The digital thinking and approach to BD that firms adopted last year will now evolve. Clearly their success with this approach demonstrates that clients, prospects and even employees have embraced and perhaps even grown accustomed to these digital measures. However, the firms that actively advance their technology-led BD maturity levels will be the big winners in the post-pandemic era – versus those that simply react when the next crisis hits.