How Firms Fail at Implementing Process Marketing

Sep 07, 1998

“Process marketing” is a term you’ll see a lot of in The Zweig Letter. Heck, we even have a supplemental, stand-alone Process Marketing Advisor devoted entirely to the subject! The reason is that process marketing is not a fad. It is instead a meaningful change in the way our entire industry handles its marketing. We take pride in not jumping on bandwagons here. We’d rather start the wagon train ourselves! Basically, process marketing involves driving demand for an A/E/P or consulting firm’s services through direct mail, public relations, and other activities that can be done without making the high-priced technical, design, and other staff make cold calls. It relies on statistical probability theory to produce results. It’s more in line with how consumer products marketers sell their products than it is with traditional selling in a professional services firm where we rely on “rainmakers.” When implemented properly, it reduces the firm’s dependence on any one person for their contacts, drives demand and makes the phone ring, allows the firm to increase prices, increases the close rate on proposals submitted and presentations made, and improves the company’s overall sustainability. But unfortunately, as sound as the concept is, it is not often implemented properly in this industry. Here are some of the ways firms go wrong: Not enough frequency: Most firms try to do quarterly mailings. But once a quarter is not often enough for direct mail to do anything. It has to reach your clients at least 24 times a year. Even more is better still—100 times a year is not beyond consideration for some firms in some market sectors. Too much attention to any individual piece slows down the process: Many people act as if a simple newsletter, press release, or personal letter that they are sending out for marketing purposes is some kind of magnum opus! It shouldn’t be! The key is getting it out! Nothing is perfect, and if it is, it probably took too long. There is only so much you’ll get out of perfection when it comes to a marketing piece. Do a better job next time but get this one out! Inadequate list: The whole idea that firms should keep people out of their mailing list database unless they have had prior contact with that person is preposterous. You want everyone in there who could hire or influence the decision to hire your firm. That means you need to make the database available to everyone and monitor the activity related to it so people learn that it’s important to be adding names. Also, consider renting selected mailing lists occasionally. Some of these are expensive but can bring some new clients into your marketing radarscope. Bragging: We all act as if our projects were the most interesting things in the world. But they aren’t, in most cases at least. Better than projects is to have the opinions of your key people in their areas of expertise. Or war stories of really smart and really dumb things clients have done. Or interpretations of new regulations. Or interviews with someone that you would like to have as a client. This is more powerful and more readable. Inadequate support: Many companies are sold on the concept of process marketing but they don’t commit any resources to it. You need to have a budget for printing and postage. You may also need writing and graphic design help, because most of your technical people are slow and not that good at either. That usually means spending money for in-house or outside consulting talent. And that is in conflict with many companies’ goals of reducing corporate overhead. Inadequate information tracking: If you don’t immediately track (and report) how many times the phone rang with new clients this month and how your close rate looks on proposals, you’ll start losing support real quickly for process marketing. The reason: it raises overhead. But it also allows for higher prices and some of the previously unbilled time of our most expensive people to be redirected into billable activities. Fear of repetition: Most people think once you have put some information out there you can’t do it again. That’s crazy! It’s the repetition of the same message, over and over, that drives it home. Say the same thing 100 times over and eventually the target audience starts to really understand it. Reinvention of the wheel: Architects, engineers, and scientists seem to like this. I guess it makes you feel creative. Each time you come up with a new graphic image, a new name for the piece, new colors, or new formats. But it’s insanity when it comes to marketing! Look at what has worked elsewhere and copy it. Do a better copy—improve on it, but don’t start with a clean sheet of paper every time. This was the formula the Japanese motorcycle industry used in the 50s and 60s, and they ended up dominating the sector in the U.S. in the 70s and 80s. So if you are currently underway with a process marketing program, or just thinking about how to do it, please consider my points above. We’ve been there and seen what works and what doesn’t. Originally published 9/07/1998

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