In reality, the pandemic just accelerated a problem that has been building for years as private equity and banking replace professional services as the go-to industries for top talent. COVID-19 has prompted others to resign as they asked themselves, “Is this all there is”? In the resulting staff shortage, ambitious millennials are being snapped up by other professions that allow them to achieve coveted partner status more quickly.
Yet what sounds like a crippling problem might actually be a much-needed panacea for an industry long resistant to innovation.
Firms are finally on the cusp of redeploying some of their marketing resources to technology. Those that take the lead in adopting technology designed to identify new clients will have the best chance to build ideal prospect portfolios and compete with potential new market entrants such as Google or Apple. Those that spurn change will be left with a bloated, low-quality client base as their best clients are stolen by competitors who deployed technology they avoided.
Right now, the lack of talent is forcing firms to fire some clients. Although there are often good reasons to part ways, such as low realization rates, the suddenness of the dismissals can result in tarnished reputations and bad blood in an industry where reputation is crucial.
Don’t waste the opportunity provided by this crisis. Now’s the time to embrace marketing automation tools. Used wisely, these tools can take away the pain and fear new staff experience with business development activities. They may also accelerate company growth and thereby shorten the years to become a partner.
Even more importantly, these tools can result in stronger efforts to attract the prospective clients you want to attract. How do they do this? First, they automate prospecting efforts and only, send qualified leads to the partners and others in the firm. That allows partners to focus their efforts on genuine prospects, minimizing their efforts The results can include making the firm a more attractive, and lucrative, place to work, improving the quality of clients, and even helping stem the outflow of talent.
Onboarding new tech platforms can be cumbersome and expensive. In this time when we face capacity issues to serve clients, consider overcoming these obstacles to change by tapping some of your existing marketing staff to implement the new systems. If done well, this builds in the bandwidth needed for the change, matches marketing resources and capacity in the interim and prepares your team for rapid growth as the crisis eases.
Tech requirements for the post-COVID world
What to look for? At a minimum, firms should be using an email platform, a customer relationship management system, a marketing data warehouse, an integrated website and a scoring tool to gauge prospect interest. They should also be incorporating thought leadership content and the smart use of social media tools, most importantly LinkedIn.
A good lead-scoring system has numerous benefits: It allows you to assess potential clients based on the number and quality of interactions they’ve had with a firm’s digital presence. This eliminates unqualified prospects and much higher success rates when asking for appointments.
LinkedIn is also a powerful tool: When your scoring model identifies potential clients, you can use the social media platform to find shared connections. It’s also great for learning what businesses the people in your network know and how they can help you connect you to ideal clients.
Taken together, these tools can automate much sales legwork and narrow down prospects.
This new system can have a powerful liberating effect, giving firms and partners more time to focus on clients and prospects—even with less staff. It also gives firms the freedom to cherry-pick dream clients and phase out troublesome, overly demanding or long-standing low-realization ones.
I’ve always been amazed by how many professional services firms accept and rationalize billing rates below 100%. I think it’s partly due to the dread of having to do business development to replace the hours. Cutting low-realization clients loose has the potential to create an enormous amount of capacity: Digitally enhanced business development may turn a dreaded activity into one that partners and staff embrace.
I understand that in today’s business environment many leaders are looking for normalcy that they describe as what their firm did before the pandemic. Strategic thinkers will see a way to make changes needed to compete for new clients in the next decade and to create an environment that addresses the obstacles created by new staff business development goals, all while getting some relief from capacity issues created by current ongoing marketing efforts.
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