David Maister - Professional Business, Professional Life

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David Maister - Professional Business, Professional Life

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Winning Business Without Bluffing

by Dita De Boni 2001

from New Zealand Herald, 2001

In marketing, as in…other things, you may get a big bang from the one-night stand, but the most satisfying relationship will develop if nurtured over time

At least that’s what consultant and writer David Maister says about the best way to build the businesses of accountants, lawyers and other professional services

The lesson is the same whether applied to a small team of accountants, dentists, engineers or global networks of bean counters and lawyers

Professional firms are all about understanding, influencing and building relationships with clients and employees

Boston-based Maister has been writing about relationships between clients and their professional advisers for more than 20 years, developing his theory on the importance of trust in several best-sellers from his first, Managing the Professional Services Firm, to his latest book, The Trusted Advisor

The basis of marketing professional services hinges on the idea of building trust, he says. And differentiating yourself by building on the relationships you nurture will be your marketing advantage

“Clients…find it easy to get technically qualified people, but much harder to find true, trusted advisers who are attentive, dependable [and] interested in them and not just in their projects and fees

“If you could find a doctor who consistently and reliably acted as if he or she cared, would you pay more or be less fee-sensitive? Would you go back to that doctor whenever you had a choice? Would you tell your friends?”

Good deeds spawn good profile. Maister recommends some “golden rules” of marketing. They include the biblical-sounding “do unto others as you would wish to be dealt with” and the Dale Carnegie rejoinder “you’ll have more fun and success by helping people reach their goals than you will by always trying to reach your goals”—something Maister says is “not religion or communism, but basic exchange capitalism.”

Building deep relationships and not just looking for the next person to “seduce” are also key

Perhaps the most controversial part of the ex-Harvard professor’s body of work for marketers is his dislike of broadcast campaigns

“Broadcast campaigns are the desperate act of people who don’t get it—or who get it and don’t want to change their behavior

“So, the thinking goes, ‘Let’s get the marketing director busy with brochures and newsletters, so I don’t have to change.’

“Brain dead idiocy!”

McKinsey and Goldman Sachs, both “renowned for their relationship management skills,” almost never advertise or engage in general broadcasting, he says

And can professional services market themselves on the Internet—do they need an electronic side to their marketing?

“No and no. Next question.”

Instead, build your status as a trusted adviser by writing articles, giving speeches and putting on useful seminars, he says

One New Zealand company that has followed Maister’s pearls of wisdom is environmental and engineering firm URS, formerly Woodward-Clyde, courtesy of the firm’s marketing manager Steve Menzies, a Maister convert

Mr. Menzies says that trust is important to URS, which employs around 16,000 people worldwide, because most of the consultancy’s business comes from repeat clients

He agrees that broadcast advertising is not so important to URS

“The most effective forms of marketing often come through small-scale seminars and presentations. Last year we began a series of ‘Reverse Seminars,’ inviting senior decision makers from our biggest clients to come and talk to our principals about their business,” he says

“These lunchtime seminars served several important functions: they introduced the clients to a wider range of people within our organization, they gave our technical specialists a wider appreciation of the clients’ businesses and they gave us different ideas about what we could be doing to better service their needs.”

The New Zealand market is so small that you cannot afford to make mistakes that could damage your reputation, he says. And “there is a generic distrust of consultants in New Zealand and it is often very difficult for clients to accept that they need to call on experts for advice and assistance.”

Good works can build perception.

“Marketing in our sector is fundamentally about doing good work.”

But what if good work fails to get the message across? That was the way state-owned financial services and trustee organization Public Trust felt before undergoing a radical image overhaul around a year ago

The general manager of sales and services, Trevor Hockley, says professional services firms are not always seen as accessible, “and that is how we wanted to position ourselves

“Our marketing quest was to reposition a 127-year-old brand—a brand which may not have been top-of-mind for the consumers. Perhaps there was a perception we were not up-to-date or no longer relevant.”

Despite the view that broadcast advertising is not essential to a professional services firm, Public Trust found a quirky new television campaign—the so-called “bullet point” ads devised by Auckland’s FCB agency—to be highly successful in grabbing attention with “plain language, wit and wisdom.”

“We have customer relationship management behind the scenes, but the reason for broadcast is that we found people had a very low awareness of who we were and what we did. We needed to tell a much wider public audience about [ourselves] and go beyond existing customers

“Reactions indicate that our campaign was right on the money. Our old communications campaigns were mostly vague generic messages about us doing a large range of products and services, but we had to change to go for more of a ‘top-of-mind’ approach, because the things that make people look to use our services are happening every day—from birth, to death, to divorce, to doing things that will eventually get them divorced!”

While Public Trust believes it has created more accessibility through a television campaign, the marketing team at accountancy firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu has found billboards and the Internet helpful in reaching new clients, over and above an emphasis on existing clients

Marketing director Jan Hains says that market research carried out in 1998 found that awareness of the Deloitte name was not as high as that of its competitors in Auckland and Wellington

“We selected billboards to get [the message across] because none of our competitors were using them at the time. We could reach much of our target market by moving the billboards around and could communicate our message through the visuals and single-minded proposition of ‘shaping the future of business.’”

Brand awareness has markedly improved since the billboard campaign was initiated, she says

 The company’s website is also a serious proposition: “Sometimes people are not initially potential clients but are looking for information on issues and our website can be a resource…This all contributes to the perception that Deloitte is easy to approach and obtain assistance from and is a thought leader.”