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The Marcus Perspective

NO, NOT THE FIRM ... THE MARKET

By Bruce W. Marcus

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Thatís Where Planning Begins

By Bruce Marcus

I donít understand. For decades, Iíve been exhorting professional firms and the consultants who serve them that the first line in the marketing plan begins with knowing your prospective market. I even wrote a book (with August Aquila) called Client at the Core. And obviously, I preach that message in my latest book, Professional Services Marketing 3.0. I spelled it out in the first article I wrote in The Virginia Accountant in 1980.

And to this day, I get article after article, and many marketing books, that say you should start off by spelling out what you want your firm to be. The market is then an afterthought. In the immortal words of the great American philosopher. Yogi Berra: ďAinít nobody here knows how to play this game?Ē

In that first article, I wrote, repeating in detail Professional Services marketing 3.0, Marketing is four things:

  1. Know and define your market;
  2. Define your service;
  3. Define the tools of marketing that would work best for your market and your firm; and
  4. Manage the tools of marketing.

I would add, today, one more thing ó define your objectives in terms of the first three points. I said it in 1980, and itís still true.

  • Know and define your market. That is, your existing and potential market for the services you have to offer.
  • Define your service, in terms of the market for your skills, specialties and experience, as well as your ability to serve that market. Quality and value donít count. In a law firm, theyíre a given.
  • Define your objectives, in terms of the market needs, as well as your ability to meet those needs. I ask the question ó if you donít know where youíre going, how do you know how to get there?
  • Define the tools of marketing that would work best for your market and your firm. There are a finite group of marketing tools. What counts is not the ability to use all of them, but your ability to define the ones that would work best in your market, and further define them in terms of your ability to use those tools artfully and effectively.
  • Manage the tools of marketing, by choosing your tools, and managing them artfully and skillfully.

The way a plan built this way works is to bring pragmatic focus to the plan, rather than wishful thinking. If each of these steps is conceived thoughtfully and realistically, your plan then becomes viable and productive. An important point ó a marketing plan should focus not on the firm, but on the individual practice. When this is done effectively, not only does the plan work, but this kind of program redounds to the entire firm. It doesnít seem to work the other way around.

Traditionally, developing the marketing has been the job of the marketing director and staff. And when non-marketers get involved, it can be disastrous. What you usually get is wishful thinking based on mythology. It dooms a plan from the beginning. True, partner participation is mandatory, but this participation should be based on the skills each practice group has to offer.

What is happening now, though, as reported in Professional Services Marketing 3.0, is the growing marketing sophistication of lawyers allows them to contribute realistic and professional marketing skills. I report this trend in Professional Services Marketing 3.0, which details the evolution of marketing since it first became legal under the U.S. Supreme Court 1977 decision, Bates v State Bar of Arizona. I call this phase Marketing 1.0. Marketing 2.0 is what happened in the interim years since Bates, during which marketing began to evolve to its current state. We are still in that state. This evolutionary process, which is impelled by the growing need to compete with frank promotional activity, is not only changing the face of marketing, but generating new law and accounting firm structures to better compete, Under 3.0, firms are changing for increased productivity and greater focus on client, rather than on firm needs. The focus on client needs is based on value to the client, rather than to the firm and its needs.

Itís through this kind of practice that that an evolutionary process also begins in the contemporary firm. This is resulting in moving from the long-held traditional firm that resembles the Dickensian model, to one thatís more streamlined and not surprisingly, more productive and profitable than the traditional firm.

Should marketing planning begin with ďwhat kind of firm, and how big, we want to be? Not if you really want to be your kind of firm and more profitable as well.


Bruce W. Marcus is a Connecticut-based consultant in marketing and strategic planning for professional firms, the editor of THE MARCUS LETTER ON PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MARKETING, (www.marcusletter.com), the co-author of CLIENT AT THE CORE (John Wiley & Sons, 2004), and the forthcoming PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MARKETING 3.0 (Bay Street Group). For more information, go to http://bit.ly/MarcusBook. His e-mail address is marcus@marcusletter.com. © 2011 Bruce W. Marcus. All rights reserved

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