How Middle Market Professional Services Firms Can Win Ideal Clients

by Debra Andrews | July 16, 2020

EY, PWC, McKinsey & Company, Bain and many other top tier professional services firms have one thing in common that makes the playing field seemingly unfair for their middle market competitors. Their brands are bigger than the sum of their people, processes and infrastructure. Seven figure marketing budgets that allow for mass marketing such as Super Bowl commercials, the sponsorship of sports figures and advertising at stadiums have helped them to build this level of name recognition and become known and trusted brands.

Should middle market professional services firms even try to compete for the ideal business of larger private and smaller public enterprises? 

For many firms, especially those that are “best kept secrets” and without name recognition, the deck may seem stacked against them when it comes to winning larger fee engagements. At Marketri, we try to shift our middle market clients away from those self-defeating thoughts and give them the strategies, tactics, tools and confidence to expand their vision of what’s possible.

Smart strategic marketing is a competitive GPS that enables smaller firms to maneuver right around the larger ones. Will it be a snap? Of course not! But the journey towards bigger and better clients is well worth it and begins with answering two simple questions:

Who are your firm’s ideal clients?

Can you serve them as well or better than larger professional services firms?

If you answered “yes” to the second question (which I have a hunch you did), then it’s time to get strategic about your marketing, from planning to execution and measurement. I worked for PWC, KPMG and EY in the earliest days of my career and saw that model’s flaws firsthand, with many clients having little access to senior managers and partners. I know there are many middle market firms that can provide better value, but they struggle to get their names out there. If your firm is one of them, here’s some advice that I hope you will find helpful.

Hire a Marketing Expert

Competing against top firms is like scaling Mount Everest. Without an expert guide, your firm will spend a lot money only to retreat before reaching base camp. Salaries for full-time Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) run between $200,000 – $300,000K, eating up way too much of a middle market firm’s budget.

Enter Fractional CMOs who provide just the right amount of expert guidance to accelerate goal achievement for a fraction of the cost.

Refresh Your Story, Brand and Website

Many professional services firms have longevity and, too often, their stories, brands and websites have not kept pace. In fact, middle market firms tend to be far more sophisticated than the images they project. Marketri has worked with many firms that came to us expressing embarrassment and frustration over their outward appearance.

Without the right story, a brand that looked the part and a responsive website delivering a positive user experience, their marketing communications and campaigns had fallen flat.

Fractional CMOs can help professional services firms like these build the necessary infrastructure to scale the mountain and align their public image with the impressive work going on behind the scenes. Caution: Relying on creative marketing agencies and web development firms to get all this right is risky. Instead, choose a marketing partner with strategic expertise who can tie all the pieces together, ensure tactics are serving strategic goals and keep everyone moving forward on the same page.

Prioritize Target Markets

Middle market professional services firms often make the mistake of taking an overly broad sector approach. Focus is a key to success against larger competitors. Marketri works with its clients to evaluate market potential, the competition and current penetration levels. We make suggestions on where to double down and plant seeds for future growth.

Unless there’s true expertise in a sector, the ability to compete, especially for top clients, will be very low. Identify “your” sector and own it. Utilize thought leadership and other content marketing strategies to establish your firm as one of the “go-to” leaders in that sector – or maybe even the sole leader!

Embrace a Multi-Channel Approach

Email blasts and service sheets are over-used in professional services. They’re easy and inexpensive but also ineffective when used too frequently or in a manner that does not map to a buyer’s journey. A Fractional CMO can help create a communication plan that draws upon many different channels.

The key is to be relevant, build credibility and communicate in ways that stand out. We’ve seen far too many middle market professional services firms that are reluctant to take a chance or say things a bit differently. We’ve actually had some clients point to a competitor’s website and give us some version of this feedback: “We need to say it like they are saying it.” Then why bother? Without creativity, originality and the boldness to chart your own distinct course, you might as well pack it in because you won’t stand a chance against seven figure marketing budgets.

Successful marketing that yields opportunities and top-line revenue growth isn’t easy and doesn’t happen overnight. As you try new things and open new channels, it’s important to take a long-term view and be patient. Your marketing leader should be able to serve up KPIs to provide assurance that your journey is progressing and interim goals are being met.

Measure, Measure, Measure

Marketing is more than tactical execution. Sophisticated modern marketing – the kind that secures wins for middle market firms – relies on knowing what to measure and consistently optimizing over time.

More times than I can count, I’ve had prospective clients complain that their existing marketing isn’t getting results. My first question is: “Are you doing the same forms of communication in the same manner, over and over again?” Odds are, the answer is “yes,” and no one has stopped to analyze results and make course corrections. If these firms had done regular measurement along the way, they would not have wasted time, money and energy on business-as-usual tactics that just weren’t working.

Marketing is not a volume game in today’s world. Actually, less activity and higher quality and relevancy can be the secret sauce for success. Does your firm know what to measure and how to optimize? Outstanding marketing analytics tools are ready and waiting, and a skilled Fractional CMO firm can help you select and implement those that are appropriate for wherever your firm is in its marketing journey.

Even though today’s marketing has become a science as much as an art, the optimization of programs is not widely done even among top tier firms. Effective measurement and optimization could become enormously impactful elements of your marketing strategy, helping you to land those formerly elusive ideal clients.

Is your middle market professional services firm ready to compete at a higher level?

Marketri has helped many firms like yours across a wide range of industries. Download our Professional Services Marketing Case Study Guide and reach out for a free initial consultation.