How to improve your commerciality as a professional services marketer
An excellent PM Forum panel session for professional services marketers last week effected an interesting turnaround in it’s audience’s views. I would say that wouldn’t I given I agreed with them but the thrust of the debate was that commerciality (however you define that) was the most important skill for a professional services marketer.
Commerciality scored over soft skills (mostly about influencing), data and analytics (see my previous blog on this!) and innovation (which frankly without commerciality is a bit pointless anyway).
Commerciality is defined as “commercial quality or character; ability to produce a profit”. Much explored in the world of professional services consulting but is often under explored in professional services marketing and has often come second to a focus on data analytics in my experience.
Witness my favourite data nonsense moment when the head of digital at a client company just could not understand why the sales team were less than impressed that his 28% above a spurious internal benchmark response rate to a mailing campaign that turned out to target only 100 people that we could, between us, have called in an afternoon. Or my second favourite moment when a different someone extolled how one email subject line have performed well over another because it mentioned an upcoming regulatory change not because, as the rest of us assumed, that it mentioned the world “free”. Even the most dedicated compliance professional would concede that free stuff is more compelling than a regulatory change acronym.
So how can you improve your commercialty as a professional services marketer? Four things stand out for me.
How to be more commercial
- Know how the business and banking world works. It’s hard to explain what investment banks do, what a NED is, that a trust and a unit trust aren’t the same thing, what private equity is and why deal flow is important, and that yes companies have to borrow money too when your audience has only a very rudimentary understanding of business and finance. I cannot recommend Philip Coggan’s book The Money Machine too highly – I must have bought and given away a couple of dozen copies over the years.
- Read a newspaper. Many of you will assume I am just old school about digital media but actually I have been bleating on about this way before the mid-nineties. I worked in PR at that time so that fact that some in my team didn’t read a newspaper in the morning only their client’s press cuttings was particularly exasperating. Like the customers our clients were trying to reach – people rarely get their heads round finance until it becomes urgent – a mortgage, children for example – and that comes later in life than it used to. The advent of social media and mobile phones hasn’t changed that dynamic but it hasn’t helped it either.
- Learn to read a balance sheet. You don’t need to be an accountant but any business you work with will have certain financial levers they can pull. Realistically it might not be that many. Money comes in and money goes out. Having a rough idea of where it comes from and why, and where it goes is vital. How can you be a marketer without knowing that – everything you should do should in some shape or form be aimed at that not at vague notions of brand. And no, banging on about client experience isn’t a substitute either.
- Ask questions. Learn quickly that it’s fine to ask questions if you don’t understand. Better to look naive at the outset than like a donkey later. Never get out of the habit. Witness Donald Trump – clearly not a man big on admitting when he’s out of his depth and to anyone with a brain his ignorance is obvious. So be less Donald!