From the Foreword by Bruce MacEwen
When I first heard the title of Bruce Marcus’ latest book, I thought “Professional Services Marketing 3.0? Well, forgive me, but I think I need to be clued in on what exactly were 1.0 and 2.0.” Not only does Bruce answer this question, he provides an expansive and ambitious vision of what he sees ahead for us as we cross the threshold.
Now, if you need the same help I did in recognizing 1.0 and 2.0, the first was in the wake of the 1977 U. S. Supreme Court decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, which is commonly seen as a narrow decision striking down the prohibition on attorney advertising, but which Bruce Marcus insightfully identifies as something far more momentous: The beginning of open competition in professional services.
The second stage is where we are today, with a frank recognition of the necessity of marketing, but a time (the present) when it’s still tainted by the mild whiff of the promotional, the sales-y, and the unprofessional. Bruce writes that “if there’s one thing that has inhibited innovation and growth in professional services marketing in the decades since Bates, it’s the disconnect between marketers and the professionals they serve,” but I would say it goes even further. Marketers are often treated as the obligatory but unwelcome guests at the dinner party.
The problem with professional services marketing in such an environment is it doesn’t work without the full engagement and participation of the professionals. (You can market a Snickers bar or a Chevy Volt or Budweiser without showcasing anyone involved in bringing them to market, but not so in our world.) And if those who must be engaged and must participate would prefer not to, the efforts stop in their tracks. Or, and this could conceivably be worse, are profoundly unconvincing and even alienating to clients.
So where does Marketing 3.0 begin?
Simply put, with the suddenly rapid evolution of our profession into The New Normal. The New Normal is not a blip after the great recession of 2007– 2009. (Yes, there are those who believe that, and part of me wishes I could come back in another life as them; it would be so much simpler.) Rather, the great recession accelerated trends and strengthened forces that had been latent and rumbling underground for years, even decades, and which have now taken firm hold.
Among those new realities are:
• Serious and meaningful price pressure from clients. Before they had threatened, now they mean it.
• A multiplying efflorescence of career paths. No longer will we be limited to the Manichean up or out of associate or partner. Yes, part of this change is ugly, as partners become de–equitized, but much provides increased humanity and flexibility, including staff, contract, and non–partner–track paths, and other forms and varieties yet to be invented or defined.
• A brand–new commitment to project management, providing clients with more price certainty.
• Smarter, data–driven recruiting practices, increasing the odds of a good match between firms and young associates, based on the real track records of people with specific behavioral profiles.
• A renewed and lifelong commitment to professional development. And most important, from the perspective of clients, sensitive, discriminating, and truly strategic structuring of firms in terms of practice area and geographic focus to tailor their offerings to what clients most value that particular firm for.
A tall order?
But make no mistake: Change is coming, whether the incumbents like it or not.
This is the way markets work. Their Darwinian logic mandates that when clients seek change and a competitor–almost any capable and credible competitor–responds, you will soon find your firm reacting.
The Managing Partner of an AmLaw 20 firm, who I count a friend, has observed that “ours is a very mature profession, but a very immature industry.” How right he is. Among other components of that immaturity are that law firms typically have no retained earnings, making long-term capital investments forbidding and expensive to current equity partners, and that they have no way of offering an ownership stake to non-lawyers. Both these capabilities have long since been taken for granted in the corporate world.
Another difference between our world and corporate land is how we perceive the client. Peter Drucker used to like to stump business school students by posing the question, “What is the one thing every firm must have to exist?” The answer, of course, he would only reveal after students floundered a bit, which is “Clients.” Every successful corporation knows that, but most professional service firms believe the core of their business revolves not around clients but around the professionals themselves. Professional service firms, as it were, tend to “sell what we make,” whereas corporations largely “make what we sell.”
The book you are holding points in the direction of changing that—and changing far, far more.
Is this, then, Professional Services Marketing 3.0? This book is actually larger than that, if you read it rightly and see it as a history pointing the way towards the future.
It strikes me it’s Professional Services 3.0. Let the conversation begin.
Adam Smith, Esq.
A lawyer and consultant to law firms on strategic and economic issues, Bruce founded and is President of “Adam Smith, Esq.” (AdamSmithEsq.com), which generates on average over 350,000 page views per month, providing insights on the business of large, sophisticated law firms. Since the site’s launch in late 2003, over 1,000 articles have appeared on “Adam Smith, Esq.” covering such topics as strategy, leadership, globalization, M&A, finance, compensation, cultural considerations, and partnership structures.