A Powerful, Reliable Way to Cut Through the Marcom Clutter

Blog Post
January 27, 2017

First, a case study from Dr. Karl Hellman (Co-founder, Resultrek) and then an analysis by Frank Grillo (CMO, Harte Hanks)

Case Study from Dr. Karl Hellman

We live in a cluttered marcom world: thousands of messages bombard us every day. Here’s how a professional services firm cut through and grew their business.

Stu Kahn, head of a major accounting firm’s litigation accounting practice, built a multi-million dollar practice in New York City the old fashioned way—by nurturing relationships with litigators, doing excellent work, and earning referrals. But as they looked for new clients, the partners in other cities found it impossible to get appointments with their local star litigators. To solve this problem, Kahn’s first step was to improve his understanding of these unavailable litigators by conducting a survey.

The first survey finding was that star litigators were too busy to be surveyed. Most interviews had to be completed before 7 a.m., after 6 p.m., or on Sundays. The survey incentive that finally worked was a contribution to the charity of the litigator’s choice. The second finding was that litigators almost never think about litigation accounting. To them it is a detail. They are the stars; litigation accounting is the supporting cast.

When the surveys were completed, Kahn found that most respondents had answered the question, “What is the most important issue you face?” with the answer, “Growing my practice.” Kahn then designed a promotion to address the star litigator growth challenge by surveying the very clients they hoped to reach: corporate counsels. He used the findings from this second survey to create a beautiful, graphic-rich presentation which described best practices for reaching corporate councils. Kahn coached 10 of his partners from around the country to deliver the presentation as if they were at the partner meeting of their top prospects.

Related: Cut through the marcom clutter with the 5 Pillars of Best-in-Class Marketing

The offer of a presentation on corporate counsels was so enticing that Kahn’s partners accessed every law firm they targeted. They were especially effective in gaining an invitation to speak at partner meetings. This allowed Kahn’s partners to meet all key decision makers in a single presentation. Importantly, there was only one slide about Kahn’s firm. This page reported that among corporate counsels, Kahn’s litigation accounting services had the highest quality ratings.

By gaining access to the senior members of their target accounts, Kahn cleared a major hurdle. Now his partners could rely on their well-established relationship-building and practice development techniques: bid and win small projects, execute them with excellence, bid on larger assignments, continue to deliver value, maintain strong client relationships, and seek referrals to other law firms.

Kahn’s program illustrates five points about strategy-driven B2B promotions:

  1. The more specific the better. Kahn didn’t ask his program to do everything. He had a specific gap in his strategy that needed to be filled, a specific barrier that needed to be overcome. And he narrowed his target to star litigators—a very specific and identifiable group.
  2. The more creative the better. Kahn didn’t revert to the old standbys—“cut the price” or “create a brochure.” He thought outside the box and used education, information, and market research as the program.
  3. The more client-centered the better. Kahn stood in the shoes of his prospect and thought, “What does my prospect really care about that I can appeal to?” i.e., borrow interest from?
  4. The more measurable the better (number of invitations received, number of introductions resulting from presentations, number of trial projects sold). Whether the program was working—or needed a course correction—was never in doubt.
  5. The more supportive of brand image the better. The knock on promotions in the B2B world is that they often erode brand equity. For example, a price promotion raises the question, “What’s wrong with this product that it needs to be discounted?” Kahn’s program built brand equity, putting his partners in the role of “expert presenter.”

Analysis by Frank Grillo

This case study from Karl Hellman provides a wonderful example of how to cut through the marcom clutter. It outlines how to: (1) define the target market; (2) identify what these customers care about; and (3) find creative ways to communicate with them.

Traditionally, professional services organizations like Kahn’s rely heavily on B2B sellers to do everything from educating customers to answering questions about customer bills. Conversely, a new wave of B2B companies have swung the pendulum far to the other direction: expecting websites and social media to handle it all—even providing forms to document inquiries.

If sales results prove disappointing, the finger pointing may be directed to either the sales force or the social media marketers. Yet, the real culprit is more likely the lack of integrated marketing, in which the strategic marketer identifies and acts on the need for strategy-driven programs designed to break down the barriers to customer purchase.

B2B product strategy must include a clear definition of target markets, points-of-difference from competitors that are compelling to customers, and proof that makes its claims credible. Stu Kahn’s firm had all of these strategic elements—but still could not expand their business.

B2B companies need to pinpoint exactly why potential customers aren’t buying their products. Then they can develop specific programs to overcome these barriers. Success is maximized when we examine the challenge from the customer’s viewpoint.

The starting premise is always this: The marketing process that matters most happens inside the customer’s head. Therefore, any successful B2B strategy must align with the customer as they move through the mental process of having a need – but perhaps not even knowing it – all the way through to being a loyal, repeat advocate for the firm and its products.

There were three essential steps to success in this case, and each can be tied to a basic marketing principle.

1. Market Segmentation

The first step toward success for Kahn was to realize that their New York practice thrived on strong relationships with star litigators. But this realization was not enough. Kahn also needed to determine whether this model could be replicated in other cities. At Harte Hanks we use the Strategic Game Board to assess the attractiveness of a potential target market. We look at the ability to influence and the likelihood of success in a two-by-two matrix. While star litigators offered tremendous opportunity for Kahn’s firm, they had low ability to influence them. This problem was preventing success in other cities.

2. Personas

The survey of top litigators revealed essential components of what is called a persona, or the most prominent drivers of purchase behavior for a target market. Star litigators were extremely busy, uninterested in accounting, motivated by revenue growth, and intensely focused on serving corporate counsels.

The star litigator persona provided the “eureka moment” in this case: Kahn could greatly increase his firm’s ability to influence star litigators in other cities by discovering what motivated corporate counsels. If Kahn gained insight to the concerns of corporate counsels, he would have something of high value for star litigators across the country. In effect, Kahn defined personas not only for his immediate target market—star litigators—but also for his customer’s customer: corporate counsels.

3. Buyer’s Journey

Kahn targeted partner meetings as the best venue for presenting his findings on corporate counsels. This insight may seem obvious in hindsight, but can be quite difficult to discover without a structured and comprehensive approach. The buyer’s journey concept is a powerful tool for exploring the hundreds of small jobs that must be performed as the customer moves through their purchase journey. It also helps you find the key leverage points for differentiation.

In Kahn’s case, a buyer’s journey analysis could have determined that multiple partners would need to agree to adopt a new litigation accounting system, and that law firms often place professional development on their partner meeting agendas. Kahn could kill two birds with one stone: provide professional development to his target market, and favorably position his accounting services among the entire partner group.

Learn more about cutting through the marcom clutter—check out the 5 Pillars of Best-in-Class Marketing.