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Who else should you be listening to

Client listening is a vital part of professional services marketing. But don’t forget to listen to your suppliers, referrers and your own team, says Anna Lake.

I don’t need to tell you that listening to your clients is a valuable exercise for firms of all sizes. You’ll hear enough of that from me and others in the field on LinkedIn and through other channels.

What about the other stakeholder groups? Arguably any interaction or relationship an individual or business has with your firm has an impact on your brand and reputation so why not include other interested parties in your listening programme?

As I mentioned above, we all know why it’s important to be a good supplier to your clients. But are you a good customer yourself? This might seem like it’s not your problem, and that of your procurement team, but if your firm treats its suppliers badly, just like clients, they might tell others and you could find yourself with a reputation for being difficult to deal with. In some sectors, it’s a supplier’s market, and people can be choosy about who they work with.

Marketing and BD teams can be heavy users of external suppliers from branded goods companies to creative and PR agencies through to independent consultants who support you in niche areas.  How strong is your relationship with your suppliers? Does your team know how to put together a decent agency brief? Are your procurement processes so complex that people are put off working with you? Do you pay on time and within reasonable timescales? Answers to all of these questions can give great insight into how your firm is perceived by this important stakeholder group.

You may want to take this to the procurement team and ask them to share the cost of a supplier listening exercise, but I’ll leave that with you!

Your team
As a professional services firm, you’re reliant on your ‘human capital’ to deliver your services. And on a recent PM Forum webinar, a senior Director from Bain & Company (the inventors and guardians of the NPS many of us use to gauge client loyalty), talked about the equal importance of measuring your ‘eNPS’ or employeeNPS.

Most large firms already run staff sentiment surveys but if you’re a smaller practice, how can you find out how people are feeling? An eNPS survey would certainly be a good start and independent qualitative listening interviews can help you delve deeper into the issues.

Again, you might think “what’s this got to do with marketing?” Well, lots. Some of the most effective employer brand and recruitment campaigns are a joint effort between marketing and HR and are based on finding out how current employees feel about your firm.

Employee listening can also be used as a follow-up to a client listening exercise. If a number of clients are highlighting issues with one particular practice area, you’ll want to engage the team as part of your investigation and hear their ideas for how to improve matters.

Referrers are crucial stakeholders within professional services businesses as they offer free marketing – there is no cost of sale, so it’s important to always be developing relationships with those who can send business your way.

Many firms, especially larger practices invest a huge amount of resource, quite rightly, into building and nurturing referrer relationships, particularly when it comes to events and networking. Why not include them in a listening programme too?

Wouldn’t it be great to know why they refer clients to you (over recommending others)? What’s their view on the level of reciprocity – does the relationship work both ways or is it skewed? Do they understand all the services you offer? What improvements would they suggest?

All the valuable insights you glean will not only help you to build on and develop your existing relationships but also win more new business.

Like all businesses, professional service firms have their own eco-system and lots of interconnected relationships. Of course, listening to your clients is crucial but as more firms look at their wider impact and some move towards BCorp and other accreditations, listening to your extended stakeholder groups becomes just as important.

Anna Lake is a listening specialist with particular expertise in the professional services sector. She conducts qualitative interviews with firms’ stakeholders, providing valuable and actionable insight which strengthen relationships and drives growth.

Matt Baldwin
Matt Baldwin
Co-founder – Coast Communications

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