How professional services firms can leverage AI to win, grow, and retain their strategic clients

  • 15 Feb 2024
Andy Rogerson

Andy Rogerson

In the first of a three-part series, we explore how professional services firms can leverage AI to outperform the market.

We recently held the second of our invite-only roundtables on ABM for professional services at The Shard in London. The topic was how to leverage AI to outperform the market. Here are some of the key findings from the lively and informative discussion, led by our own Head of Consulting, Adam Bennington.

Much as we’re exploring how AI can benefit the professional services provider, professional services clients are doing likewise with some dramatic effect.

Unencumbered by the same compliance constraints, clients are now researching an average of three times as many service providers than they did five years ago. This is heightening already stiff competition. According to the Momentum ITSMA Client Buying Index, they are also choosing suppliers quicker. 71% of winning providers emerge before a shortlist stage.

Collectively, this threatens to exacerbate what we see as a major decline in trust. The average number of providers that a client labels as a strategic advisor – perhaps the holy grail of the partnership – has plummeted from 3.9 to 1.8 since 2019.

We heard that ABM is uniquely positioned to address these issues. In a wide-ranging discussion, we explored the impact of AI across the five levers that differentiate ABM leaders. These are: strategic alignment, tech mobilization, balanced investment, all-in marketing, and sales integration.

Strategic alignment

Like any marketing initiative, ABM must be aligned to strategic goals to fully realize its potential to drive client growth. Before embarking on such a program, you need to understand the overarching corporate growth strategy. You also need to pinpoint where strategic client growth will come from for your firm.

Momentum ITSMA’s Account Growth Matrix, shown above, is a useful tool for framing these client growth demands and understanding the implication for marketing. The Matrix plots the complexity of an assignment, service, or solution on the vertical axis against the client relationship on the horizontal.

Professional services firms differ widely in their growth strategies. This means marketing needs to fulfil a different role for each. You may be a leading accountancy firm with all the audit clients the regulator will let you handle, looking to cross-sell new services. This is essentially the top left-hand side of our chart but may feel top right i.e. that you don’t know the client, given the siloed nature of many professional services firms.

These new services can also bring added complexity. You may have established relationships, but to grow you have to position something different. This can be potentially multifaceted, across different jurisdictions, and requiring significant customization and configuration.

This is likely to have an even longer buying cycle requiring significant engagement and collaboration, potentially between multiple stakeholders and third parties (such as intermediaries). Marketing needs to surround these connections and be prepared to support sustained engagements over a long period of service design, development, and implementation. It is far from business as usual.

Or you may be a smaller law firm, unable to compete with the Magic Circle on complexity of service offering, but with ambitious growth targets, nonetheless. You may therefore be hanging your hat on the desire to win a place on the panel of chosen new clients. This could see you firmly entrenched in the bottom right-hand side of our matrix.

Marketing has to support a different type of sustained activity to displace a competitor and build credibility around an alternative offering from a new provider. This could take months or even years to initiate new conversations and build this equity. And this will require education, thought leadership, and a new point of view. All based upon an intimate understanding of the prospect’s challenge.

It is most likely that your overall strategy will be a combination of these. Perhaps dependent on whether the firm is looking to protect the market share it has or compete, win, and scale around the share it doesn’t.

Efficiency across the value chain

To understand where AI fits in, and offers greatest value, you must first understand how you need to grow clients and prospects. You’ll also need to know what the role and demands on marketing will be. Once you have this mapped, you can explore your resources, and ways to optimize your marketing value chain. Where does marketing (people and process) need more efficiency, more performance, more time, more insights, more content, and maybe more communication?

Once this has been identified you’ll have much more focus and direction on where AI might be able to shave off any sharp edges and make marginal gains. Like any technology, and AI is just a technology at the end of the day, it is used to make a process better. Without the process it is hard to see the ROI.

In future blogs, I’ll take a deeper dive into how to leverage AI by exploring tech mobilization, balanced investment, all-in marketing, and sales integration.

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Andy Rogerson

Andy Rogerson

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