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Marketing – It’s a Dirty Word

I still encounter those who see marketing as at best a necessary evil and at worst a practice of smoke and mirrors with no substance.

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This unwarranted prejudice is borne out of a lack of understanding of the core principles of marketing.  Sceptics who poke sticks at marketers often suggest that the acquiring of customers is not difficult.  Winning new business is not connected to marketing activity.  They believe that by producing a quality product or service customers will return and promote to others.  That method of gaining customers can often be effective but the marketing element should already be interwoven with production and customer experience and not simply be seen as a blunt instrument of advertising or PR before or after the fact.  Ironically sceptics often employ marketing techniques, unaware of their natural ability to develop the business.  MD’s don’t always connect their activity to marketing which they see as a separate collection of basic promotional actions.

If you were to survey 100 non marketers and ask them for a definition of marketing the chances are over 50% would reference advertising within their response.  The truth is marketing, certainly for me is “The Business of Business” a little more than creating and placing an advert.  To be an effective marketer you must understand all you can about your customers, the financial model that produces the product, where the margins kick in, the mechanisms involved in delivering the product and the experience of customers once purchased.  The entire scope of the company, its infrastructure, inner workings and technical elements must be understood to contextualise a successful approach to develop the brand and thereby grow the business.

All too often when recruiting or appointing a marketing resource business owners go into the process with a narrow pre-determined idea of what the person will add to the mix.  They focus on PR or advertising.  They might also worry about the need for a better online presence rather than consider an opportunity to involve the marketer in helping with business planning and setting a strategy.

Typical Marketing Professionals Skill Set

  • Account Management
  • Administration
  • Advertising
  • Analytical
  • Brand Marketing & Management
  • Business Development
  • Client Relationship/ Customer Care
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Content Marketing
  • Contract Negotiation
  • CRM/ Database Management
  • Creative
  • Direct Marketing
  • Displays
  • Event Planning
  • E-mail marketing
  • Financial
  • Interpersonal
  • Leadership
  • List Management
  • Market Analysis & Research
  • Market Strategy
  • Merchandising
  • Mobile Marketing
  • Order Processing
  • Planning & Project Management
  • PPC
  • Presentations
  • Product Research
  • Problem Resolution
  • Product Management
  • Product Promotion
  • Professional
  • Public Relations
  • Purchasing Inventory
  • Quality Control
  • Reporting
  • Sales Tracking
  • SEO
  • Social Media
  • Supplier Management
  • Teaching/ Training
  • Team Player
  • Time Management
  • Troubleshooting

An added challenge for many is the “hobby” marketer boss who believes they can play “the marketing game”.  We all consume so many marketing messages each day it’s not surprising that a boss or client might suggest they have the answer to a new advertising campaign, website or sponsorship deal.  Don’t for one minute think I’m against business owners or bosses getting engaged with the marketing activity.  I’ve spent far too long in my career trying to encourage such interest to fight it; but it can be difficult for junior, less experienced marketers to put a counter view forward when the ultimate decision maker insists on having their way.

Where experienced and effective marketers set themselves apart is in their ability to distinguish “good ideas” from the ego driven project.  They need an ability to swiftly reflect and analyse any newly presented opportunity, establish the potential impact and make recommendations in plain jargon free English.  That particular skill can save organisations a large chunk of their marketing budget.

A very good example of the scale of the challenge for today’s marketer is their need to stay on top of the terabytes of information related to digital marketing.  Without necessarily being an expert the modern marketer must understand the principles of SEO, (search engine optimisation) PPC (pay per click advertising) Social Media, Mobile Technologies, Online Advertising and CRM (Customer Relationship Management).  Interpreting Google Analytics and having the confidence to reject or accept digital agency proposals are also essential attributes of those holding the responsibility for marketing in any organisation.

Yes it’s complicated out there but life is these days.  We can either keep up or give in and outsource management to the wave upon wave of niche agency suppliers promising to deliver success.  Without the confidence borne out of our own knowledge of specific marketing processes we’re left with fingers crossed just hoping that the agency knows what they’re doing with their sizeable budget.  Personally I don’t see it as an option.  We owe it to ourselves, clients and employers to provide the very best level of expertise and professionalism and demonstrate that more than ever we have the knowledge and the spark to drive businesses forward.

Far from being a dirty word marketing is the discipline that business owners need to embrace wholeheartedly.  They need to seek out the very best qualified practitioners to work with, provide resource and trust them to deliver.  David Laud – FCIM Chartered Marketer, consultant.

Byadmin

Marriage of Convenience or True Love – Law Firm Mergers

What lies behind the sudden increase in solicitors firms merging?  Is it a need for personal partner security, succession or future proofing, fear of failing or a strategic move to build a successful business?

Marriage Merger

2013 has revealed a weekly supply of dramatic news impacting the legal profession.  Jackson reforms, loss of legal aid, liquidations, economic position and client migration, inability for partners to plan ahead, ABS’s and the increasing impact of the Legal Services Act, succession issues for traditional partnerships, professional indemnity renewal……they have all combined to place the profession in new uncomfortable territory.

One consequence of these issues is the fact that there are now far fewer firms in England & Wales than at any time recorded by the Law Society.

As at September 2013 there were some 10,726 firms to be precise. It still sounds like a big number but as reported in the LSG it’s 400 less than the same month in 2012.  This dramatic fall is due to all of the above factors which have resulted in:

  • Firms closing their doors voluntarily
  • Firms placed into administration
  • Increased merger activity

The rather worrying state of affairs has created a rather tense atmosphere within many firms as they find themselves glancing around to find security against the pressures, the security of a merger partner.

It’s the merger activity that is of particular interest because if well thought through and executed it can deliver a very positive outcome to counter the weight of negativity surrounding the profession.  Unfortunately the press releases with smiling partners shaking hands in front of newly branded and dressed offices are unlikely to convince many onlookers of the true drivers of such arrangements.

When partners start to feel the cold and their accountant or bank has that “little word in the ear” they see the one route to securing their future as that long discussed but never acted upon merger opportunity.

The firm nearby that presents less of a threat to personal control than others with domineering partners.  The firm that has the client you’d always courted but failed to land.  The firm who’ve just announced an investment in IT which must mean they’re “switched on” and looking to the future.  The firm that hasn’t joined a national brand in a vain attempt to protect its future flow of work.

It’s not surprising that the above traits are seen as attractive to the partners of a firm keen to link arms with another.  Regardless of whether it’s an arranged marriage or one that all partners consent to willingly, the success of the union will not be founded in any of those considerations but could certainly result in its failure.

As with any successful marriage having things in common helps but is not essential.  Yes you need an attraction, a spark and a personality match that uses the “chemistry” to good rather than toxic effect.  When joined the “personality” of the newly formed business must be a commonly shared persona.  If not the deal can be blown wide open leaving space for detractors, conflicting agendas and negative views of those who were just waiting for the “I told you so” moment.

Leadership is critical and it doesn’t necessarily need to be a single person more often a team who share a vision driven by clearly stated and understood objectives.

The original cupid arrow that created the merged business is typically founded in solid logic and should have all the ingredients for a successful outcome. Unfortunately the complexity and challenge of putting organisations together can dilute and lose the benefit of economies of scale and combined resources.

Critical to the success is a clearly articulated strategy delivered consistently by an effective leadership team. The focus at all times MUST be on the customers, lose sight of that key fact and matters can start to unravel fast.

Rather than being daunted by the scale of the challenge it’s helpful to view the merger plan as a series of projects that each need to be worked on to achieve the overall desired outcome.

Not many employees relish change and mergers present plenty of new challenges and potential threats to personal job security.  Keeping the talent engaged is important as is the need to motivate the business to achieve the new goals.

There are many positives to be borne from mergers but before being charmed by a suitable partner it’s worth looking at theirs and other track records. We can and should certainly learn from the mistakes of others and the legal market is peppered with them.

On the upside mergers can and do deliver, but best look at an equation that gives 1+1 = 3+ not 0.  This is a marriage that needs to deliver offspring that can grow and evolve and take the newly formed business forward.

Here below are a list of projects, an example of the areas a typical merger would need to cover to deliver a positive and co-ordinated outcome.  The list below is but a guide and is not comprehensive.  The projects would of course be determined by the specific features of the merger.

Merger Projects Example

  • Client database co-ordination
  • Staff induction & integration
  • Accounting period, procedures & systems
  • Cashflow projections and monitoring
  • Client care, complaints and reports
  • Business Plan evaluation of strategy
  • Marketing – website, materials, budget
  • Brand evaluation, name, positioning
  • Compliance matters – money laundering/ SRA
  • Insurances
  • Overall IT infrastructure assessment
  • Quality mark retention

If any of the above issues resonate with you and your business and you would wish to explore your options please feel free to drop me a line in confidence – david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk

David Laud

Managing Partner

i2i Business Solutions, Management Consultancy

david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk  twitter @davidlaud

Byadmin

Trick or Treat? The Importance of Effective Conflict Management

Won’t be long and the House of Laud’s doorbell will be getting its annual Halloween workout from the local sweet-toothed, short-person, and some not so short invasion squad.  When did we start parading the pumpkin and craving candy?  It’s yet another US import that along with “Prom” has the younger generation hooked.

Trick or Treat

Not that I’m against US imports, I quite like the Apple iPad, a blast of Nirvana always improves my driving and Disney do make great “feel good” movies but not all things US leave me with a warm comfortable feeling.

Politics, now there’s something we shouldn’t import from the US.  Or are we too late?  The personality driven style of campaigning has worryingly been adopted by all parties.  We can only count our blessings that the budgetary decisions are not as the US system and used as an American Football where gaining yards against a team can actually cause global recession part II.

My hope is that those in power and who finally found an answer to America’s “shut-down” will stop playing games in future and find sensible solutions that in some way retain the laudable aims of President Obama’s Health Care Reform Bill.

For the Republicans to be able to wield such a huge political stick and continually seek to beat the President with it is nothing short of a scandal.  Of course these are my own opinions and others may well disagree but the basic position is surely one we cannot support.  If the US “Shut-down” and budgetary stalemate had not been resolved and they were seen to default on their loans it wouldn’t have just been trick or treaters in the good old U.S. of A. crying at their lack of candy….we’d all be left short and can we afford to face such a dilemma just at the point we looked to be turning a corner?

As I write this Obama has announced a settlement and a compromise appears to have been reached.  I applaud his stance with the Health Care Reform but managing a country is really no different to managing a business.  When faced with an inevitable and catastrophic outcome that can be avoided through a mediated solution you need to put ego and personality to one side and negotiate to take matters forward.  It was more than time to lay the cards down and stop playing political poker.

By finding a solution however the political momentum appears now to be firmly with Obama with the US electorate both angry and shocked at the tactics used by the Tea Party representatives and others within the Republican party.

Whilst not pretending to be an expert on US or Global politics it does strike me that the time has come for such activity to be scrutinised under a process similar to the 7 principles of Nolan Group’s suggested approach to public service.

  1. Selflessnes
  2. Integrity
  3. Objectivity
  4. Accountability
  5. Openness
  6. Honesty
  7. Leadership

For me the above are a pretty good rule of thumb for anyone in a public position of authority. From school governor to senate representative to the President himself.

We can all agree to disagree on points of principle but when stubbornness and point scoring prevents progress it’s time to step in.  My preference now would be to undertake a review of the process that led to the crisis to put in place measures to prevent such calamities in future.  Without this we could be back at exactly the same point in just a few months.

Of course I’m all in favour of balanced mediated non confrontational or posturing approaches but…..if any sticky fingered haribo horror tries to mug me for a sugar rush be warned.  I may just say trick… 😉

David Laud Managing Partner – i2i Business Solutions LLP tweet @davidlaud