GroPro 2018: How Professional Services Innovators Are Navigating Through Change

“The only thing that is constant is change.”

I was reminded of this quote while attending the GroPro 20/20 conference last month with dozens of CMOs and managing directors at leading law firms and professional services organizations.

It’s an easy idea to agree with but a hard truth to fully embrace.

Executives across the legal, accounting and consulting industries are responding and innovating (some better than others) in response to changes in client demand, the talent pool, disruptive technologies and marketing trends. It was incredibly refreshing to hear, through open conversations with an impressive audience of senior marketing executives, how different leaders are managing through this period of volatility and uncertainty.

The conference occurred just weeks before the release of Greentarget’s first survey documenting the content consumption preferences and behaviors among C-suite officers, who make up the core client and prospect base for the industries listed above. So we listened with an ear toward the ways professional services marketers are striving to cater to those preferences and behaviors. We heard a lot of great ideas and sharp perspectives. Here, in no particular order, are a few highlights:

Cultivating Marketing Allies. Getting buy-in and support from influential members of the partnership and executive leaders was a common theme. The panel comprised of CMOs from Bain Consulting, Navigant and Wiley Rein illustrated different strategies to identify and cultivate these “promoters.” One CMO’s strategy hinged on gamification – creating a series of marketing challenges designed to advance new business objectives with prizes for the most meetings secured, articles published, revenue generated, etc. “It’s amazing what you can accomplish through a little healthy competition – especially among a partnership.”

Start-Up Mentality. As we’ve documented, legal operations continues to grow as a force in the legal industry, and the findings in an annual survey presented by HBR Consulting feed that perception, depicting a shrinking investment in outside counsel and an increased investment in in-house resources. The panel discussed the notion that growing a legal operations team at a law firm requires a “start-up mentality” as new hires with new skill sets need to be free to challenge processes and bring fresh thinking. As one panelist put it, “How do you materially differentiate yourself based on the client experience?”

Data, Data Everywhere. At one point during the event, the room was pretty fired up over data visualization tools, talent and needs. Many of the firms attending deal with mountains of data in Excel and other database tools. One in-house counsel said, “Whenever we see a ton of data in a spreadsheet, we think, ‘How can we make this a map, a graphic or an interactive image?’” In some firms, data visualization has become a billable service that clients will invest in to “learn something about themselves they don’t already know.” Another consulting firm CMO added, “Co-innovation through efforts like data visualization is the shortest path to client connectivity.”

Blockchain in Professional Services. A presentation from Microsoft sparked a compelling conversation around the applications of blockchain, a connection that may not be obvious at first glance. However, at its most basic level, the presenter emphasized that blockchain technology produces data that is completely immutable, is verifiable and removes the need for trust. This could have many applications in accounting, asset management, legal and management consulting, especially in billing and auditing. One panelist predicted we’re likely to see blockchain-based invoicing in professional services within the next 24 months.

Building a Professional Services Brand. “In professional services, we too often disguise brand as something else – using words like reputation, or client experience. But brands are exciting and unique and should be embraced.” This observation from One North kicked off one of two sessions on branding that focused on how professional services firms too often play it safe using the all-too-common pillars of reliability and trust. “If an organization wouldn’t claim the opposite, it’s not a brand pillar.”

In a separate panel led by branding agency Clarity, a panelist discussed an ingenious approach to measuring effectiveness in this area – she creates a word cloud of client feedback to see how many of the brand pillars appear in the language clients deliver back to the firm.

According to one marketing chief: “Our goal was to build a truly durable brand — our approach to sharing our expertise was about developing signature thought leadership. It wasn’t about the quantity of content we created, but the quality.” Music to our ears.

Disrupt or Be Disrupted. A former Fortune 50 CMO discussed how disruption has never been happening faster, so it’s important for companies to think big. “As the saying goes, we tend to overestimate what we can get done in one year, but underestimate what we can accomplish in five years,” she said.

Above all else, GroPro reminded me how important it is to create the time and space to get out of the day-to-day routine and listen to diverse perspectives. The frantic pace of business today creates a challenging paradox – it’s harder than ever to make the time to expose yourself to new points of view but also critical to find the energy to embrace change and expand.

Aaron is constantly seeking out opportunities for innovation at Greentarget, whether it is improving firm processes or finding ways to increase client and employee happiness.

He can often be found checking out live music and contemplating the parallels between great live musicians and high-performing teams.