How should marketing demonstrate ROI in a professional services firm?

How should marketing demonstrate ROI in a professional services firm?

How should marketers demonstrate ROI in a professional services firm and justify the value they add to a firm through their expertise and activity?


December is usually the time of year when marketers begin reviewing the success of the previous years activity and begin planning for the following year. This often leads to them having to justify their worth and the inevitable question – How can marketing demonstrate ROI in a professional services firm?


“Run that event”. “Send out that press release”. “Sort out some blogs for me” ….. All marketers are used to being given the instructions from partners and fee-earners, often at the last minute, with zero thought given to the end goal. At the back of your mind is the nagging thought that if only those partners and fee-earners actually took our advice and planned their marketing activity against a specific goal, then we could demonstrate ROI in a professional services firm.


It takes a mindset change to make that a reality, starting with your mindset.


It’s important to understand why our internal clients, as intelligent and gifted as they are, struggle with ‘marketing’.  Fear is the number one reason. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the intangible when,  without a precedent or some infrastructure, it could go horribly wrong. It’s so much easier to stay in the comfort zone.  There is simply nothing in any professional training curriculum to help fee earners, especially in the early formative stages, to understand the strategic contribution that marketing can make to their work.  Plus they are busy, under pressure, there are time targets to meet (more on that later) and it’s easier to just tick a box and say it’s done.


The marketing professional’s job is to steer them through that fear. To do that, you need to take control of the situation, of the relationship, and give them the best advice.  Not only will it improve your job performance and satisfaction, it will accelerate your career and help you earn credibility as well ensure you are at the pioneer of as demonstrating ROI in a professional services firm


Output, Outcome and Impact


An intelligent starting point is to talk a fee earner through the difference between output, outcome and impact. Output might be the number of events run, the contents and timing of a campaign, number of adverts placed, number of tweets and re-tweets.


Outcome is a lot more interesting. That might be the number of attendees, how many people opened a campaign communication, website statistics, new leads and enquiries. But where you really get their attention is to talk about impact.


Impact measures, how many new meetings did that lead to? How many proposals were sent? What new clients did we win? What new work did we generate? What was the fee income? How many new panel places?


Instantly you are talking a language they can relate back to the objectives set in their partner appraisal. Now there is a link between marketing and profit share!


Integral to that is to use more numbers in your dialogue with fee-earners.  This is where you can begin to make the intangible, tangible.


Almost everything is measurable if you know where to look. Make your finance team your new best friends. They are probably already creating reports with the information you want. If not, they can usually create what you want from existing information. And if it involves an Excel spreadsheet they’ll enjoy the challenge.


Can you look at your ‘share of voice’ on a particular issue and see how your campaign work leads to a percentage increase against competitors? Can you identify proposals sent and average value? Create a baseline so you can measure progress. Be specific with your examples:


  • We sent out invitations to 100 clients and 50 prospects to launch a new service line on the back of a key lateral hire.
  • 62% of clients and 15% of prospects accepted.
  • 42 guests attended the event, eight subsequently asked for a follow-up meeting.
  • Two months later, three proposals had been issued.
  • One proposal has been accepted with a fee income of £60,000.


Tough Love – It Works


You need to demonstrate some tough love when managing internal stakeholders. You have to get beyond the euphemisms – “You’re the expert …”, “I’ve invited my favourite clients ….” , “I don’t like change and we always do it this way”.


Ask to meet the sponsor behind this request face to face and make sure you send out the agenda in advance, with the key questions, because at some level they will worry about what you might ask and that advance notice puts them at ease. Have an adult-to-adult, professional-to-professional conversation about the impact they really need, the stakeholders, the messages, the range of activity, the measurement, the cost. Yes, the cost.


A killer line might be “I appreciate every £10,000 we spend in marketing comes out of your profit share, so we need at least a £50,000 win to cover the cost, so this has to count …”    Throughout the conversation you are making it easy for them to define their own picture of success, you are giving them choices so they can be part of the solution. Guess what?  If they make the choice, they are hooked, they are engaged, they are working with you.


Bringing governance and discipline to the marketing activity needs persistence and determination. Partners and fee-earners may resist at first but will eventually respect you for it.


Peter Scoffham (Marketing Manager, PWC), has seen the results first hand: “Being much more focused on ROI is really important to me for two key reasons. Firstly it helps me to show my stakeholders the value that marketing can bring to the table. And secondly it is also vital to my confidence as a marketeer – I can speak with authority and use hardcore numbers as a foundation for that. In addition to that, I’d like to think that from a career perspective,  it should set me apart from peers that don’t bring ROI numbers into discussions.


Demonstrating ROI in your marketing work is a start. It’s also important to demonstrate the ROI that the firm has made in you. Marketing professionals in most firms share common problems. There are too many ‘bosses’ and conflicting demands, the challenge of working in a hierarchy where people do as they are told, when PEP is high there is little incentive to take your advice (and even when it’s low, the incentive is not great), you are a drain on resources and both sides talk different languages. You are not alone.


ROI is the common language.


Your value in numbers


When it comes to demonstrating ROI in you, think about your salary, your benefits, your holiday pay.  Then multiply it by 3. That total is what most fee-earners have to earn to justify their existence.  When you are thinking about the value of your work, you might want to bear that figure in mind. That might be the income you generate as a result of your work and the costs you save.


A communications professional managing a crisis and keeping a lid on negative news can translate that work into the number of positive press comments and clients/staff prevented from leaving.


Picking Winners


How can the marketing professional focus their scarce time and resource and be seen to contribute to partner/fee-earner success? 


Start by picking the winners. Across the partnership or organisation there will be a small number of people, powerful in the business, who will be ambitious and influential, and they want to work with you. These are your ambassadors. They will help you in your journey to win over others. Focus on providing the best possible service to these internal clients.


theGrogroup consultant, Liz Whitaker explains, “This is a group that deserves a personal service.  Part of personal service is achieving what I call commercial closeness, really getting under the skin of their part of the business and their challenges so you know what they want and need before they do. You might sit with them, share their space, join their meetings. Be visible to them, become a specialist in what they do. Take on the environmental scanning role for them and be first to inform them of developments in their market, client and competitor activity.”


Useful filters to choose the winners are where they are on the career scale, what service line they’re in and what person type they are.   Good candidates are newly appointed heads of teams, newly appointed partners, ambitious fee-earners on a mission to prove something.


Look for the people who will welcome your contribution. We’ve characterised below some of the traits of people who will be useful on your journey:


The Prize: The partner or fee-earner, powerful in the business, a player, who you have yet to win over.  Win them, and others will follow. The senior and managing partners might be good examples.


The Eager Beaver: A partner or fee-earner on their way up to the power table, keen to work with you. Help them now and you have your future ambassadors and friends for life.


The Pirate : A very useful character for motivating partners and fee-earners. The competition. It could be internal or external competition. Highlighting the success of the competition invariably sparks an interest in marketing.


Learning from Lions


There’s much to be learned from lions (see The Power of the Pride by Ian Thomas). You, the marketing professional, belong in the pride. You are not the quarry!  Trust between the rest of the pride and you is crucial. They must trust you to deliver the goods. A pride of lions has only one goal. There is no deviation or individual agendas. No politics. You the marketing professional can ensure everyone knows that goal and is right behind it. Make it a public goal, speak it into existence and use peer pressure to keep them on track. This is a mission that must succeed.  Lions will only hunt when they are hungry. Successful fee-earners are not always that hungry. Use peer pressure to make them hungry for success in front of their colleagues.


And, just as a pride of lions plays to individual strengths, you need to take the lead on ensuring responsibility is shared between the team.  If someone is good at pitching, they can take lead on pitching. If someone is good at social media, they can manage the social media. And you, the marketing professional, are in the middle of it all, part of the pride, demonstrating ROI to the team.


More Numbers


In addition to using numbers in a work or project context, use numbers in all your communications. Refer to facts and figures, share important information from surveys, analyse statistics and reports for fee-earners to use. There’s plenty out there. The Acritas reports are invaluable in the legal sector. The Lawyer and PwC provide a very in depth analysis on law firms’ financial performance. Use these to drive a sense of peer pressure between your firm and its competitors.


theGrogroup Managing Director, Paul Richmond highlights “It’s important for marketeers at every level to chat to their finance team. Ask what your firm’s net profit margin is. If it’s about 20% then it means every £50,000 of fees results in profit of £10,000, so your conference that costs £50,000 has been funded by £250,000 of client fees and it’s really important for you to understand that and bring it to the attention of partners that demand more from you. Many of them fail to grasp these basics.”


The business mainstream media and social media, particularly LinkedIn, is content rich for the marketing professional keen to make an impression.


Appreciate your Value


Working as a support professional in a professional services environment should come with a warning that this job could seriously harm your self-esteem.  It’s a warning that could apply to all business support professionals but marketing is top of the list for wanton criticism. Frustrated and exhausted, marketing professionals often move on to another role only to face the same challenges. A recent Totum survey revealed that that marketing/BD roles had the highest turnover at 26%, more than finance at 24%, IT at 17% and HR at 10%. Notice how that statistic has added a new dimension to this article!

Guess who has to guard against losing their self-esteem? Yes……That would be you.


Top tips


Record your time like fee-earners do. It will earn you instant respect from the partners and fee-earners burdened with time-recording. They use time-recording to prove and demonstrate their value to clients. It makes sense that you do the same. The result is a factual demonstration of how you are using your time to deliver value to the business. You can point to the investment you are making in the business and ensure your priorities are focused on high value activities. So powerful.  It’s a record of just how much you do, day in, day out. Never again will you go home for the weekend thinking what on earth have I done this week?


Re-write your CV using ROI to highlight your achievements in terms of outcome and impact. A CV like this demonstrates you recognise the investment the business is making in you and that you have a commercial brain. Such tangible clarity in a CV means you will feel so much better about your contribution and it will look impressive to your future employers.


ROI will give you all the evidence and confidence you need to succeed in professional services marketing.




  • Help fee-earners to understand the difference between output, outcomes and impact.
  • Use numbers in your dialogue with fee-earners – make it a habit.
  • Almost everything is measurable – take time to get the evidence, it’s almost certainly there in the business.  Create a baseline so you can measure progress.
  • Seek out your finance team and make them your friends, they don’t bite!
  • Own the situation and meet with key sponsors, send the agenda in advance, and agree desired impact.
  • Bring governance and discipline to the marketing activity.
  • Demonstrate ROI in you.
  • Pick your winners and deliver a personal service to those winners.
  • Be part of some fee-earning teams (not an add-on).
  • Appreciate your own value – record your time and re-write your CV using ROI language.