By Josh Feldmeth
To get some clarity around what 2013 holds for the business services sector, I sat down with Seán Meehan, the Martin Hilti Professor of Marketing and Change Management at the renowned International Institute for Management Development (IMD) business school in Lausanne, Switzerland. We discussed what business services brands—and specifically the business services CMO—must do to succeed in 2013.
THE SCARIEST YEAR EVER
There is no question that 2012 was a difficult year for the business world. Europe teetered, China disappointed and the U.S. economic recovery was sluggish at best. But don’t assume business services brands had a bad year. In fact, many business services organizations posted strong growth in terms of revenue and hiring as they helped clients navigate the consumerization of IT, increased regulation, escalating raw materials costs, market instability—all forces that continue to reshape the landscape.
But what happens next? According to Seán Meehan. “2013 will be the scariest year in the last three to four decades for consumers and companies that serve them. It’s a little like Marie Antoinette at the guillotine, but in slow motion. You know the blade will fall. The last time it fell—2009—it happened really fast. But now, it’s all happening slowly and not knowing if, or when, the hammer will fall creates a challenging decision making context.”
Herein lies the opportunity for business services brands. The value proposition is unchanged: supplementing the client’s core capabilities so they can focus on what they do best. Now, however, the stakes are higher and the rocks at the bottom of cliff are sharper. The most empathetic and trusted business services brands stand to gain disproportionate share.
In 2013, business services brands won’t provide business services as much as they will provide business re-focusing services. They will address the client’s deeper need. Meehan advises, “Sort out the things I have no clue about so I can focus on the even scarier things I’m supposed to know how to solve.”
"CMOs must articulate a corporate narrative that knits the firm’s roots to its future"
THE NEXT-GENERATION CMO
Smart business services brands will move closer to clients in 2013. Those with advanced marketing skills, specifically the next generation CMO, will get there faster.
Meehan and I identified four essential skills for the business services CMO in 2013:
- Big Data Prophets - Business services brands have access to significant data stores. Most are highly unstructured, often in the heads of partners and senior consultants. CMOs in 2013 will use their training in marketing research and consumer insights to help their companies build sustainable big data platforms that power insights and tune their organizations to their clients’ rapidly shifting needs
- Cultural Custodians - M&A activity will continue in 2013 as business services brands grow capabilities. Each acquisition, however, will threaten to tear at the fabric that defines the successful brand’s internal culture. CMOs must articulate a corporate narrative that knits the firm’s roots to its future. Meehan calls this “the cultural custodian”—aligning talent, old and new, around a shared strategic vision.
- Connectors - Business services brands are not likely to increase their marketing and advertising budgets in 2013. In fact, many will pull back on traditional spending. This only amplifies the need for CMOs to maximize return on brand investment by linking each consumer touchpoint—from conferences to white papers to pitching new business – to the core brand proposition. For the CMO, connecting the dots starts with partners and senior associates. Meehan wisely suggests, “Make sure the guys that are running the business are delivering on the service promise.”
- CEO Whisperers - Lastly, a CMO will need the ear of his/her CEO. As Meehan notes, “With so much turbulence in the markets, it’s easy to become distracted. The role of marketing for business services brands is to provide internal clarity, helping their CEOs and leadership teams maintain a laser focus on clients and what the firm needs to deliver to earn a premium.”
2013 will be, at times, scary for clients, but full of opportunity for empathetic and trustworthy services brands and a renaissance for the next-generation CMO willing to up-skill.