One of the most eye-opening findings from PM Forum and Meridian West’s sixth annual Marketing Leaders Benchmark is that 76% say they feel under-prepared to respond to the trend of enhancing client delivery processes through automation and artificial intelligence (AI). Among this group, 14% describe their firm as ‘very under-prepared’ to meet future client expectations about embedding technology in service delivery.
With so much debate emerging in the press about robotics and AI disrupting business models and replacing jobs at professional firms, it is no surprise that so many marketing leaders are seeking greater clarity about the real impact of technology. This year’s benchmark research suggests CMOs want to understand more about the practical application of technology before making considered investments.
However, our research also finds that marketing leaders feel less prepared to respond to the threats and opportunities presented by technology, than to other widespread challenges such as GDPR (48% describe themselves as under-prepared), lower cost competition (38%) or Brexit (35%). Marketing leaders are clear: technology will have many more disruptive implications for the sector than wider macro-economic shifts or short-term regulatory pain.
In light of these concerns, is technology a sufficiently high priority for professional firms? Not quite. The 2018 benchmark reveals that only 49% of Marketing and Business Development Directors at professional firms say their firm plans to invest more in automation and AI technologies during 2018 compared to the past twelve months.
Undoubtedly the professional firms that fail to keep pace with client expectations will find it harder to win and retain clients. Yet clients aren’t always clear or articulate about their own needs and preferences in the realm of technology.
Expectations about technology can vary widely. Large financial institutions are much more demanding than mid-sized corporates, for example, because they have made more significant technology investments within their in-house legal or finance functions, and therefore expect their external advisers to do the same.
However, in Meridian West’s experience there are some common trends in how buyers of professional services think about technology. These include:
- Greater process transparency. Buyers want more access to real-time information about fees and billing, project scopes, deliverables and timelines. This gives greater control over process and certainty over value delivered.
- Automation of repetitive tasks. Many straightforward, repetitive tasks – financial due diligence, elements of contract drafting, for example – can now be partly or fully automated. As a result buyers expect a faster, more streamlined service.
- Enhanced risk management. Buyers want their advisers to use technology to help them better mitigate risk within their business. Technologies now give greater visibility of tax compliance or contract risk exposure, for example, or allow for more thorough audit or forensic accounting processes. Predictive analytics gives buyers greater confidence that they can anticipate future challenges as markets change.
So, how do marketing leaders in professional firms begin to address their lack of preparedness to embrace new technologies? We suggest following these three simply lessons for the year ahead:
- Marketers and BD experts need to put technology on their agenda. Opportunities around technology are too important to be left to colleagues within the IT function. Marketing and BD teams need to be at the heart of thinking about how technology will better serve their firm’s clients and to champion ideas directly from within the business.
- Identify the skills gap within your own team. This year’s benchmark reveals that only 6% of marketing leaders prioritise technology and data savviness when recruiting new members of their own team. This is a major oversight. Think critically about the current capabilities within your firm’s BD and marketing team. Where can you upskill? Where do you need to hire in specialists?
- Involve clients in the planning and development process. The opportunities around technology will be best seized by looking outwards. Involve clients in the process of prototyping and launching new technology offerings. This simple framework explains how to do so. Without client views, there is a risk that you invest in developing technology solutions that fail to find a market.