Concept takes centre stage

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 March, 2010, 12:00am

Lawyers, accountants and other professional service firms in Hong Kong must grasp the concept of marketing or face losing out on business to overseas competition, a professional in the field warns.

Robert Sawhney, founder and managing director of SRC Associates - a company which provides strategic management, marketing and leadership advisory services for professional service firms - says companies in Hong Kong and the region lag behind their competitors in the United States and Europe in marketing.

Sawhney, who gives speeches and has authored a book on the importance of marketing professional services in Asia, has been pioneering the concept for more than a decade and acknowledges his mission has been frustrating at times.

'It has been a struggle and is still a struggle sometimes,' he says.

'Asia is definitely behind in terms of understanding. The people within professional services firms who make the decisions - the partners and the key executives - misunderstand marketing and equate it with sales or promotion.

'We do a lot of speaking activities and you still get accountants or senior lawyers standing up and saying, 'well that would never work in my firm'.

'The directing manager says firms think they don't need marketing because they are still thinking of marketing in a tactical perspective about promotion as opposed to how they can improve client service and the operation and culture of a firm.'

Effective marketing, he says, is not about advertising but about strategy. It is a process of identifying key customers, differentiating your firm from the opposition and discovering how to offer the best value to clients.

'What we say to people quite simply is that you are doing marketing whether you know it or not, in the way you respond to clients, the way you service clients and the way you deliver your work,' he says. 'That is marketing.'

Even when a lawyer goes to speak on a television programme, or if an accountant is quoted in a newspaper, it would be much better to have a coherent strategy in place, and that is what marketing does. It affects profitability and a firm's performance, Sawhney says.

'If you are not thinking about the available strategic options in a systematic fashion, then you are not being as effective as you can be.'

There has been progress in recent years, Sawhney says, as the concept of marketing begins to take root in bigger Asian companies, albeit often in the shape of executives carrying the title of business development managers.

'What you notice now is that business development people now have a seat at the decision-making table,' he says. 'They influence the strategic direction of the firm. The perspective has started to shift, particularly with bigger firms. Whether it is the Big Four accounting firms or the Magic Circle law firms from Britain, or the big US law firms, they have had an influence when they have expanded into this area.

'The bigger local professional services firms have recognised what these bigger firms are doing in terms of their marketing and their strategic activities. They are saying, 'maybe we should be taking that approach as well'.'