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How to Set a Competitive Marketing Budget for Professional Services

Posted by Katie Sanner on December 18, 2013

2014 is bearing down us. There are decisions to be made quickly—among them, your marketing strategies. With competing priorities and little time to act, it’s easy to unload the same old shotgun at the new year in your sights. 

After all, with a shotgun you’re bound to hit something. The truth is that many marketing budgets are a hoarder’s nest of accumulated attempts that you’re certain worked before; but without solid measurements of what tools and techniques actually did work, your firm is likely operating on guesswork and luck. 

Marketing strategies need to be based on something more solid than guesswork – and that something is research. Show the following figure to your CFO when you’re setting next year’s marketing budget: 

marketing budgetResearch pays off 

Firms that do occasional market research experience significantly more growth and profitability. With more frequent research (at least once per quarter), your firm’s performance becomes even more impressive—growing over 10X more than research-free zones, with almost twice the profitability. 

This justifies your budget. How does your budget translate into a sound marketing strategy? If you’re not going with the same old same old, how do you decide which tactics to use? Here are some things to keep in mind as you develop a marketing plan:

 1.    Limit your targets 

A scattershot approach, with very limited resources applied to dozens of targets, won’t get you where you need to be. Do your research and choose your goals and target audiences carefully. A handful of the right prospects will pay off in ways that a bathtub full of the wrong kind never will.

 2.    Get online 

A big chunk of your marketing budget might be tied up in sponsoring special events and attending tradeshows and conferences in your industry. But research shows the focus should be online (see Figure 2 below). 

marketing budgets 

Figure 2 shows that firms that grow the fastest generate at least 40% of their lines online. Profitability also increases with greater online lead generation as online lead generation is less expensive than most traditional approaches.  

Marketing Budget

Of course telling you to get online is like telling you to visit a city. Which city? Which country? Online how? And how do you choose? To find out which online tools are most beneficial, we researched the effectiveness of fifteen popular online marketing techniques in high growth and average growth firms: 

marketing budgets

No data or approach is one-size-fits-all, but this should give you a good idea where to focus your efforts. For starters, focus on SEO and blogging over YouTube and banner ads. Use web analytics to track and measure your efforts, and email marketing to nurture your leads.

3.    Don’t waste a winning strategy with poor implementation 

Make sure you’ve allocated enough resources, both internally and externally, to follow through on your 2014 marketing plan. When you’re using research-based, targeted marketing strategies, your newly narrowed focus means that every effort has to be done right. Cutting corners doesn’t help your strategy and won’t ultimately help your bottom line. 

Take a glance at Figure 1 if you’re feeling squeamish. Your research will pay off—if you apply it properly. Take careful aim at your 2014 targets and set a marketing plan that’s ready to produce results.

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