Kim Tasso

Tomorrow’s World

Kim Tasso reports on the 20th annual PM Forum conference which focused on the skills and perspectives needed to market the firm of 2020.

Ican hardly believe that this was the 20th PM Forum conference – how time flies when you are enjoying yourself! The mood was pretty upbeat at the start of the day and the animated 170 or so delegates were quickly quietened by the chair, Graham Munday of Hydrock, introducing the first speaker.

Views from a futurist

Chris Yapp referred to the recent research by Deloitte/Oxford University which focused on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and ‘smart machines’ to show how disruption could impact the professions. He talked about how we needed T-shaped workers who blend breadth and depth.

His breathless presentation then moved on to economics with the reassuring words that “there’s a Golden Age coming but there’ll be a recession beforehand”. He provided much food for thought and summarised with the 2020 determinants of success:

  • Quality of the client list
  • Quality of relationships
  • More strategic focus vs transactional
  • New models of governance: openness to new ideas
  • Rethinking recruitment and development.

When asked whether the partnership model hindered adaption to the various changes he said that while decision making is affected, two firms present at the conference used scenario planning to understand the impact of future trends on their own business and those of their clients. He was positive in suggesting that “advisory services will grow” as clients want “advisers who have a track record in producing good ideas”. So ramp up that thought leadership programme.

Steve Martin on persuasion

Having seen Steve present before, alongside his co-author Robert Cialdini, it was great to see him step into the spotlight and shine. He talked about the psychology of persuasion from his book The Small Big – condensing 60 years of social science research into a fascinating 30 minutes. His talk centred on our three deep seated motivators: to make decisions as efficiently as possible, to affiliate and gain the approval of others and to see oneself in a positive light.

He reflected on the impact of information presentation on pricing decisions and gave tips (such as introducing an expert before putting a call through, the primacy effect in negotiations and the recency effect in recruitment). He warned us that when we become overloaded with information we revert to using our reptilian brain. Let’s hope that’s more lithe lizard than tardy tortoise.

At the first break the overwhelming view of the delegates – who were really buzzing – was that it was the best ever opening of a conference. High praise indeed. And well-deserved in my opinion.

Collaboration – Elliot Moss interviews Howard Kennedy and Buzzacott

The first break was followed by an interesting session where Elliot Moss of Mishcon de Reya took the chair as interviewer – a familiar role from his radio work. We heard how a law firm HR director and an accountancy firm Head of IT saw collaboration with marketing and business development. There were some great quotes: “Fee-earners need IT but don’t necessarily want it” and “Candidates are more interested in brand than pay and benefits”.

Employee engagement and alignment was a key collaboration area for HR (with values reflecting the internal and external audiences) and IT reflected on project management skills. It was interesting to hear the view that often support staff have the advantage in that they have an overview position which enables them to see the big picture more easily than the fee-earners. There was consensus on the need to locate support staff with fee-earners if we are to avoid a “them versus us” divide.

There was some reflection on who owns the intranet and its content and a view that only collaboration could achieve “the best people with the best technology and the best relationships”.

Workshop – Hubspot and using inbound marketing and data

At this point we set off to our various workshops. Being a long term Hubspot fan meant that I was determined to hear the talk by Darragh Toolan from Hubspot.

We spent some time on developing client personas (“No more than three!”) and learned how to “market with a magnet not a sledgehammer”. There were various helpful checklists and proformas provided and lots of help as we tried to use them. There was also a useful content mapping tool analysing each stage of the sales funnel along the awareness, consideration and decision phases.

A key takeaway for me was that if the content has more than 600 words it is valuable enough to put it behind an email request form.

Lunch with the sponsors and exhibitors

During the breaks we were able to browse the stands of sponsors and exhibitors. I picked up a copy of ‘Legal industry content marketing report’ from Passle which reported that the total number of legal industry content marketing output doubled in a year (from 30,052 to 59,842 posts). I also took one of their handy smartphone cleaners. A lime green booklet on brands from Mytton Williams included some fabulous case studies. And I picked the brains of the Totum team to learn about the latest trends in the marketing/BD recruitment market.

I admired the Star Wars Lego model on the HighQ stand where software for managing technical documents and personalised client portals was being demonstrated. I learned about a Grant Thornton strategy case study from Bladonmore (“Your story. Well told”) and I was also intrigued to look at the corporate intelligence reports available from LAC Group – those will be valuable to anyone who is supporting pitches. Added to my hoard was a checklist for a perfect face-to-face interview from Acuigen. Thank you!

Differentiation by the Personal Communications Academy

Using a couple of well-known concepts – Charles H Green and David Maister’s Trust Quotient and the idea of converting features into benefits – the lawyers-cum-actors from PCA did a fabulous session role-playing before and after scenarios of lawyers talking to clients.

The insightful portrayal of a non-business development oriented fee-earner trying to sell was almost too painful to watch (although we all laughed a lot) it was so accurately observed. The session also demonstrated how powerful role-playing was for teaching selling skills.

Winning clients with neuroscience

Whilst some went off to other interactive workshop sessions, I remained with many others to hear from Jan Hills. With fleeting references to Simon Sinek’s golden circle (most focus on the ‘how’ and ‘what’ rather than the ‘why’) and Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking fast and slow’, we were into the world of emotions and the brain’s limbic system which concentrates on rewards and threats.

Jan shared insights from leading scientists such as Sandy Pentland (honest non-verbal signals and authenticity) and Amy Cuddy (power poses generating confidence). She explained how important memories get an emotional tag and about some of our natural biases – of which there are around 150. I was delighted to receive her handbook of tips and hints which are the basis of her forth-coming book. Add that to my Christmas list please!

Client panel with Santander, Aframe and Argus Media

The final session – where we hear direct from clients – is always my favourite and this year was no different with Elliot Moss back in the moderator chair. The clients were senior lawyers from Argus Media and Santander, plus the CFO from technology company Aframe.

The theme running through most of the questions and answers was that professional firms need to invest time in really understanding the client’s business and provide a proactive service and insight about the future. There were numerous comments on another emerging theme about whether professional advisers were trained to provide this type of service.

There were some fascinating observations in the ongoing debate about the importance of the brand of a professional firm compared to reputation of the individual adviser. Pet peeves appeared to be advisers who don’t do their homework and who provide lots of options but no recommendations.

A great day

The general consensus – obtained from both speaking to other delegates and by watching the active tweetstream (#PMFConf) – was that it was the best conference ever.

What I found particularly interesting was that the majority of the sessions were about psychology and people skills rather than marketing and technology skills.

I’m already looking forward to Thursday 29 September 2016!

Kim Tasso is a management consultant, author and journalist. Further information at

PM Forum Conference 2015 in 135 tweets!