With the mantra being ‘Adding value to the bottom line’, Kim Tasso reports on this year’s PM Forum conference.

I certainly didn’t miss the early start and trip to London to join the annual PM Forum Conference, this year run online for the first time. Having attended an earlier social, I was familiar with the Remo platform and started the day chatting to those on my table. Some of our international colleagues had got up in the middle of the night to participate – that’s dedication.

Who wants to be a Trusted Adviser? Rippan Vig
After a friendly welcome from the conference chair, Nadia Cristina, the first session by Rippan, of Watson Farley Williams, started. Her calm and measured delivery shared research results such as Managing Partners’ Forum’s analysis of marketing expertise through staples (marcoms, pitching and CRM), advisory (coaching, pricing), CEO support (change, new services) and sales (new clients). The biggest gaps were in pricing, change agency and sales.

There followed a short video from the break sponsor Conscious Solutions, promising us orange chocolate – after already organising for all attendees to be sent handmade cookies from The Cookie Mail. The numerous networking breaks also allowed attendees the opportunity to find out more about all the sponsors, including BoardEx and Passle.

Account-Based Marketing – Bev Burgess
I recently reviewed Bev’s book on ABM for this magazine so it was good to hear her speak. She reminded us that Malcolm McDonald thought that ABM would revolutionise B2B marketing.

After definitions and core principles, Bev whipped through information-packed slides filled with jolly images. She outlined the seven-step methodology:

  • Know what is driving the account
  • Play to the clients’ needs
  • Map and profile stakeholders
  • Develop targeted value propositions
  • Plan integrated sales and marketing campaigns
  • Execute integrated sales and marketing campaigns
  • Evaluate results and update plans.

She used KPMG for illustration and admitted that ABM was hard for PSFs. She suggested that the best outcomes were achieved when the ABM person was part of the client team and suggested a day a week per account.

Her methodology covered: exploring, experimenting, expanding and embedding. Then we enjoyed a fabulous show reel – with music – of design work by the break sponsor, Mytton Williams. I found myself beginning to enjoy these online ads.

Moving marketing up the value chain – Lucy Birch, David Nelson and Maria Jennings
A trio of talent from PwC led a walkthrough of their marketing transformation of 33 M&BD teams and 2,000 campaigns annually. Their three pillar process:

  • Redefine the people strategy (including culture and mindset)
  • Create a comprehensive marketing methodology and playbook
  • Develop a unifying strategy and planning process.

There were insights into how they changed the end-to-end process for all campaigns and an exploration of its biggest brand-building campaign Strategy&. I liked their reporting process which had a ‘quarterly rhythm’ supported by Friday evening calls.

Questions were about the lessons for smaller firms. The theme was focus – doing less and doing it better.

ROI: more than just a calculation – Richard Crook
Richard has been at Charles Russell Speechlys for a year but previously spent his career in the property industry so when he started his talk on justifying marketing spend we were all glued to our screens.

He considered the challenges of calculating true cost and results in a PSF including the lack of data, the length of the sales cycle, the short-term focus and attribution. He urged us to track everything with marketing automation in one place. Much easier said than done.

He compared the CIM approach to ROMI calculations and showed his preference. A good ROI would be a 5:1 ratio and an exceptional 10:1. He reflected that, pre-Covid, the property industry was very reliant on events and he designed a client evaluation matrix ranking guests.

While I was in this overview session, others participated in:

  • Thought leadership for strategic impact by Claire Mason of Man Bites Dog
  • The power of communication by Liz Whitaker of Propella Group
  • Client feedback programmes by Claire Rason of Client Talk

Art of influence and persuasion – Michael Fleming
After the lunch break, sponsored by Vuture, the afternoon started with a bang with Michael Fleming – a former commercial litigator – and his irreverent, conversational style. Rather than slides, he provided links to his ‘Wonder Wall’ of resources as he cantered through 10 secrets:

  • Don’t hard sell
  • Be a chameleon
  • Process for persistence, time, timing, relationships, trust
  • Think like an optimist
  • Really listen and seek to understand
  • Emotional self-control
  • Underlying ‘interests’
  • Why should they care?
  • Emotional connection matters too
  • Have BATNAs.

I liked his tips for breaking out of the ‘lunch loop’ or ‘friend’s zone’. And stories about people giving him the ‘hair-drier treatment’. There was a lot of psychology content with nods to different personality models. And he drew on the work of negotiation experts. I liked his neat model for managing objections (Agree. Explore. Challenge).

The afternoon breakouts from the morning were repeated and additionally included:

  • Make your brand stand out by Bob Mytton of Mytton Williams
  • Value-first social media strategy by Bram Vanoirbeek of The Thing About Digital

Create an award-winning campaign – Sharon Collins
Sharon, Head of Sectors at BDO, described the firm’s success at winning awards. The session was studded with insight and pragmatic advice.

She shared some fascinating facts – 82% of business decision-makers are influenced by awards and 67% of companies who score in the top quartile of Cannes Lions Awards have above-average revenue growth.

The three themes she focused on for awards success were: relevance, boldness and timeliness. She used campaigns from Korn Ferry, the University of South Wales and Octopus Group to illustrate.

Sharon’s formula for campaign success:

  • Establish clear objectives
  • Research your target audience (with insights into her client mapping process and examples of hyper-mapping)
  • Create amazing content (she warned that tactics should be only a third of the overall campaign effort)
  • Continue the conversation
  • Measure as you go.

She shared insights into crib sheets to condense campaigns into key messages and creating league tables for those generating the most conversations and leads. She also showed how campaign themes were incorporated into pitching to win major contracts.

The networking break was sponsored by Thomson Reuters HighQ.

Client Panel – Amit Champaneri
Amit chaired a lively Q&A session with Paul Massey (former inhouse counsel at eBay and Crowdcube and Founder & CEO of Tabled – a legal technology platform) and Steph Hogg (a procurement and pricing expert at Validatum).

There were examples where advisers had been bold and had reached out to get to know the people behind the clients, to really understand what was worrying them and to make bold suggestions to do things differently. Both panellists stressed the need to use the phone for catch-up conversations where the billing clock wasn’t running.

It was interesting to hear both panellists would have welcomed direct interaction with marketing and BD professionals. M&BD was seen to speak the same language as procurement professionals. There was also the view that M&BD people were often more strategic as they had a more holistic view of the firm.

I was surprised to hear Paul say that he couldn’t recall being asked for feedback on tenders and that there was rarely any follow up. Opportunities for legal tech, being bold, building relationships and really finding out what concerns clients were the concluding thoughts.

While no one could deny the huge impact of Covid – after all, we were all sitting at home – it was surprising how it didn’t appear much in the presentations. It’s good to know that the strong disciplines of analysis, strategy and planning still work just as well. I was also pleased to see that no-one wore Madonna-like headsets to present.

Whilst I was nervous about the prospect of sitting in front of a screen all day, the time flew by. The varied sessions kept us captivated and provided lots of food for thought. And I still managed to catch up with old friends and make some new ones during the breaks – especially at the end of the day’s cocktail party (with Negronis supplied by yours truly).

Kim Tasso is a consultant, psychologist and author. Visit www.kimtasso.com