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This article was first published in the March 2021 edition of PM Forum Magazine

Do you think 2020 presented a ‘reset’ for how commercial decisions are made? With careful analysis, consideration and recommendations, Helen Foord believes that marketers are perfectly placed to transform the fortunes of their organisations.

A marketing and business development (M&BD) audit takes a detailed look at what you’re doing – how, why, when and where – and how this contributes to the wider strategic plan. In short, it helps organisations understand the things that are currently being done (or not) that will stop them from achieving their overall strategic goals. Although there are more than 50 areas that can be included in an audit, here we will consider just five.

1    Clarity of purpose

We call this governance and it really sits at the heart of any successful marketing and business development activity. We’ve all worked in marketing departments where people have questioned the value of what we’re spending money on. The most important thing is that there is a clear and demonstrable link between what you’re doing, the way you do it and the ways it contributes to achieving organisational goals. Answer the following questions:

  • Do you have access to and understand your organisation’s strategic plan? Indeed, is there one?
  • Have goals been set for the next 12, 24 and 60 months?
  • Do you understand what they mean for you and the marketing activity?
  • Do you have M&BD objectives, linked to these organisational goals?
  • Does your marketing strategy demonstrate how each of your objectives contributes to these organisational goals?
  • Does your tactical marketing plan demonstrate how each activity contributes to achieving marketing goals and objectives?
  • In your marketing reporting, are you demonstrating this link through from marketing activity to achieving marketing goals and objectives to achieving organisational and strategic goals and objectives?

In the next section consider how you deliver marketing, make decisions and ensure consistency:

  • Do you have agreed procedures for how you deliver marketing? You might want to consider written procedures for organising events, handling email marketing campaigns, using social media, client care, day-to-day PR, crisis PR, etc
  • Do you assess your own performance and adherence to procedures such as these?
  • Do you review them on a regular basis?
  • What training do you deliver for new starters on following these procedures?
  • Do these procedures just apply to marketing professionals or all fee-earners and staff?
  • Do you have agreed policies relating to marketing? You might want to consider policies for selecting event speakers, attending networking or client entertainment, use of marketing budget, etc
  • Do you assess your own performance and adherence to policies such as these?
  • Do you review them on a regular basis?
  • What training do you deliver for new starters on adhering to these policies?
  • Do these policies just apply to marketing professionals or all fee-earners and staff?
  • Are there any policies and procedures you don’t have that you think might be helpful? Consider areas of conflict or challenge over the past year.
  • What contingencies do you have in place for the times that they are not adhered to or used?

This might all seem like quite a lot to take in… indeed, this first area, alone, might provide you with all the areas for considering and work you can cope with.

2    Stakeholder analysis

This is where we use a range of tools to assess how stakeholders (both internal and external) view your organisation and its reputation, as well as their likelihood to recommend you and their perceptions and views of service and expertise, as well as marketing impression.

For the purposes of these audits, consider a stakeholder as anyone that is likely to receive or contribute to your M&BD activity. That means:

  • your marketing team
  • fee-earners
  • existing clients
  • lapsed clients
  • targets and prospects
  • press and legal directories
  • suppliers

This work is split down into two sections:

1    The digital survey

Where possible structure these to be as close as possible in content. Being able to compare, for example, the value attributed to types of marketing by clients, versus what fee-earners consider to be most valuable, can be an enlightening exercise.

As a bare minimum there is a need to survey your fee-earners and your clients, targets and prospects. The client, target and prospect groups can be combined, if it’s easier, but should be sent different links to the survey to allow you to segment the groups when analysing the results. We’d also suggest sending a different survey to ‘lost jobs’ contacts.
Here is a list of things to ask about in each of the two digital surveys.

2    One-to-one conversations

Once you’ve done your digital surveys you’ll no doubt have discovered a whole host of areas that you want to delve into further. These might be related to areas for development and growth; challenges to your mission, vision or values; or areas of under-performance or disconnects. At this point, one-to-one conversations with key individuals (such as partners, heads of department, suppliers, press, directories editors, major clients, etc) can be enlightening. In all cases write out your questions and, where possible, try to keep them as consistent as possible, to allow comparison with other conversations.

Of course there are other ways to conduct stakeholder research. Zoom focus groups can be an amazing way to test views on performance as well as sourcing ideas for future development.

Finally, don’t forget to have a frank conversation with suppliers, members of the press, directory editors and researchers.

3    Competitor analysis

For the purposes of an audit we believe this is most valuable when kept simple and focused on marketing:

  • Who do they market to? Segments, client type, sectors, locations, etc
  • What are they ‘selling’? Areas of work, priorities, areas pushed forward or hidden
  • What techniques are they using? Marketing mix, campaigns, themes
  • How much are they spending? A ‘finger in the air’ look at the type of marketing they do and the amount, as well as the size of the team
  • Summary note on overall growth and financial results.

What else needs to go in? Include a table of the main competitors, a study of the top three to five competitors, as well as a note on emerging competitors or ‘ones to watch’. These can be indirect competitors (organisations in non-competing markets that might be branching out – for example, former accountants setting up legal consultancy arms – as well as new organisations, niche practices).

How do you work out who to look at? Most marketing teams will have a pretty accurate understanding of the organisations that they consider to be their main targets – whether that’s based on location or key technical areas.
Start with your usual competitor list and add to it. Ask clients and targets who they would consider to be your main competition and look at the directories (if you’re in the legal sector). Finally, look on social media and in the press for key terms, to identify those organisations shouting the loudest on certain topics.

4    Money

A word of warning… this isn’t a 101 on how to manage budgets for marketing.

What are we looking for? The biggest mistake marketing teams make is running budgets that have little or no link to strategic governance matters. That’s why this section isn’t so much about reviewing WHAT you’ve spent (and plan to) but WHY.

Being able to report on marketing and demonstrate a link between money spent and instruction is every marketer’s ideal situation. Yet, all too often budgets are set by allocating a certain amount for ‘types’ of activity (PR, events, SEO, PPC, etc) without any real idea of what you plan to do, at that point. While it might not be 100% possible 100% of the time budgets should be linked to your overall marketing strategy, through your tactical plan, and thereby your organisational strategy.

Questions to ask to review financial matters:

  • How are budgets set? Are they mapped to reality or ‘finger in the air’? What needs to change?
  • How is the budget divided down to show use of funds in different areas?
  • How accurate is our forecasting and budget-setting? Are we regularly over- or under-spending?
  • How do we monitor expenditure? Do we use codes that correspond to strategic plans or relevant areas? Do we monitor and check accuracy?
  • What percentage of the budget is spent on different areas of the marketing mix? How does this percentage correspond to known enquiry generation sources?
  • What percentage of the budget is spent on personnel within the team? And what percentage on outsourced support?
  • How is expenditure agreed and approved?
  • What’s our relationship with suppliers? Do we pay on time?
  • How do we manage procurement and quotes?
  • Do we measure the ROI from all expenditure? How is this reported? Do we know what works best and what doesn’t (average income per £ spent)? Do we ever change anything during the year because of this?
  • How successful is our budgeting (planning and delivery)?

5    Reporting

The temptation at the end of a review process is to write all the findings up into a massive report. Providing the evidence to support any recommendations is essential… but you do need to make the recommendations first, and in plain English.

Always include the following at the start of your report:

  • A summary of the research that was done (and what each aimed to investigate)
  • A summary of the key areas for activity and change – a narrative, your opinion
  • Top ten most important actions required, as a result of the audit
  • A R(ed), A(mber), G(reen) report on all of the areas of study, with associated actions. This is presented as a table with three columns (with examples included).

And finally?

The most important thing is that you have been able to show, through your final report, what needs to be done, why and how, as well as how you’re going to report on progress. This might be as simple as just adding a ‘progress’ column to your RAG report… You might have totally rewritten your marketing plan and budget. Either way, you’ve got to grips with some of the tricky areas of change within your organisation, client environment and your marketing activity and now it’s time to start on those improvements.