So, you've decided the time is right to establish a marketing culture within your practice, but how do you step into this new territory and ensure everyone is on board? Before you post that hastily drafted job spec, you and your partners should consider the following.
What is marketing?
What does marketing look like to your firm? Does it include the traditional areas of branding, events management, sponsorship etc.? Perhaps the practice needs strategic expertise or specific knowledge such as PR or digital marketing and therefore necessitates a senior resource. What about business development? Is there a need to put in a place a BD framework or will that be left to each partner to do as he/she currently does?
How do you see the function developing?
Is a full-time resource required or would the firm benefit from outsourcing to a consultant which has the benefit of being less costly but also giving access to vast experience?
The list is endless.
As with most changes, conflict often arises and within professional services there are somewhat unique stumbling blocks which often hamper the introduction and success of a marketing approach.
Structure - The traditional structure of professional services firms is a partnership, but often in reality each partner operates independently, focussing on winning work for their own service line or sector group. This is further compounded by those leaders believing they know their business and their client base and have done quite well so far without a formal marketing element. This silo culture has to be challenged if a marketing approach is to have any impact.
Chargeable v Unchargeable - David H Maister said "In most firms, billable time is carefully monitored, but marketing time is considered extra." The conflict between chargeable and unchargeable time can sometimes be the elephant in the room not just when it comes to difficulties engaging with marketing planning, but at the outset when the notion of a marketing culture is first raised.
Opposing experts - It is said that the right side of the brain is creativity (marketers) and the left analytical (accountants/lawyers). Whilst that theory is often disputed, it isn't uncommon for both professions to clash. Marketers need to be mindful that the partners know their trade and marketplace. Similarly, the practice leaders need to be open to a different perspective where marketers know how to develop and enhance strategies and implement them effectively by communicating through appropriate channels. It comes down to both parties being respectful of, and open to, each other's expertise. You might say a more yin and yang outlook is the key.
Building a framework throughout the whole process to allow communication between partners, business units and marketing can help to break down these barriers. For example, gathering input from across the partner group, bringing in marketing experts to talk to partners and address any of their concerns, regular updates on marketing metrics as part of management reporting, presentations at partner meetings, sharing the success stories widely…..seeing an impact on the bottom line is a powerful catalyst to those reluctant to engage.
The right fit
The selection of the right resource will be determined by the size of your firm, your budget and your needs.
If hiring a full-time staff member, I strongly suggest someone with a professional services background. The intricacies of multiple partners, service lines, industry groups etc. are unique and an understanding of these shouldn't be underestimated. (Apropos the opposing experts alluded to above.)
The further professional development of the individual is important not only to safeguard their career satisfaction, but also to ensure the firm's marketing efforts are benefitting from new thinking and new technologies. Meet with the individual to map out a career path for them, which should be reflective of how the firm see's the marketing strategy and function progressing and growing.
My advice would be to talk to other firms who already have adopted a marketing focus. How did they go about it? What were the challenges, pitfalls etc.? Perhaps talk to their marketing resource directly (no headhunting!).
Outsourcing is alternative option. Yes, of course, I would say that, but consider the advantages. Hiring and inducting a new staff member takes time to do, outsourcing brings a highly experienced professional to the table relatively quickly and naysayers in the business are likely to be more open to their input. An external expert will tailor their offering to suit your firm's requirements and will know what to focus on in order to achieve results. A strong rapport with the consultant is important as you will inevitably have to be willing to consider their advices and suggestions which may contrast with you and your partners. Seek recommendations amongst your network.
Appoint a Champion
Having someone championing the cause from the beginning puts power behind the initiative, gets buy-in from others and can ease any potential conflicts. Whether that's the managing partner or a partner who has an interest in marketing, the new focus must be supported from the top with clear communication permeating down through the firm; from partners, directors, managers, support staff etc. Communicate why the firm has taken this approach, how it will be managed and measured, how it will benefit each business unit and how to get involved.
Not everyone understands or wants change but in my experience, you go with the ones who are enthusiastic or show some degree of interest. By nurturing their support and working with them, slowly more people come on board and want to get involved. The top table has to constantly beat the drum that marketing is the new normal; a strategic management function and is here to stay. I promise you, if you do it right, you won't regret it.
Contact Grant Marketing & Communications today to find out how we can help you to develop a marketing culture in your firm.