Best practice recruiting involves two things: a sound strategy, and good execution of that strategy.
Earlier this year I outlined an approach to ensure best practices are applied when recruiting the interpersonal roles of professional services marketing and BD people. I now share some key factors to help implement that approach.
Recap on strategy
By way of a quick cap, an effective best practice recruiting approach to attract the right marketing and BD professionals includes:
Here are some ways you can ensure effective execution of this approach. Keep in mind that all of these require only minimal planning, and will ensure a seamless, sophisticated and thorough interview meeting process for all involved:
Interview meetings, and the whole process of conducting these meetings, is not easily done. There’s planning, logistics and effective execution to all happen at the right time. But importantly, you, at your firms, have to judge a candidate and make a call about whether they are right for you while they are doing the same in return. If you follow this approach and execute effectively, this hard decision does become a little easier. Make it as easy as you can: arm yourself with the right information and plan accordingly, involve the right people, and ask the right questions. You will then feel fully informed to make the right decision.
Co-authored with Trisha Daho, Founder & CEO, Empowered
What confounds Managing Partners?
In so many conversations that we have with accounting firms, law firms, and similar professional services firms, managing partners seem confounded by a series of challenges affecting their firms:
Stopping the cycle
Many firms, even smaller to medium sized firms, have contemplated how to best attract the clients they most want. They get training on business development, they go out into the market, and they hustle to put into practice what they have learned. Sometimes. Until they get busy. And then, marketing and business development fall quickly off the table for a while. By the time most firms come up for air, they are hitting another dip in revenue growth, and the cycle starts all over again.
In order to create sustainable, long term, vibrant growth, firms (no matter how small), need to focus on creating a brand that is clear, desirable to key target clients, and executed with precision and diligence. Few firms manage this to an outstanding degree. But it is absolutely possible and the best firms have already figured that out. It all starts with a strategy.
The importance of strategy
Firms must create a strong and compelling vision, one that speaks to every single stakeholder. Clients, of course, but also targets, networking partners, alliances, and their own team. This can seem daunting, but with the help of a strategist or management consultant, firms can determine how to communicate a vision that sings directly to their ideal clients and targets.
Once a firm creates that vision, the work of living it begins. This means creating a strong brand presence in exactly the right market. Most firms see this phase as “marketing,” but it is so much more than creating a website and some marketing collateral. In professional services firms, every single person, from the janitor to the managing partner, must be living a clear, consistent brand for that firm every single day. The firms that do revel in their successes, and experience exponential growth. Those that don’t, flounder. And because most humans tend to focus on what they are extremely good at most of the time, those of us in professional services firms don’t focus on making strategic decisions about how to live our brand. We’ve got billable hour requirements, after all.
How to move this forward
So, what to do? Hiring an expert who can knowledgeably drive the bus on execution is a powerful tool for professional services firms of all kinds. But you have to do it in the right way for it to make a real difference in your results.
For example, if you hire a marketing director or manager and then give that person no real authority to do a great job, it’s going to a be a giant disaster. The firm leadership must be comfortable with full empowerment to these people in these roles, especially with leading the strategic marketers that they hire. If this doesn’t happen – put simply – firms are wasting their dollars on these valuable assets. One of the most common reasons we see why senior marketing professionals leave their firms is because they lack the necessary authority and empowerment to do what the firm has asked.
If your firm is committed to creating a role for a person with the muster and acumen to execute a clear strategy, partner with the top brass of your organization on evolving that strategy over time, and inspiring the execution of that strategy by everyone in your organization. Then you really will have a powerhouse.
You’re creating history in your firm
Think about this: When you’re hiring this powerhouse with the strategic vision required for your firm’s future, you’re creating history in your firm. And the effect of this is more so when you’re a small or medium sized firm. What you’re doing actually sets the scene for years to come. The pressure to get this right, and to get it right on the first try, is huge. You’re hiring someone who will set the pace and progressiveness of the overall marketing function.
Taking this one step further, you’re hiring this powerhouse to set the marketing culture in your firm. Many have (unfortunately) experienced a negative firm culture and know all too well the long-lasting effects a bad culture can have on the day-to-day reality and perception of working and living in a law or accounting firm.
Creating the right effect
The effects of a good or bad marketing professional can be felt more significantly in a smaller firm. First-time Marketing Directors have a big role to both curate and create. But both big and small firms always struggle when hiring the wrong person at any level of the marketing ladder.
The most important consequence is that the firm partners and leadership lose confidence in the marketing function and what it should be. They ultimately back away from investing in the function because they ‘have been burnt’ and are not sure how to course correct. Common consequences we see on this include creating a marketing culture that is only reactive in nature, a ‘yes’ machine, or a function that wrongly resembles something that is more administrative or junior in nature than it should be. More junior marketing roles often are administrative in nature, but the senior roles can and should be far from this. Again, without a real and executable strategy, and without understanding what the end game looks like, this can be an expensive debacle.
Firm leadership is often not equipped with the knowledge to empower their senior marketers; so, they partner with a consultant or search professional to know what to look for and – importantly – what it should look like in their own firm.
How important is partner involvement?
Partners need to be involved from the very first steps in adding to or implanting the marketing function. This function should report into a marketing savvy partner who can advocate and help them in their success. The most senior marketing professionals in a firm need to have the eyes and ears of the firm leadership so as to help with accountability, empowerment and progress.
Partners must also get comfortable in hiring these powerhouses who they can learn from. Counter-intuitive to some, but absolutely necessary to give the authority to these worthy leadership roles.
Is resistance inevitable?
Given we should know all of this, why is there still some resistance from partners when working with marketing professionals on implementing and setting the marketing strategy? Is it because this function is still not a bona fide function of the revenue of the firm? Or is it that unless and until marketing roles are considered and remunerated with equal importance as the billable hour, they will always take a back seat?
Whatever the justification, these perceptions must change. Business minded and client centric professionals – as marketing professionals are – have cemented their value in most firms. Firms and their partners who resist this are risking the future of their firms and undermining the value these respected players have earned.
These issues go to the very heart of your firms. It affects their structure, their culture, and their future. Non-accountant and non-attorney roles in these firms are here to stay and are gaining momentum at a significant pace in most large and global firms. The most successful firms already know this quite clearly. Hire the right professionals to help you get these leadership roles right from the start, and then enjoy the rewards. Trust us, they absolutely come.
As featured in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin on July 19, 2018
Attorneys and accountants are undergoing a seismic shift from being technical specialists to business problem-solvers. Professional services marketers — like Esther Bowers, director of client service initiatives from Barnes & Thornburg LLP, and Brian Duffy, regional sales leader, Midwest market, at Grant Thornton — are helping their firms accomplish the former. Below, they share their perspective and advice to others facing this challenge.
The need to be client-centric
Attorneys and accountants are trained to be technical, subject-matter specialists. They advise and provide counsel on specific issues and are trained to solve a specific problem or mitigate a specific risk.
These specialized technicians are now being challenged to apply their expertise in a new way: to become more generalist in their approach, and to be a “business solutions provider” who can predict, analyze and solve a client’s business need, ideally before the client knows it is an issue.
They have to change the way they brand and describe what they do, both internally within their firms and externally to their clients. What they do has to speak to and resonate with their clients — who are the ones demanding this change — not just to an attorney’s or accountant’s own insider language.
Being a business solutions provider is what these technical professionals must be. This is a profound shift for most attorneys and accountants. And few are making the shift with ease.
Role of marketers in this change
As a professional services marketer, you are primed to help your technical professionals be a business solutions provider. One of your main roles is to help them refocus to be client-centric and help them achieve that status.
Barnes & Thornburg is a law firm with nearly $400 million annual revenue, more than 1,000 personnel and 14 offices in the United States.
Bowers was one of a few chosen professionals to lead and instill client-centric efforts. This has seen Barnes & Thornburg through higher and consistent revenue growth than many of its AmLaw peers, despite a mostly flat market for legal service buyers.
Bowers said the key to this success is offering clients practical and holistic problem-solvers who are successful because they are “asking, understanding and then communicating the client’s business and legal objectives and keeping them front and center with everyone who touches that client.”
Grant Thornton is an audit, tax and advisory firm with $1.74 billion annual revenue, more than 8,000 personnel and 59 offices in the United States.
Duffy contributes to the firm’s go-to-market strategy and how a one-firm approach is part of instilling a client-centric approach.
He said his professionals need to be “problem-solvers for their clients’ most challenging issues. Whether it’s compliance (i.e. they don’t have a choice) or about strategic and organic growth, we must distinguish ourselves in the marketplace and assist in managing threats and risks within their business.”
Being client-centric is not a choice, it is the way attorneys and accountants need to behave in order to keep their clients and attract potential new clients.
Bowers points out that a “team-based and collaborative approach with the firm provides the best opportunities for client institutionalism.”
Duffy notes that they’ve moved beyond fee discussions with their clients, to a place where clients “trust us as fiduciaries of their money” to be out in front of their business challenges and help them avoid potential risks.
While some firms have already completed this transition, few empower their marketers to be an active participant on that client account. Simply maintaining or reacting to a potential client need or lead is not the same thing as helping to steer and control the experience a client has with the attorneys or accountants.
How can we move this forward?
Duffy said that at Grant Thornton it is about instilling a behavior: “On the journey to get to that point of trusted adviser status with our clients, one thing we do and instill in our people, is the importance of being engaging listeners. We teach them to ask thoughtful questions that are relevant to their business and their challenges.”
He said anyone can have a pleasant conversation about something generic. But there’s “an art to being conversant in relevant topics and tying that back to their business.” This behavior is now part of the Grant Thornton culture and helps with its one-firm approach at the frontline with clients. This allows the firm to deliver to their clients the best resources in the firm to address their needs.
Bowers says that Barnes & Thornburg have similar practices, and transparency from both sides is fundamental: “There is an overwhelming need for both firms and clients to share more information and have enhanced communication to deepen relationships.
“The two groups desire more collaboration but the first step is greater transparency which can lead to innovation and solutions.” This practice allows each side to share, learn and ask the right questions to achieve the client-centric model.
She said this means that a “client management approach includes understanding the primary drivers of value for specific clients and what we are doing to deliver.”
What does all of this mean for professional services marketers?
Bowers offered this:
Duffy offered this:
And I’ll add this for the marketers who are less experienced than Bowers and Duffy:
Whatever approach or practice resonates with you and your current environment, you can always rely on certain questions to help shift an attorney’s or accountant’s mindset to refocus on client-centricity. Help your attorneys and accountants with these ideas:
Being a business solutions provider is the next frontier. You, as professional services marketers, are perfectly positioned to help your attorneys and accountants reach this client status.
On June 28, 2018 I had the pleasure of discussing professional development for business developers and marketers as part of the Legal Marketing Association's regular Podcast. This Podcast was done in conjunction with the May/June 2018 issue of the LMA's Strategies magazine.
In this Podcast, I discuss everything from what firms want from their business developers and marketers to today's current trends and unique challenges legal marketers face with this task. I also contrast this to professional services business developers and marketers in both the accounting and A/E/C sector.
To listen: http://blog.legalmarketing.org/podcast-episode-32
Resumes are highly individualized documents that share the highlights of your professional career to date. They should be brief and concise, be a chronological account of your different roles, and be written in your voice.
I see a lot of resumes given what I do. And I love reading each and every one, as every person is different and tells their story in their own way. Sometimes, sadly, they say “I’m not a good candidate”.
They are not necessarily easy documents to write. But, there are some common mistakes I see all the time which I feel can be easily rectified with minimal effort.
What should your resume actually say?
Your resume should say only the following:
Triple-check. You might be surprised to hear that most resumes I read contain some sort of error. Many people have looked at it 20 times and are unable to see the mistakes. When I can point these out prior to representing you to a firm, it is fine, as you get a chance to fix them. But when you’re submitting your resume directly to a firm, they notice this and will likely not move forward because of a perceived lack of attention to detail. My advice: read your resume out loud, or, read it while pretending that you’re reading someone else’s document with the intention of looking for errors.
Style versus substance. If you’re going to seek feedback on your resume, ask only for their substantive comments. Its really important your style and voice stays in the document. And many people make the mistake of correcting on style only (because substance involves a higher knowledge base).
Brevity. Be brief and concise. A resume is not a place to list everything and hope something resonates. It is a summarized version of your professional self that is tailored exactly to the role you are applying for. (The interview is the place to elaborate and hand pick great stories to show your experience.)
Not every firm has marketing people. While many firms – typically the larger and global firms - have had significantly sized marketing teams for years, by contrast, smaller firms have not necessarily had this need. Until now.
Smaller firms, whether they have had a certain amount of success on their own, or, whether they might be newly formed and contemplating their marketing efforts, are now starting to re-think marketing for their firm.
As a partner in a law or accounting firm, consistent revenue growth year on year is now not a given. And for most firms, it’s a challenge. This is because you need to work at differentiation and showing value, and more specifically, being solutions-focused to your clients. And all of this against the backdrop of a competitive and often slow-to-respond market.
This is where marketing and business development comes in. These people are solely focused on helping you achieve your revenue targets, growth goals, and differentiation and value to clients. They can also help you achieve the elite status of business-solutions advisor.
But where do you start? And why does it seem hard to take the plunge to hire your first-time marketer?
It’s hard because there’s no precedent, no comparisons, and no history on a marketing function or person in your firm. You don’t have the benefit of hindsight of seeing the function work effortlessly and from learning from prior mis-steps (they do happen, frequently). So, the stakes are higher for hiring your first-time marketer. After that, and down the road when you look to build out a marketing function and team after your first-time hire, the challenge is much less so. You will have learnt, seen and feel more educated as to what marketing is, what it can do for your firm, and how it has actually impacted your firm’s bottom line.
Given these factors at play, there are several key things to get right in order to make the first-time marketer for your firm work and be effective in both the short and long term. Below are my top three tips to start you off along the right path:
Do you have consistent and confirmed expectations?
The most important thing you can get right when hiring a first-time marketer for your firm is knowing exactly what it is you need, and ensuring all key stakeholders are aligned on this. Unless you and your partners can agree on the specific expectations for this role, it is - in my experience - unlikely to be a long-term success. This takes some time at the outset, but it is well worth the end result.
For example, ask yourself and your fellow partners these initial questions and see what answers you all have:
What will be the seniority of the position?
Because you are hiring your first marketing role, this single person must be at the right level of seniority. In a larger team, a combination of ‘doers’ and ‘strategists’ will often form an effective team. But in a single person team, you need to find the right balance in just one person.
There is often a correlation between experience and preference for acting as a doer versus a strategist. Less experienced recruits may tend towards being a ‘yes person’ or an administrative function (creating perception problems around what marketing can actually do). Similarly, there are also risks in hiring someone with too much horsepower who pushes the partners too far too fast (creating problems around getting the right pace and buy-in for the role). Of course, every candidate is unique and firms should not use ‘years of experience’ as a direct proxy for ability or working style.
In thinking about the seniority, also take into account who this person will mostly work with: key partners or even clients, and also what barriers may be in place for this person. In setting your new marketer up for success, they need to know both the good things and the challenging things about the role to have the best chance at getting all the elements right. Think about the challenges you as a partner have; you’re better equipped to deal with them once there’s transparency in place.
And at the risk of laboring this point, this is all particularly important because this person will be (probably for a while) your sole marketing function. This person will shape what marketing is at your firm and will literally go down in your firm’s history as to what marketing is and does for your firm. Over the years, I’ve seen firms really struggle with shifting a (wrong) perception of marketing once its in place. Getting it right at the start is essential.
What are the reporting lines and budget:
Carefully consider who this new marketer reports to. Marketers will prefer to report into a key partner, typically an office managing partner or the firm partner. Reporting into the firm leadership as a whole is another option, but, if this happens, who is the single person with the ultimate authority and responsibility on this role?
You will also have to consider what budget needs to be set aside for this person. Of course, a more junior person is less expensive than a senior person, but cost shouldn’t be your main driver. More often than not, you get what you pay for. Additionally, educate yourself on what a marketer will cost at your firm. Their salaries are structured differently to your administrative employees’ salaries. We advise firms on this constantly. And as you might expect, it is different based on size of firm, type of firm, remit of role, geography, and seniority of position.
Closely tied to the issues of reporting lines and budget is how your new marketer will show their worth and value: their return on your investment. Bring your new marketer in on this conversation so you’re both in it together. For example, ask them to create a bi-annual report to show what they’ve worked on and how that has contributed to the revenue of your firm. The more senior the person, the easier this is to show. Get them to tie their efforts into the overarching goals of the firm and how that fits with the trajectory you both discussed at the outset.
It might seem hard to embark on a first-time marketing role because it is an unknown to you. But most firms who haven’t had a dedicated marketing function are now taking the plunge. Keep your firm, your partners, and your market position as it should be and let us help you embark on this challenge together. This is literally all that we do. In our experience, firms that follow the above steps commence their search from a stronger foundation and have greater success with their new marketing function.
I recently offered my top tips to the Firms and Hiring Managers of BD and marketing people at the offer stage (see previous blog). Now, I offer similar tips from the perspective of the candidate:
BD & Marketing Candidates:
The offer stage doesn’t have to be daunting. If the right information is shared at the start, and the right conversations are had to ensure expectation alignment, the process can, and will, go very smoothly. These are exciting times for both the candidate and the firm; do them correctly and they will be enjoyable.
When a hiring manager has found their perfect BD and marketing person, they embark on the offer stage. This stage should be quick and easy. So why isn’t it always that way? The offer stage is a key part of the whole process, yet it is often mismanaged by both the firm and candidate.
First and foremost, BD and marketing candidates have a lot of choice available to them right now. That context needs to be remembered in all of this; it is typically a product of the current market, not by demanding candidates. And when it is a buyer’s market, early transparency by both sides is the key to having the offer stage go smoothly.
Below are my top six tips to hiring managers in firms on how to conduct things in the offer stage to help a successful joint result. And next week, I will offer similar tips from the perspective of the candidate.
Firms & Hiring Managers:
Next week, I will offer similar tips from the perspective of the candidate.
One of the most common questions I get asked by candidates is how to tell their own career story. And I never get tired of hearing this question; it is a fundamental question that discerning candidates ask in order to give themselves the best possible chance when job-seeking.
Messaging your story, your career journey, your career trajectory – however you wish to frame it – is really important.
The most important thing I share with my candidates is that it is your story. What I mean by this is that there is no one ‘right’ way to come into marketing or BD in a firm, and there is certainly no hard and fast rules about how you get there. Your career is truly that – your career – and now its just up to you to tell it in a way that resonates with the person who is listening. And, whether you’re in person trying to relate to your listener, or getting the story across on paper in resume form, there are some guidelines to follow.
Here are my top tips as to how to own and tell your story:
Unapologetically own it. Your story will be unique. And that is a good thing. Every single person is different. I know often – particularly in an interview setting – we can be fooled into thinking that we must have a certain type of experience or background. But the fact is that everyone is different and it is those different experiences and perspectives that make up teams of truly unique and wonderful people. So, embrace it, and don’t feel defensive or apologetic about something that might be a little left of center. It is part of you, so own it.
Start at the beginning, but get there quickly. A good story has a start, a middle and an end. Everyone starts from a different place, and I’ve found those initial early years are very influential in shaping a professional (and it also typically gives you insights into their personality and softer skills). So, start at the beginning. But, be mindful of how much information the listener wants. Listen and watch to see if they want brevity or more details, and this will tell you how to concisely move through your career story. The last thing you want is to either: have explained your 15 year career in 45 seconds when the listener really wanted a 5 minute run-down, or, you’ve taken 20 minutes to describe only your first role.
What does the listener want to hear? There will be something that you have in your background that is going to be significant to the listener. Figure out beforehand what that is and leverage that experience. For example, in a job interview you will know from your own research the top 2-3 things they are looking for in a person’s experience. In a networking setting, you’ll hear common interests or hobbies that you can relate to. In a meeting with a partner, they will naturally start to hone in on something that is important to them. These are all signs for you to pull out of your tool kit a piece of your story that relates to what they’re telling you.
“Tell me about this gap…” Ah, the classic interview question. The best way to deal with any gaps in your employment timeline or regrettable occurrences is to proactively talk about them. Truth be told, just about every person has something in their past that they don’t like too much. Get in there first and tell the listener about the experience, but then why you moved on. The key here is to provide a balanced perspective; be honest that it wasn’t right for you, but share what you learned and how you took that forward into your next role.
Your personality, your ‘edge’, your motivators. I love asking questions to create discussion around finding out more about the human behind the piece of paper. Some people will offer up this information, and others need to have it teased out of them a little. I have found out some delightfully wonderful facts on people when I probe into who they are as a person. And, these traits all link back to who they are as a professional, so don’t think of them as time-wasters or irrelevant questions. For example, think of the grit and commitment someone has to have to train for a marathon. And think of the organizational capabilities someone has to have to work and study full time.
Your story on paper vs. in person. Your story on paper will be a highlighted version of you. When you tell it in person, you can elaborate and emphasis the things you know your listener wants to hear. But, keep resumes brief and concise. My view is that a resume should be a short document that intrigues the reader, and an in-person meeting or interview is where you elaborate.
Ask for feedback. In person, it is easier to sense the listener’s reaction. Not so much over email or over the phone. So, asking for feedback along the way to see if you’re giving enough (or too much) information is really important. That way you know your story is resonating.
Messaging your own story to show your career journey is one of the most important things you can do when considering a new role. And, its perfectly ok to emphasize or de-emphasize skills and experience as they relate to the role you’re exploring. The key is to relate, to be specific where you can, and to be unique so you stand out.
BD and marketing roles are not immune to short job tenure. People change firms in search of something.
So, what is it that BD and marketing people look for when they change firms? Is it money, or title? Is it firm size, or prestige?
The answer is… it is usually none of these.
Below I will set out the common reasons BD and marketing candidates move, and what they are looking for when they are changing firms. Keep in mind that these are the most common reasons that I hear from the people I work with, and so these bullets are not exhaustive, but they’re the top reasons people share with me at the junior, manager and senior levels.
If you understand a BD and marketing person’s mindset and what entices them to move into a new firm, you can do something about your existing practices to address this. And this is not about giving candidates too much power; it is simply about smart and proactive people and team management practices in a buyer’s market. Arm yourself with the right information to stay on top of this issue.
What are they searching for by level of seniority?
What can firms do about this?
Kate Harry Shipham is the Principal of KHS People LLC, a search firm for BD, marketing and sales professionals in law, accounting, engineering and architecture firms. Kate has done search and recruiting for eight years, and prior to that was an attorney. She loves what she does, and is always open to continuing the discussion: firstname.lastname@example.org