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.
Kate Harry Shipham is the Principal of KHS People LLC, an executive search firm for BD and marketing people in professional services firms. Kate has done search and recruiting for nine years and prior to that was an attorney.