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Is Marketing a Four-Letter Word at Your Firm?

By Stephen White
October 3, 2014
Is Marketing a Four-Letter Word at Your Firm?

Even as the economy recovers, firms are still merging, slashing budgets and eliminating positions to grow and maintain profitability. Unfortunately, you can’t merge or cut your way to prosperity. Ultimately, firms must build a solid platform that fuels revenue growth.

I often ask practicing professionals: in your opinion, what is the difference between marketing and sales? The most common response: marketing spends money and sales makes money. Having spent more than 12 years as the chief administrative officer for a large regional accounting firm, I am not surprised by this answer. Firm leadership, however, can no longer afford to harbor this one-dimensional view of marketing and sales. It is time for firms to understand the true role of marketing and how marketing must work harmoniously with sales and service to fuel overall firm growth.

Marketing is an investment

Some firms measure the performance of marketing based on simple task-oriented goals such as the timely delivery of a new website, social media presence or the number of events produced during a given year. Other firms may measure marketing’s performance based on general and administrative (G&A) spending (e.g., budget vs. actual) or the increase or decrease in the budget allocated to marketing as a percentage of gross revenue. All of these metrics are important, but is spending less on marketing the true measure of marketing performance? I would argue that, instead of viewing marketing as a burdensome expense, treat it like an investment—an investment that will improve brand, capture substantial market share, generate highly qualified leads, and exceed firm growth goals.

An important investment needs a new look

Put simply, marketing needs to be rebranded. Firm leadership must be persuaded to see marketing as an engine for growth, rather than a cost center. This rebranding should also incorporate sales and client service. Call this grouping of distinct business units business development, firm development, or even growth development and communicate the change broadly across the firm. Remove the term marketing from the firm’s vernacular and refer to this combined effort by its new name. Let that name seep deeply into the culture of your firm and reinforce it by changing your budgets and back office systems to reflect the new terminology. It has to be more than just a name, though. It’s a cultural shift that requires emphasis and support at the highest levels. Your firm shouldn’t hire a marketing or sales director; they should hire a chief business development or growth officer. Working in tandem with the managing partner or the senior leadership team, the person in this role should be tasked with growing practice areas and revenue through well-designed and executed marketing campaigns, sales programs, and unique and efficient service delivery strategies. The goal: significant and purposeful revenue generation.

The new role of marketing in a growth culture

Removing the word marketing from a firm’s vernacular doesn’t mean that you are abandoning marketing activities; rather, you are reshaping this group’s goals and strategies. Marketing should be known for innovation, a place where new ideas come from, where people are proactive rather than reactive. 

What is important for your prospects and clients today may not be next year. Similarly, significant changes in politics and society over the next ten years might also indicate opportunities for your firm. For example, a new president or a significant number of baby boomers reaching retirement might signal a need for the creation of new offerings. What services might your firm develop to meet the needs of clients affected by these changes? How might you reach out to them more effectively? Marketing must play a role in helping define and deploy these new services.

As part of their efforts, marketing should also be your public voice and confidently communicate your lines of service to prospects and clients through channels such as public relations, advertising, promotions, marketing communications, and events. These methods of communication help firms build visibility and awareness, encourage action, educate, and create interaction between the firm and its external constituents.

Ultimately, marketing should be responsible for the endless pursuit of opportunity creation and communication. Remember, those who see marketing as an unnecessary expense may fail to realize that, without marketing, firms often struggle to make the sort of impact in the market that they desire. Marketing, within any professional services firm, should help shape the services designed to meet the needs of clients and prospects while fulfilling the strategic mission of the firm.

Building an organized growth development team

As with most parts of our business, the key to the success of any growth development team is hiring and cultivating a skilled team of professionals who can work together toward a common goal. Hire a skilled group of marketing professionals who know how to build brand, develop effective messaging, and generate highly qualified leads. Pair them with a proficient group of sales professionals who know the fundamentals of solution selling, who can build and maintain a healthy pipeline. 

Working hand-in-hand with client service delivery professionals who know how to innovate and automate, these growth specialists form the foundation of your team. Hire people who believe in what you are doing and are eager to grow your firm and, by extension, their own career. Each individual must be prepared to be a growth ambassador, extolling the virtues of your organization’s core differentiators. 

Selling your firm’s core differentiators

Let’s face it, many of the services provided by professional services firms are quickly becoming commoditized. However, every firm can differentiate themselves, and your new growth development team can help. Marketing professionals should work with your client services staff to help them develop strategies for achieving thought leadership through knowledge transfer. Selling your firm on their unique expertise combined with innovative services and delivery mechanisms helps you earn that coveted status as a trusted advisor. Your sales staff must be able to reinforce the core differentiator messaging and close the deal, whether it’s a new client engagement or an upselling opportunity. At its very foundation, though, marketing, sales and service working together in this manner is your firm’s internal core differentiator; it’s your growth engine—it’s your brand!

The bottom line

Growth development is a team effort that must be supported at all levels within your organization. Leadership must not only embrace the mission of growth, but also communicate it widely and with great frequency. Your designated chief growth officer must act as an agent of change, setting aggressive but obtainable growth goals and finding ways to leverage the collective strength of marketing, sales, and service to achieve them. Don’t let marketing become a four-letter word in your firm. By itself, marketing can be a misunderstood cost center, but as part of a well-oiled machine, it becomes a vital part of your organization’s growth engine.