Over the 25 years or so that I’ve been in professional services sales and marketing, I’ve observed dozens of professional services organizations that in “aha!” moments decided to take up marketing in earnest.  The normal life cycle of these decisions has been: 

  • Hire a big-name marketing guru, often from outside the profession
  • Build a support staff
  • Hire consultants
  • Develop new branding
  • Redesign the website
  • Roll out an extensive paid media strategy
  • Wait for the cash register to ring
  • Wait for the cash register to ring
  • Wait for the cash register to ring
  • Fire the guru
  • Fire the staff
  • Wait five years
  • Repeat

At the root of the problem, in my opinion, is a definitional challenge.  I see many accounting firm and law firm partners use the word “marketing,” when in their minds they are thinking “sales” – a word, by the way, that many of them refuse to acknowledge.   Conversely, when the marketing professionals hired by these partners hear the word “marketing,” they think just that and set out to develop and deploy sophisticated campaigns without much, if any, of an eye on the revenue line.  Invariably, this top-down approach leads to empty coffers and exhaustion before firms get halfway to the point of sale.  

I have had the honor of working for organizations that invested heavily in branding and advertising, and it has been ego-inflating when next-door neighbors recognize the name of my employer.  But the fact is that very few of my neighbors have ever spent a dime on accounting or legal services.  There has to be a better way, and in my opinion, there is.

Here’s an alternative.  Begin with the end in mind.  If the objective is sales, call it sales and start at the point of sale.  Banish ego, and invest only in the activities that are required to produce the desired revenue – activities such as targeting in-depth research into those targets, in-person outreach, referral-energizing, relationship-initiation, disciplined follow-up and relationship-building, network-enhancement, sales training, enlightened listening, pipeline reporting, and paid and earned media that hoped-for buyers are likely to access.  That’s shorthand for a process that I’ve been working on for many years, and there’s a lot more to it than possible to share in a blog post.  However, focusing first on the point of sale provides some assurance that you’ll get to the point of sale – an assurance not possible when the first focus is on activities that are several steps removed.   Need I say that in avoiding unnecessary marketing expenditures, firms improve their cost structure and are able to deliver better value to clients?

I love creative marketing, clever ads, great design, well-crafted press releases and all the rest.  Made my living from it for a good part of my career.  I’m not arguing against it.  I’m just saying that marketing and sales investments must be rigorously evaluated for their relevance to the cash register – the measure that most interests accounting firm and law firm partners.