The findings from the first of four mini-surveys dedicated to my upcoming book, The Integration Imperative, are now available here.
Respondents comments -- and what they DIDN'T say -- provided a rich behind-the-scenes look at the very real silos and disconnects that PSFs face today in effectively marketing and selling their services.
Here's my take on the answers to the survey's 3 questions:
Q1: Would you like your PSF to make formal efforts to hire fee-earners who want to market and sell?
More than 86% of our survey respondents answered this question positively, with a nearly audible yell, essentially saying: “Yes, of course we want PSFs to hire fee-earners who want to market and sell! It’s vitally important for our firm’s success!”
End of story, right? Nope. After you download the survey report here, take a closer look at this question’s respondent comments. Now consider what WASN’T said. Except for one person’s brief remarks about wanting his firm to hire for “marketing/sales personalities,” not one of the respondents said he wished his PSF would make formal efforts to hire fee-earners who want to market. All other remarks were overwhelmingly related to business development or selling.
Why did our respondents so wholeheartedly leave Marketing in the dust? I think I know why. But first allow me to introduce an important viewpoint, with humble thanks to my secret friend Sharon for sharing her thoughts.
Business development (aka selling) is a one-to-one activity. At the end of the day, the only people who can ultimately sell are a firm’s practitioners; they are the “products” clients are considering for eventual engagement. But strategic marketing is a one-to-many activity. It is a nuanced, complex, firm-wide initiative that requires a set of competencies that go deeper than the sales-support or communications mantle many PSFs assign to what they call Marketing.
Clearly, any PSF needs practitioners who can -- and who want to -- write and speak well. It’s in collaborating on expertise-based marketing communications (white papers, speeches, seminars) that practitioners can work effectively with their firm’s marketing programs. But for firm-wide marketing, the potential for boundary breeches and confused accountabilities creeps in when those one-to-one fee-earners want to get involved in the one-to-many aspects of marketing. Don’t we all know practitioners who think they’re good “marketers”?
Think about this: No matter how a PSF implements its marketing program, most senior marketers warn fee-earners away from conducting silo’ed client perception research, developing their own sub-brands, hoarding names in their own personalized database, developing their own brochures or distributing their own press releases. These initiatives are best managed by a focused unit of professional marketers or senior leaders with an overarching firm-wide purview.
So – drum roll – here’s why I think so many of this survey’s respondents called for practitioners who want to sell, but didn’t appear to call for practitioners who want to market.
Most PSF leaders, practitioners and (gulp) even some marketers themselves, are young in their understanding of what marketing is, what it is supposed to do, and the value that it can provide. In the evolution of professional services marketing today, it’s easier to conceive of the marketing function as sales-support (guiding the development of proposal responses and pitch presentations) or as tactical marketing communications. These functions are very important, of course, but their prevalent use in PSFs (as opposed to marketing strategy functions) indicates there’s a big learning curve about the broader spectrum of what could be a competitively effective marketing function. And respondents’ answers to this question reveal the challenges PSFs face in integrating their Marketing and Business Development functions. I’ll address these challenges in my upcoming book, The Integration Imperative™.
Q2: In the last year, has your PSF made formal efforts to hire fee-earners who want to market and sell?
Respondents’ answers to this question (full report available here) illustrate the ongoing love-hate relationship that exists regarding business development (aka selling) in most PSFs today. When asked if their PSFs have made formal efforts to hire fee-earners who want to market and sell, respondents’ answers split almost evenly into Yes and No camps. Intentionally seeking to hire fee-earning practitioners who want to market and sell still appears to represent a frightening cultural hurdle. For many PSFs, the embrace of overt selling is anathema.
Moreover, the Yes-No split appeared to be quite dramatic. On one side of their comments, respondents presented an extreme rejection of “selling” (“[We’d] never do this ... ever!”). The other side included strongly positive comments, and even ranged to a wholesale embrace of screening practitioners who demonstrate marketing and selling competencies and “fit.”
In my upcoming book, The Integration Imperative™, I’ll explore the dysfunctional meanings many PSFs have assigned to the terms “Marketing” and “Selling,” to their own – and their clients’ – detriment.
My prediction: over time, as PSFs let go of these out-of-date definitions, and as they become more focused on competing, and serving clients, effectively, the “Yes” side of this chart will increase in size.
Q3: In the last year, your PSF has made formal efforts to hire fee-earners who want to market and sell. How’s the effort going?
Only 10% of the respondents to this question said the effort was going “absolutely great!” (See full report here) The vast majority were lukewarm or negative. A review of their comments revealed a clear subset has been distracted by their firms’ critical need for practitioner talent; understandably, this has diluted their focus on hiring for marketing and business development skills or instincts.
But their comments also revealed two other critically important nuggets.
First, it’s a challenge to find the right set of marketing and business development capabilities, especially if the firm has yet to define them for itself! A firm’s recruiters and hiring staffers need standards to objectively evaluate marketing and business development skills. They can’t be expected to conjure them up in a vacuum. This viewpoint repeats a theme that, by now, rings loudly through this entire survey: there are widely varying definitions of marketing and business development, and a general lack of understanding of the value these functions could deliver in a PSF. No wonder our respondents rated their firms’ efforts so harshly.
Second, if there’s no one leading the effort to hire for a specific set of marketing and business development skills and accountabilities, it’s likely not going to be as successful as it could be. Someone, or at least a well-defined team, has to lead this endeavor!
Increasingly, PSFs will realize the strategic significance of redefining their marketing and business development into functions instead of roles. I’ll expand on this in The Integration Imperative™.