One of my more popular and controversial blog posts is “Why Your Marketer Doesn’t Understand Your Firm’s Business.” The title alienates marketers before they get to the first sentence. It satisfies partners because it recognizes what they might think but would never say aloud.

Not being one to avoid controversy or healthy debates, I thought it would make sense to share a marketer’s point-of-view about why “the line” lacks a grasp of marketing. My sincere and ambitious goal is to reconcile and build the collaborative power of both parties.

 

Following are 10 reasons why practice leaders and partners don’t understand marketing.

 

1. Partners have taken one or two general marketing courses—at most.

Most partners have degrees in accounting, law, IT or architecture. A few have earned M.B.A.s. It doesn’t matter what business school a partner or practice leader attended; if they did not get a marketing degree, then they’ve only completed Marketing 101 or 201.

Believing a non-marketer can grasp a concept as complex and dynamic as marketing in a couple of classes is absurd. It’s like me saying that I understand an ERP system implementation because I got an A in my SQL course. Or that I fathom international tax law because I have filled out a 1040 tax form while I was an exchange student in Madrid for a semester. Or that I comprehend contract law because I bought a house. A few courses in anything (and having opinion on a Super Bowl commercial) gets a person nowhere close to grasping the topic. Period.

2. Partners don’t have time to understand it.

Partners, and practice leaders in particular, are pulled in a million directions. Here’s a typical practice leader’s day:

  • Be a leader to staff
  • Achieve a sales quota
  • Maintain profitable practice and hit KPIs
  • Serve clients
  • Increase client satisfaction
  • Minimize risk of client defection
  • Develop talent
  • Manage talent
  • Develop new solutions to expand revenue opportunities
  • Increase staff engagement
  • Maintain billable hours
  • Sell project work
  • Deepen client relationships
  • Develop relationships with prospects
  • Generate leads
  • Cross-sell the firm’s services
  • Recruit talent to build high quality team
  • Reduce staff turnover
  • Lead sales meetings with prospects
  • Stay abreast of competitors’ activities
  • Develop thought leadership
  • Write articles to build awareness of the firm
  • Manage project teams
  • Participate in industry associations
  • Speak at events
  • Earn CPE credit
  • Write proposals to win new business
  • Answer questions from the media
  • Attend a lot of unproductive/worthless meetings
  • Reduce staff turnover
  • Improve quality of work

 

It’s a little hard to squeeze in another to-do like “develop a deep understanding of marketing” into a day like that. Practice leaders have to run with the little marketing knowledge they have, so they can put out the next fire.

3. They are stuck on the idea that Brand = Marketing.

Taglines, logos, fonts, jingles, and brochures don’t sell professional services. There has never been a magical color, symbol, picture or piece of collateral that has grown a firm. Only people do that. A consultant is not a tube of toothpaste, a car or bottle of beer. Brand = Reputation = Culture. 

4. Marketing has grown far too complex.

The days of a simple marketing mix of whitepapers, webinars, brochures, and roundtables are antediluvian. Digitization, martech, SEO, privacy rules, globalization, analytics, social, artificial intelligence, and multifaceted competitive sets, are just a few of the CURRENT required modern marketing disciplines. Each of these changes regularly with a Google algorithm update, new SaaS tool launch or market regulation. Most marketers’ knowledge isn’t even very deep on these subjects.

5. They lack interest in learning the subject.

Let’s face it. Partners and practice leaders are human too. After a day of reading contracts or balancing debits and credits, can you fault someone for wanting to delve into some non-business interest? If some combination of psychology, economics, design, statistics, prose, spirituality or technology doesn’t excite you, you’re probably not going to be too fascinated about the discipline of marketing in your downtime.

6. When they are interested, they get caught up in fads.

If a partner has only had a couple of marketing courses but is curious about marketing, they’re not going back to school. They’re going to pick up the latest, best-selling marketing book. Unfortunately, most of these books are just repurposed philosophies turned into catch phrases and sold as sensationalized panaceas to whatever ails you. Do the topics “emotional branding,” “growth hacking,” “social selling,” “content marketing,” or “experiential marketing,” ring any bells? These fads provide a woefully incomplete picture of marketing and diminish its strategic core and impact on the firm.

7. They believe that Corporate Communications and Marketing are synonymous.

Corporate Communications informs stakeholders of corporate initiatives, manages executive/board risk, and spins any story about the firm into something positive. Marketing drives profitable growth by representing the voice of the client, uncovering market needs, developing solutions to meet them, generating demand, contributing leads and opportunities to the pipeline, and managing client loyalty.

The only crossover between the two areas is the management of the firm’s reputation. Corporate Communications manages the risk associated with negative events that fall outside of normal client delivery—litigation, executive behavior, acquisitions, etc. Marketing manages the reputational risk created by a gap between the brand’s promise and the firm’s ability to deliver on that promise.

8. They believe Marketing, Business Development, and Client Service are antonymous.

Hardly. Clients don’t make these functional delineations. In clients’ minds, they know “how you sell me is how you’ll serve me.” Marketing, Business Development, and Client Service are all one congruent function and continuous loop called client experience. Firms that don’t understand this operate at a severe competitive disadvantage.

9. They believe “prettiness” is the measure of marketing effectiveness.

Making something pretty is not marketing; it’s design. Aesthetic appeal should never be the driving measure of Marketing’s impact or its effectiveness. Yes, great design can enhance marketing effectiveness, but ONLY if the upstream hard work of marketing has been completed effectively. Without intelligent market segmentation, proper product-market fit, deep buyer understanding, clear value proposition development, positioning, brand promise and delivery alignment, appropriate channel selection, and demonstrable proof points, “making it pretty” is putting lipstick on a pig. Effectiveness is measured in pipeline contribution, market share, and brand relevance—not the eye of the beholder.

10. They assume that their buyers think just like them.

Many partners believe that their buyers value and purchase the same things that they do. It would be nice if that were true, but it is far from it. Buyers seldom value what we think they value. Assuming that they do has wasted more time, money and resources than we can imagine. That old adage “when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me” is spot on.

 

Takeaway

Ironically, 90% of a partner’s/practice leader’s day list above falls into my “textbook” definition of Marketing—“the science and art of exploring, creating, and delivering value that satisfies the needs of a target market at a profit.“

  • Achieve a sales quota
  • Maintain profitable practice and hit KPIs
  • Serve clients
  • Increase client satisfaction
  • Minimize risk of client defection
  • Develop new solutions to expand revenue opportunities
  • Sell project work
  • Deepen client relationships
  • Develop relationships with prospects
  • Generate leads
  • Cross-sell the firm’s services
  • Lead sales meetings with prospects
  • Stay abreast of competitors activities
  • Develop thought leadership
  • Write articles to build awareness of the firm
  • Participate in industry associations
  • Speak at events
  • Write proposals to win new business
  • Answer questions from the media

 

I would argue that the talent-related items of leading, recruiting, developing, engaging, and managing staff are all marketing-related, as well, because people are the brand and the product. If they aren’t good, then the product is not good.

It is time for partners and practice leaders to develop deeper understanding of marketing and, most importantly, rethink how doing it correctly would add exponentially to a both their—and the firm’s—success.

Be prudent.

 

 

 

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