The other day, a firm's on-hold message told me:
"We provide proactive solutions anytime you have a question."
I've been speaking to a lot of audiences lately about using the web and blog technology to operate and market more effectively. I totally understand there is a lot of resistance to blogging, especially by people who are amazingly busy as it is (and who isn't??). Blogging does take a good amount of time.
But when giving presentations that discuss all the different ways RSS technology is useful, I've been observing that my audiences are genuinely surprised at what can be accomplished -- and in a very cost-effective manner.
It helps them see RSS in a whole new light.
There is a fantastic post by Vancouver Law Librarian that lists 10 uses for RSS. And only one of these is outbound marketing. Just one.
So if you are an attorney, accountant or other professional service provider scrunching up your nose at the mere mention of blogs because you think it's just a time-consuming method of marketing (that reaches only the My Space crowd), think again.
Did you see that Hellman's mayonaise has modified their "quart" jar?
Despite years of hearing claims (by accountants) to the contrary, maybe accountants have figured out a way to apply examples from the product world to their own practices...
Taking a cue from Hellman's Mayonnaise, who recently redefined the quart as 30 ounces instead of 32, the approach is simple. Hours are now 54 minutes long instead of 60.
Echoing Unilever, Bill Billum said, "At DOB&H we have always taken great pride in offering the highest quality services at reasonable and fair prices. Recently, inflationary pressures have brought about by the increased costs of our people. Rather than raise our prices, we chose to slightly reduce the size of the hour."
Enjoy this post (in its entirety) from my clever colleague, Ed Kless: Dewey, Over, Billum & Howe Innovates the Accounting Profession
It's one thing to say we specialize and it's another thing to do it. Here are 10 ways to prove you have a specialty and to maximize it:
1. Make the specialty a priority in CPE/CLE, marketing, and service (and SAY SO publicly!)
2. Bring in non-technical experts to speak at exclusive events you host or underwrite. Other industry experts or entertainers mean less work for you, more enjoyment for the audience, and you get all the credit.
3. Attend industry seminars and other events where you see, or even accompany, your clients.
4. Spend ample time developing processes to most effectively (and profitably!) serve THOSE clients.
5. Continuously add and improve products (services) to solve problems inherent in that industry.
6. Read and write for key print or on-line publications of the industry.
7. Explore, teach, and even help legislate about a variety of topics (meaning not JUST accounting or legal topics) within the industry.
8. Feature industry specific websites/blogs, updated often to show day-to-day involvement and expertise.
9. Hire non-financial or non-legal professionals to enhance expertise to industry (e.g. hire a registered nurse to consult with HC clients--some law and CPA firms do this very successfully)
10. Partner with other organizations to provide non-traditional solutions when it’s not practical or profitable to have the resource in-house.
We do at least seven of these. How many do you do?
To my recent post entitled "The People Problem is Firms' Fault," David Maister commented that he agreed with the points but he posed to consultants the questions:
I agree these are important points and right on target. But I don't think I really understand why those of us who share your point of view, Michelle, seem to be fighting a LOSING battle. What you advocate is becoming less common, not more.
What are we doing wrong in our attempts to have a beneficial impact on the world? If what we suggest would truly help everyone, why isn't it happening? What do WE have to do differently to help make it happen other than just keep on insisting that we're right?
I answered with a comment but wanted to elaborate in this post.
As the last consultant on earth who wants a firm to invest in me for research and development of solutions and then, for whatever reason, fail to implement the solutions they participated in creating—and it breaks my heart when this happens—isn't it the responsibility of the firms, who've looked to us for guidance, to ensure implementation?
So, assuming that the scope of our engagement does not specify implementation (leaving it the firm's responsibility, overall) some of us are still very invested in the outcome. Given this level of care, how can consulting experts be more influential in inspiring firms to desire and achieve results?
These are the largest barriers I see when it comes to implementation:
1) Problems and Solutions are NOT Simple
2) Democratic Leadership
Perhaps if consultants work with fewer firms but in more depth, the results can be far stronger than when working with more firms, but more superficially.
Problems and Solutions are NOT Simple
They are complex and entirely interrelated. Consultants and media feed "easy" solutions to one small piece of a problem at a time. This doesn't seem problematic at first, and even seems a palatable way to make incremental change.
But what this approach fails to illustrate is exactly how interrelated most problems in firms are (e.g. low interest in personal marketing is perpetuated by the belief that no one is available to "do the work" if/when the marketing succeeds—though this appears at first like a capacity problem—often the capacity DOES exist to do the work, but leveraging is the issue). While it may seem trivial to fix a leverage problem, if we can show the impact of leverage on profitability (for example), it is easier to accept this as a beneficial change. Without a clear picture of exactly why a change is needed, buy-in tends to be half-hearted at best.
Unless the leader/s of a firm are true visionaries and connect these dots themselves, or can see the forest despite the trees, then we consultants may need to do more in this area in order to have deeper impact.
When firms are governed by democracy, multiple leaders seldom agree about making a change at all, much less about taking that commitment personally and supporting it all the way through implementation. To succeed, leaders must agree that a problem IS a problem therefore believe in a solution's need and then must trust in the appropriateness of the recommended approach to resolving it.
The firms that experience greatest success have at least one of the following:
Consultants can spend more time illustrating the interrelationship of problems for clearer understanding, and then facilitating solutions that are "right" for that unique firm. And consultants could probably work more closely with the firm to create custom solutions even if it means directing them to others to solve the problems.
Today, many of those in charge are making "enough" money and are close enough to retirement that "sticking it out" a little longer in the status quo is still an option for them. And it's an option that can be more appealing than making the sorts of significant changes we suggest.
Is the firm going to increase it's internal and external value proposition? Or not? That is the question.
Bringing in the consultant doesn't mean the desire to move forward is a given. We consultants could do a better job to always raise the question — it is an important part of the commitment to implement. Getting a solid answer is a must because choosing not to decide is always an option. As the song lyric goes, "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." (Freewill, Permanent Waves, Rush, 1980). Any choice, or lack of choice, will have its consequences. Until or unless the consequences of not changing are actually painful to the current leaders, many firms simply won't.
What consultants could do more of here is to be more compelling about the benefits of improving the firm's value proposition for its people and/or its customers. When enough work is piled on their desks, partners don't care to worry much about tomorrow's dollar. When there are warm bodies populating the cubicles, they don't care to question if those are the right bodies or if those bodies will be there tomorrow.
Much like an attorney or accountant trying to convey the benefits in proactive tax or estate planning, we consultants are presently trying to communicate the price of NOT changing. And much like many people will never buy the tax or estate planning, many firms will never accept our advice to change. We consultants must accept this and focus our energies on the firms that WILL move ahead of the pack.
Leaders often think when someone says things need to change that we are saying THEY broke them or that THEY somehow failed. More often than not, all we are saying is that times they are a-changin' and firms need to change, too. Consultants could be more careful to avoid putting firms on the defensive which creates a barrier that doesn't need to exist.
The systems, processes, and expertise needed to apply our recommendations is not usually in place within the firm. If we don't help them to create that infrastructure, then we could be more proactive in helping the firm find the resources to build it and follow up routinely to counsel through the implementation.
Again, though it isn't always our "job" to ensure our advice is heeded, if we care to, those of us who consult can do more aid in implementation. If our personal satisfaction is in seeing firms advance, then perhaps we need to be better at our own client selection--choosing to work with firms with higher likelihood of applying our advice. Sounds a lot like our advice to the firms we serve...
This is a (long and) detailed addition to the conversation going on at David Maister's blog about 360 degree evaluations/reviews in firms. A little verbose to post as a comment, I think...
David kindly posted a question I'd e-mailed him providing his insights and asking for responses from his readers. Here's my response to his post:
David, I'm particularly glad you linked to your prior posts. I hadn't recalled the "guts" post in particular as it relates to 360 (or any) feedback and it certainly does relate.
Quite clearly, some people just don't want to know.
The saying that you can lead a horse to water but cannot make him drink is what comes to mind with regard to what people will do with the information they receive. It does take guts to drink from the feedback cup. And it takes real resolve to act on that feedback after absorbing it.
I believe the way the feedback on style and performance is presented is paramount: context and purpose are key.
And, as I mentioned in my question, there are many ways to mess up a 360. (This holds true for ANY appraisal!) It is no small matter and must be handled extremely carefully.
Issues to resolve:
About the process, I think it's essential that the subject selects his or her reviewers so that results aren't easily dismissed as potentially coming from someone whose opinion the subject does not respect. We are far more likely to accept and process feedback from people we respect. If people choose their reviewers, they are saying upfront they will consider the feedback worthy of regard.
That being said, I usually urge people to consider choosing some people outside of their tightest circle of "friends"--perhaps even those they've had some professional disagreement with, as long as they would value their opinion. Optimally, each subject selects 3-4 of each: direct reports, peers, managers, and sometimes clients, plus self. This provides a good sample size.
I hear (read) you saying that running a 360 without accountability for action based on the outcome is a cause of failure. I'm not sure I agree. I do see it as suboptimal, but not as a complete failure.
Based on the horse/water/drink theory, I think statistical odds suggest that some will take the information to heart and try to use it while others will not give a hoot. The question the firm would then ask is, "how many will care?" Is it worth doing if 50%, 25%, or just 5% would act on the information? I think yes. But maybe I'm too willing to accept incremental change. (I think all real change is incremental...). I very seldom see 100% participation in anything a PSF ever does.
About your reasons for failure, you're right about "a."
a) if no articulated standards exist, I would suggest the "first" eval serve as a personal benchmark against which a person would seek to improve over time. As an aside, if there is no managerial job description--aside from the sad oversight it represents--why not view it as an opportunity to write one's own--he or she is, after all, a knowledge worker which implies the entrepreneurial ability to chart one's own course to some degree.
b & c) covered above in process/approach
d) failure? or suboptimal? (my suggestion above)
Your "quick summary" statement is: "a manager who really wanted to improve would not need the formality of a company-wide 360-program to get there." Perhaps not, but managers desiring to improve are typically hungry for feedback. Your linked article recommends asking people directly. That can be great. I particularly like your suggestion of asking "tell me what others say..." to take some pressure off.
But even so, especially with accountants (lawyers tend to be more forthright) the idea of hurting someone's feelings can keep truths buried. 360s can open the door for honest AND CONSISTENT feedback.
Specifically, 360s are most useful in assessing perceptions about how well people are doing in areas of management/leadership that tend to be extremely subjective--those requiring judgments, not measurements. It so happens that nearly all characteristics of a "great" CPA or lawyer are gauged only by judgment:
Exact areas worthy of focus are:
We refrain from cover abilities already "evaluated" (saturated) in other ways such as technical skills and marketing efforts. Those tend to be extremely measurable and feedback, though not always formalized, tends to be ample.
Feedback at all is rare in PSFs. Positive feedback is even more rare.
360's provide the unique opportunity to see if you treat direct reports differently from your managers. Or if you are perceived as weaker or stronger in a given area by one group or another. This can provide telling insights about management style. Most importantly, do you see yourself the way others see you?
Assuming all perceptions are the realities of the perceivers, then all feedback is valid. As you said, David, what people choose to do (or not do) with the information is the next step. So is it worthwhile in your eyes if change is incremental? If participation is less than 100%?
(Welcoming contributions from all...)
Amidst all the legitimate concerns and problems I've seen of late pertaining to finding great people and "retaining" them, I've been extraordinarily frustrated by discussion threads I've been reading.
First, let's define "great people."
Firms want: smart, self-motivated, self-managing, business development-minded people who will become eventual leaders. These people should be able to exercise substantial judgment in technical scenarios, recognizing when information is noteworthy or merits transmission to others, and in all forms of customer communication. They should be able to train those lower in the ranks than themselves.
These sound like knowledge workers, yes?
So now let's talk about "retention." Isn't this word awful? Doesn't it bring to mind the image of a cage or barricade? In fact, by definition, it is to "keep, hold, hold on to, hold back, keep back, keep in possession."
A knowledge worker is not retained or kept. A knowledge worker is inspired, intrigued, motivated, and intellectually stimulated. A knowledge worker needs to be TRUSTED.
A knowledge worker is, in fact, also a volunteer according to Peter Drucker who said knowledge workers invest of themselves with the expectation of a psychological ROI.
Your knowledge workers may or may not choose to come back tomorrow. Worse than not coming back, they could still come to work, but may no longer be "there" psychologically. If you measure "productivity" with timesheets and attendance, would you ever really know? Yikes.
How much thought and effort do firm leaders/management dedicate to improving their ability to inspire, intrigue, motivate and intellectually challenge their people? Very, very little.
Making minor improvements to common benefits like free sodas or vision/dental coverage is not going to entice someone to stay. These things will NOT make a drop-in-the-bucket difference when firms fail to address the true needs of knowledge workers.
Worse, I want to scream aloud when I see firms focusing intently on micromanaging stupid things like cell phone policies, dress codes and, yes, grooming policies! Good God! If we are having to tell people to bathe and comb their hair, we aren't hiring great people.
These sorts of policies underscore the firms' lack of trust of their knowledge workers. The very existence of these policies in firms draw attention to the lack of alignment between who they are and what they want.
And if we are hiring great people and telling everybody, across the board, exactly how to dress or groom because one person can't get it right, then we don't deserve all those other great people. Frankly, if one person struggles to be appropriate in personal appearance, and we write a "Policy" because we're too chicken to coach them individually, then we get what we deserve when we demoralize everyone who is not the problem.
If we refuse to equip people with cell phones so that we and our clients can reach them (accessibility is still a good thing, right?) then what does that say about the firm's commitment to service? Seriously, how much does a cell-phone cost? What is the cost of inaccessibility?
Where is the firm walking its talk?
Morale in firms is bottom of the barrel low. Adding health club or vision benefits isn't going to solve the problem. Adding petty policies to micromanage knowledge workers is another slap in the face.
Instead of treating people like children, firms should be thinking about:
Most firms offer an extremely unfriendly environment for professionals. Most partners agree. But most aren't doing anything to improve it, either.
Associates--the ones who stay--are shunning the "opportunity" to be partners in their firms. The problem isn't that the associates are unwilling to take responsibility, it's the firms failing to offer the opportunity to make a difference to knowledge workers who thrive on the ability to make a difference. I talk to associates in law and CPA firms every week and I hear about this first-hand. They are squelched and discouraged when it comes to new ideas.
Really want an office full of "great" professionals? Then create an environment where they will thrive, not shrivel and conform to a broken firm model.
When your knowledge workers drive home at the end of the day, do they want to come back? Or keep on going...?
I don't just want to help or work with anyone: I want to help and work with people who share my philosophies. I really am a believer that Passion, People and Principles are the keys, and I get real fulfillment working with people who are trying to make that real in their lives - junior or senior, "traditional professions" or hard-core manufacturers.
What I don't want to do anymore is to waste time (mine and theirs) trying to convince "hard-nosed, short-term corporate-style people" that there's a better way. I've actually learned that I never "convert" anyone - what I do is to help clarify the thinking of those who shared my views to begin with.
I find it fascinating that David says he doesn't convert anyone. I'll bet he's brought more than a few around...kicking and screaming along the way.
But his next point is key. Whether you're a consultant or CPA, lawyer, or in any other profession.
When—as leader, speaker, or other influencer—your views and values (passion, people, and principles, or otherwise) resonate with others, that is when you have synergy and begin building a team or a following, as it were.
A beautiful lesson in all of this is: as you go about your business, be true to your values. Work with those with whom you have synergy.
If you like a challenge you can try to convert, but isn't your energy better spent where at least somewhat similarly minded people can expand each other's ideas rather than focus all their energy on completely changing the ideas of others?
Absolutely ridiculous! NY courts, through state ethics restrictions, are trying to impose a huge "Advertisement" label on legal blogs and ALL electronic communications by or about lawyers.
"This blog is false and misleading (in New York)" Read the post and note, at the bottom, that NY is accepting comments on their proposed changes in rules until Nov 15.
Another case of lawyers who don't "do" marketing and communications trying to stop those who do.
I know the late night ads, radio ads with sports figures, and the "we'll get 'em" yellow-pages ads all embarrass more traditional attorneys. But the way to fight it is not through Court restrictions, it's through demonstrating how you're different.
Those fighting blogs and the very essence of communication should recognize how effective these activities ARE at demonstrating that very difference.
Those who "don't" always jump in when they see marketing techniques that work. The good news is that it appears the verdict is in: lawyer blogs are effective and are posing some level of threat to lawyers who just won't market at all.
Ron Baker, the most advanced thinker on Value Pricing for the professions, will be here in the St. Louis area for a full day presentation on "Shift from Hourly Billing to Value Pricing" on Sep 27. Whether a member or not, you can hear him through the Missouri Society of CPAs (his message is just as applicable for lawyers!).
No, I don't get a commission...just love to see people moved by Ron's teaching...
If you really want to delve in to Ron's stuff, on Sep 28, he is teaching on Trashing the Timesheet!
Ron is author of six editions of Professional's Guide to Value Pricing (newest: CCH, 2005); Firm of the Future: A Guide for Accountants, Lawyers, and Other Professional Services (Wiley, 2003); Pricing on Purpose: Creating and Capturing Value (Wiley, 2006) and the upcoming Measure What Matters to Customers (Wiley, Oct 2006).
For more on his books including discounted purchase, visit VeraSage Institute where you can also download free PDF booklets on several of his topics (see bottom of linked page).
While blogs are still considered a “consumer” trend, it’s only a matter of time before B2B blogs become as mainstream as Websites — once management understands their power and effectiveness.
This statement from Dianna Huff's B2B MarCom Writer blog in her post "David Scott is spot on about the power of blogs."
This is a "projection" that CPA and law firms--and many of their marketers--are struggling to accept. But it's not just the professional service firm audience. There were plenty of skeptics at the recent presentation we did for Int'l Assoc of Business Communicators, too.
And it's understandable. Dianna Huff, herself, admits having been skeptical of their value too, especially in PR. At all of the presentations we've been doing about the use of RSS related to PR and marketing, we have referred to David Meerman Scott's "New Rules of PR" (see download in his sidebar).
Dianna says she didn't buy David's theories in their entirety. But now she does. Check out her post and David's e-book.
Many thanks to the attendees of my webinar today on "Blogging, RSS & Web 2.0: What CPA Firms Need to Know." I really appreciate all the kind e-mails I've been receiving in response to the session!
Links to the resources mentioned in the session are found here where I posted them for a similar session a couple weeks ago.
Additionally, in response to the question about liability (or concern) over commenters' (or employees) statements and remarks, I mentioned David Maister's comments policy "What Should My Comments Policy Say?" and the work of lawyer, Denise Howell who has written (blogged) extensively about corporate blogging policies and such. As a matter of course, most blog comments must be approved prior to appearing on blogs due to the high frequency of blog spam.
I remember the first time I heard a respectable CPA firm marketing colleague (from Ernst & Young, no less) tell me that telemarketing was a viable strategy that his firm used. I was astounded. He was calm, cool and convincing. I was all ears.
I had never seriously considered telemarketing for professional service firms. My personal bias, usually from being on the receiving end of cheesy residential tele-campaigns had completely closed my mind to this as an effective b2b approach.
Since then, I've seen it work both well and poorly.
My firm doesn't directly provide this service, but we work with third parties who do. On one occasion, a client had a dramatic success with their second appointment. The customer engaged the firm to do work that amounted to over $250K in fees that first year. That was in 2001. The firm still serves that client.
Definitely a case of right place, right time. And lead generation programs can significantly increase the chance of that happening. Much more so than sitting in the office waiting for someone to call your firm...
But I've seen lead generation programs fall flat when the people going on the calls were ill-equipped, unprepared, or just plain uninterested.
A consultant I greatly respect, Wendy Nemitz of Ingenuity Marketing Group in MN, recently offered this sage advice for those considering telemarketing:
The most important part of telemarketing is setting your firm up for success with the leads. Any good telemarketing firm will create leads for you but what you do with them determines success or failure. A prospect who calls up one of your partners and says, “My good buddy recommended you and I need some tax advice…” is in a really different place than someone a lead generation person calls on and makes a prospecting appointment with. The most important questions are:
I would also work closely with the company so they know industry issues and your key messages but let them write the script!
Prepare your CPAs for a lower close rate than referrals. This is a long-term and very effective strategy when done well. Don’t let the tele-sales firm call for two weeks and then shut them down because you can’t handle the leads. Start small and gain commitment.
Wendy is dead-on with her advice. I watched the same firm that realized that amazing quarter-of-a-million dollar success try to launch another campaign (for another service, led by another partner) that never materialized because, quite frankly, they had several of the issues Wendy named above.
If you're thinking about a lead generation project, be sure your people have the skills, desire, and infrastructure to support this endeavor and investment.
Just combing through some of my gazillion Bloglines posts and saw some common thread between these two posts on The Business Innovation Insider blog by Fortune.
You've no doubt heard about New York Knicks basketball player, Stephon Marbury, marketing his new basketball shoe at an amazing price point...less than $15. But did you know the current average price for a suit in the US is less than $125?
Innovation? Commodities? You decide.
What does this mean for professional service firms? How will you innovate for all price points and still feel great about what you are selling?
Some firms are doing it--it's a powerful strategy.
My son was describing his first couple weeks of high school and explaining how the students have been warned that if they don't keep up on their homework every day that they should expect to fall further and further behind very rapidly. He says they've been advised to contact school counselors to be counseled through catching up.
That sounds oddly familiar to me. I feel several days, if not a week or two, behind! Think the counselors help out moms?
Interestingly, posting to the ol' blog doesn't feel like "work" in the sense of "to do" items that I haven't gotten to. Instead, I've been craving the therapeutic "space" of thinking and writing.
Isn't it sad when we become too busy to think? Scary, actually.
Must make time to think. Will try to do so more often here both for sanity and to not be "Absent With Out Blog."
Thanks for sticking with me...I've noticed subscribers haven't dropped, just search-engine hits.
Michelle Golden: Social Media Strategies for Professionals and Their Firms: The Guide to Establishing Credibility and Accelerating Relationships (Wiley Professional Advisory Services)
A timeless guide to modern marketing strategies: online and off.
"The most comprehensive guide that I have seen so far."―Joe Bailey, CPA
"How to execute social-media strategies and the reasons why they work, written at a higher than most level; a must read if you are serious about social networking." —Anthony Provinzino, Farmers Insurance
"So much more than a run down of the tools....helps you to think strategically about social media by putting in its proper perspective."―Colette Gonsalves, CPA firm marketing director
"Extremely well organized ... winning ideas for ... firms to develop and maintain non-cookie-cutter marketing programs that are firm-specific and purposeful."―Richard Weltman, Business & bankruptcy lawyer