I wrote these FAQs several years ago for my original website and, when renovating that site, I posted it on a magazine site I used to contribute to. But I just discovered this content is no longer online. Yikes!
It's evergreen material and lots of partners and marketing professionals have said that it's useful so I'm happy to share it again for your reference.
Top 10 Marketing and Sales FAQs
- Why do we need to market when we can barely staff the work we have?
- What is the difference between “marketing” and “selling?”
- Can I expect a marketer to generate new business leads?
- How should sales and marketing functions be aligned?
- What does a marketing person do?
- How can I tell if our firm needs an in-house marketing person?
- What level of marketer does my firm need?
- To whom should the marketer report?
- When can we expect to see marketing results?
- How might marketing’s cultural changes affect my firm?
Why do we need to market when we can barely staff the work we have?
Perhaps you don’t.
One way to tell if marketing will benefit your firm is to ask yourself these questions:
- Are we meeting our profitability goals?
- Are we in heaviest demand by our ideal clients?
- Do we receive frequent referrals from our clients?
- Is the work we do stimulating and enjoyable?
- Is our personnel retention above average?
- Are we attracting personnel whom we trust to succeed us?
- Are we attractively positioned for acquisition?
- Do we serve too many problem clients?
- Are we doing too much low-profit work and not enough high-profit work?
- Do we ever set (or reduce) the price after we’ve done the work?
- Are some partners eager to market while others are content, or even complacent?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, marketing can help.
What is the difference between “marketing” and “selling?”
Marketing is the on-going process of appealing to potential clients and ensuring repeat business from existing clients.
- identifies appropriate prospects
- effectively communicates image and capabilities of the firm
- creates/emphasizes an appeal—a differentiation factor—about the firm
- perfects customer service
- requests feedback from clients on a regular basis
- anticipates and meets needs
- proactive seeking of prospects
- interacting to qualify prospects
- effective acknowledgment of the prospect’s concerns
- closing the sale—getting hired
- following up and staying in contact when not hired
Successful sellers use active listening skills and demonstrate the ability to meet the prospect’s needs by conveying competence and confidence.
Sellers rely on public perception of expertise and excellence—a product of marketing; therefore, they feel obligated to meet these expectations and to follow through impeccably. As with marketers, successful sellers also create positive moments of truth, even if they are not hired, by representing the firm well.
Marketing and sales overlap slightly, and depend on each other, but they are distinctly different.
Can I expect a marketer to generate new business leads?
Some marketers are skilled in “sales,” but most are not. Selling requires a unique skill set—some marketing professionals possess it and some do not—just the same as accounting or legal professionals.
All marketers should be able to identify ideal prospects and introduce them to the capabilities of the firm. Many marketers are adept at coaching partners/team members on conducting sales calls and critiquing sales techniques. Some marketers can handle sales calls personally, but most don’t want to do this full time—it usually isn’t their core competency or deepest desire.
If you want a person to focus on delivering qualified leads to you, closing the leads, or teaching you how to close the leads, you will probably want a sales professional instead of or in addition to a marketer.
Many firms hire both marketing and sales professionals.
How should sales and marketing functions be aligned?
If you hire both a marketing professional and a sales professional, involve the first hire in the process of selecting the second. Structuring them as laterals works best.
Though effective salespersons often to receive higher overall compensation (base plus commissions), don’t assume you must structure according to pay level. One reason to avoid positioning the sales person over marketing (aside from the difference in skill sets) is that the sales person should not be spending time managing the marketing function—s/he should dedicate full-time to securing new business.
Partners tend to get very excited about the rapid bottom-line impact a salesperson promises and they sometimes glamorize this position. Be careful not to alienate an existing marketer in the process of bringing in a salesperson.
Recognize that rather than contributing to bottom-line profits overnight, the marketing professional’s initiatives usually take 18 months or more to affect revenues. In the meantime, whether there is a salesperson or not, marketers can receive intense and undue pressure from partners to justify their presence in the firm.
Since the sales and marketing functions rely heavily on each other, it is critical to cultivate a strong rapport between the two. Discourage an adversarial or competitive atmosphere; do everything you can to create a team.
An effective way to align the roles could be to provide a split incentive for new business generated by the team. Since the sales person is probably a commission arrangement, perhaps the marketer could receive a 1/2 percent for their involvement in the sale. This arrangement creates a cooperative team.
Even at the height of success, marketers can rarely take sole credit for specific sales (and seldom bear sole blame for non-sales) because others are involved in the sales process. Be sensitive to this and factor it in when measuring the marketer’s performance.
What does a marketing person do?
Marketers do all kinds of interesting things, but their job descriptions vary substantially by level and by firm. Job titles alone are insufficient for gauging the skill level of a marketer.
Here's a general guideline of duties by level:
Chief Marketing Officer
- A key member of the firm’s management group, may become a partner
- Lead creation of firm’s vision & strategic plan
- Ensure all marketing initiatives are in line with vision/plans
- Secure all resources necessary to achieve vision/plans
- Account for and present results
- Strong community presence
- May consult with firm’s clients (yes, chargeable)
- Facilitate retreats and meetings
- Orchestrate internal and external communication
- Oversee all functions below
- Assist with strategic planning
- Create industry specific or service specific marketing plans
- Provide/outsource team member training
- Perform/outsource market research, summarize findings
- Handle/outsource advertising and PR: plan, launch, evaluate campaigns
- Develop proposal strategy, pricing issues, etc.
- Edit collateral materials, supervise/outsource design
- Client satisfaction program: audit or interview clients, evaluate quality of all “points of contact”
- Develop/outsource surveys, interpret findings
- May consult with firm’s clients (billable services)
- Oversee all functions below
- Write/edit copy (may even ghost write articles for technical persons)
- Guide industry or service teams
- Prepare/monitor marketing budgets, foresee problems
- Draft and edit proposals
- Place articles and advertisements
- Implement client surveys and resulting action plans
- Oversee all functions below
- Research and draft copy
- Support industry or service teams
- Desktop publishing
- Proposal preparation and tracking
- Database creation, reporting
- Event planning: facilities, materials coordination
- Internal newsletters
- Web maintenance
- Distribute press-releases
- Some desk-top publishing
- Finishing touches to proposals (production and bindery)
- Execute mailings
- Database maintenance
- Tabulate survey results
- Event planning: RSVPs, name badges, other details
Marketing is complex and different initiatives require very different skill sets.
No single person is an expert in every aspect of marketing. This should be expected and understood by partners, and not held against the marketer. One person can certainly do (or oversee) many of these things but, if you have a fairly high-level person, be certain that he or she has authority to obtain additional resources (temporary or permanent) when needed.
It's highly likely that every marketer will need to outsource some projects, at one time or another, to round out his or her talents; especially if your marketer is a lone soldier in your firm. Outsourcing is an efficient way to maximize your solo marketer.
If you have a diverse marketer who can do most everything listed above, count yourself lucky and appreciate your marketer even more!
How can I tell if our firm needs an in-house marketing person?
Marketing has been formalized in some CPA firms for upwards of 20 years.
Those early experiences weren't all good ones for the firms or the ground-breaking marketers brave enough to step into firms never before exposed to marketing.
Yet it's still far too often that I hear horror stories about “the marketing person we used to have.” Partners still say, “We had a marketer and it just didn’t work,” or “We didn’t get any results after a whole year!” They sometimes confess they weren’t sure what the marketer was supposed to do and that there has been no formal marketing plan or budget.
This is the fault of the firm, not the marketer!
Marketers can only succeed to the degree that the partners and firm dynamics enable them. Partners often squelch their own marketing success and usually don’t even realize it. Marketing on the fly (without distinct intentions and goals) is not much more effective with a marketing person than without it.
The key to increasing results when adding a marketer is to be committed to planning, hiring the right person for the level of sophistication of your plan, and allocating the budget to support the plan—in advance…not on a piecemeal basis.
If you want your marketing to choke, just skip the above steps. Hiring the RIGHT person is critical.
Firms will bring in somebody with heavy desktop publishing skills and become annoyed the person doesn’t go out and find leads. This is sort of misalignment between expectations and skill sets is something that we see ALL THE TIME.
Don't make this common mistake. Your firm is only ready to employ a marketer if your firm understands the differences in levels of skill and what your marketer should be expected to achieve—and if your firm is willing and able to support the marketing function properly.
To guarantee a successful experience, your firm must be committed to each of these:
- provide a clear job description, including mutually agreed-upon evaluation criteria
- seek the best level and fit for your firm
- make sure your marketer reports to the right person (seldom is this a “committee”)
- provide guidance, direction and prompt feedback regarding proposed initiatives
- unfailingly support your marketing person and your marketing plan through the stages of acceptance and culture change (resolve any disagreements privately)
- require everyone’s participation in marketing activities and compensate accordingly
- undergo formalized training programs for all professionals
- budget at least 3-5% of gross revenues (3% for maint. level, and 5% or more if you're serious about growth) for funding your marketing initiatives (not counting marketing salaries/consulting fees)
- hire and allocate appropriate support personnel for the marketer
These elements ensure an experience with minimum frustration and maximum results. Anything less spells trouble.
Be realistic about who you are and what you will and will not do. Know what you want, and be committed to participating in marketing initiatives—the marketer will not be able to market in lieu of you.
What level of “marketer” does my firm need?
A match between skill sets of the marketer and agreed-upon expectations of the firm is imperative. Polling comparably sized firms and firms whose success you admire might be a good idea to get a sense of the number and level of their marketing personnel.
Of course, firm culture is a huge factor behind success or lack thereof—a more progressive firm will need more, and higher-level, marketers. A firm with politics that limit a strategic go-getter ought to find a more task oriented person.
A cost-effective solution for a firm starting a formal marketing process is to outsource the strategic and other high-level marketing functions, while providing the support to carry out resulting initiatives from within the firm.
Some firms simply don’t need of a full-time Chief Marketing Officer or even a Marketing Director; this doesn’t mean the firm isn’t healthy or growing. First, this level of expertise does not come cheaply. The salary is just the beginning.
A seasoned marketer will expect to launch and/or oversee a full-fledged marketing program. The marketer, by the act of the firm hiring him or her, should be safe in assuming that the firm is committed to moving forward aggressively and willing to monetarily support such a plan.
Beyond the marketer’s salary, the firm should expect to establish a minimum marketing budget of at least 2-3% of gross revenue. When firms hire a high-level marketer and subsequently realize they are not prepared to act upon the marketer’s recommendations, the under-utilized director becomes discouraged and leaves. Such an experience can leave a firm with a bad perception of marketing in general. But the firm is at fault for misleading themselves and the person they hired.
A Marketing Manager will be a good fit for a firm that wants to give the marketer a good amount of authority and autonomy, and will respect the Manager’s budgetary, personnel, and procedural recommendations. A firm that won’t micromanage their marketer will be pleased with a manager-level hire.
Most firms with 30 or more people need, at minimum, a Marketing Coordinator or Marketing Assistant. A Coordinator will be somewhat proactive in making suggestions and recommendations to the partners and practice groups of a firm, and will meet deadlines without being reminded. A Marketing Assistant will be mostly "responsive" to partners' direction and requests and will need guidance with regard to prioritization and should not be relied upon to make recommendations about the firm’s marketing plans. If you have an Assistant who is on top of projects, has many new ideas, and adds value to the firm’s programs, he or she needs a promotion—this person is a Coordinator!
To whom should the marketer report?
Your marketer should report to the managing partner or the most influential partner. The role of the person to whom the marketing person reports is important to the success or failure of the marketer and greatly impacts the results the marketing department can produce. The partner should have the ultimate authority to be able to solely approve or decline any particular initiative.
This is what an effective partner will be able to accomplish:
- Successfully influence the other owners to support important ideas for the firm’s progress
- Be able to, when the other partners undermine or fail to cooperate with initiatives, stand firm that the behavior is inappropriate and sabotages the firm’s progress
- Convince partners to realize when they are blaming marketing for failure when in fact they should be blaming themselves (such as failing to make decisions, approve plans/budgets, or cooperate timely when initiatives require their involvement to stay on schedule).
If the person to whom the marketer reports cannot do these things—if politics are such that no one can—then you can expect to burn through marketers every three years or so because your environment is too hostile for them to thrive or succeed.
I'll talk below about what a huge problem this is in the accounting industry.
When can we expect to see marketing results?
Marketing takes time. Influencing the public and building a reputation can occur more quickly now than ever before, but still isn't achieved overnight. Remember, it takes a lot longer to convince people you are good than to convince them you are not.
The marketing professional’s initiatives usually take a minimum of 18-24 months to affect revenues. Most initiatives take two to three years to reap results. Be patient and don’t go “back to the drawing board” for a new marketing plan, or a new marketer, too soon.
Marketers in CPA firms are often under pressure by partners to constantly justify their existence. Yet their success hinges significantly (see above) on partner support and participation—frequently inadequate.
Frustration mounts quickly on both sides: on the partner side when results aren't promptly visible, and on the marketer's side when partners fail to plan, support (monetarily or philosophically, or both) and implement appropriate initiatives.
[Warning: old stats. But they haven't changed much.] According to Association for Accounting Marketing’s (AAM) 2004 Member Survey, only 49% of responding marketers have been with their current firms for over 3 years. 56% of the marketers indicate they are not their firm’s first marketer.
Fallout of marketers across all professions is far too high and the benefits a firm should reap from longevity—consistency in applied marketing techniques—suffers.
What you can do to make your marketing program successful:
- Work with the marketer to determine the best ways to measure the ROI (return on investment) of marketing initiatives so you can help to position your marketer for success in the early years.
- Guide your marketer to tackle some high-visibility projects early on, even if the projects aren’t the highest-priority goals of the firm. This will help satisfy impatient partners allowing the marketer to focus on building infrastructure to achieve the firm’s long-term goals.
- Managing partner should promote the less tangible results of marketing such as increased morale, feelings of progress, improved community recognition, etc.
- Be sensitive to pressures the firm puts upon the marketer for rapid results.
- Read the sections above and take heed.
How might marketing’s “cultural changes” affect my firm?
No matter what the firm’s size, certain changes will begin to occur when a firm implements a defined and structured approach approach to marketing. With an experienced marketer’s influence, some of the things a firm might expect to see are:
- Increased information sharing among partners and team members.
- A feeling of unified direction, giving everyone confidence in the firm’s future.
- More confidence in communication skills and marketing abilities
- Improved accountability for customer service and managing expectations
- A more loyal and higher-quality client base.
- A change in people's obession with being today's work versus tomorrow's opportunities.