Heath Alloway, BKD, LLP
On the way home from AAM’s recent Winning is Everything Conference in Las Vegas, I had multiple thoughts going through my head. These included ways we can grow our firm, how to connect the dots among our marketing and business development professionals, why I did not get up from the blackjack table when I was ahead, and why I ordered that last drink. However, what I struggled with was how this valuable information applies to AAM members. AAM includes firms of all sizes, structures, and cultures, and the conference made it clear: AAM firms face many of the same opportunities and issues, many of which revolve around lack of innovation and effective marketing efforts.
One particular session featured a panel consisting of a retired firm leader, chief innovation officer, and an outside consultant. The panelists agreed that marketing and innovation are the most undervalued and underutilized areas in the profession, and both can have a major impact on growth. Innovation can drive better results and opportunities by connecting a firm’s marketing, business development, and client service professionals.
Successful marketing efforts have to include client service personnel. Ultimately, they own the firm and are a key component of revenue growth. On the other hand, they can be some of the biggest hurdles for marketing and business development efforts. Unfortunately, many partners are not comfortable with the marketing side of the business. Many have not been taught marketing skills but are still asked to perform these jobs. Some have even said that if they had known they would be responsible for generating new work, they would have picked a different profession.
It has a given that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and there is no magic formula for driving growth. The bottom line: growth plans must be well-communicated, with an education process and accountability for everyone. Strong growth plans can help change a firm’s culture and remove some of these common excuses:
• We do not have sales training.
• We do not have the resources.
• We need a CRM tool.
• We lost due to fees.
• We do not have time.
In the past three years, the profession has experienced a cultural shift where more firms are buying into growth plans, and people are being more proactive and executing thought-out processes to pursue and retain clients.
While this is easier said than done, it is rewarding when you start to see results, especially with younger, hungrier professionals. Your firm’s culture will not change overnight, so focus on daily progress.
Now that the stage is set, here are key issues to think about and work on. They are not rocket science, but some of the following can be surprisingly challenging to implement:
1. Firm leaders must buy in to the implementation of growth plans.
2. Sales and marketing training must be part of your culture, preferably on a monthly basis.
3. Pipeline meetings are crucial to discuss client cross-selling and prospect opportunities.
4. Develop an impact program or a ‘5-3-1’ methodology to create heightened awareness, communication, and accountability for top prospects and clients.
5. Make sure all marketers and business developers are signed up to receive any educational content and invitations to webinars or events the firm is hosting.
6. Use client and prospect data to drive growth. What articles are they reading? Are they visiting your website? Did they attend a webinar? This requires proactive efforts to share this information with business development and client service personnel.
7. Over-educate and over-communicate what you are doing, what tools are available, and what value you bring. Also, do not forget to celebrate successes. If you do not have scheduled calls or meetings between marketers and business developers, schedule them. Or, at least take the old-fashioned approach of picking up the phone and calling them.
8. Focus your efforts on those who are passionate about marketing and business development; others will follow once they see success.
Finally, business developers and client service personnel cannot communicate well if they operate in silos. With the ongoing cultural shift, firms need professional marketers (not administrative support) if they truly want to grow. Stop referring to the idea of marketers versus business developers. Everyone is part of one firm with one goal, bringing experience in different areas. Develop a growth plan, incorporate ongoing sales training into your culture, and over-communicate on the tools and processes you have in place to support those efforts, and you will be on the right track.
Remember, grow wisely my friends.