Is your firm experiencing double digit organic growth year after year? If so, congratulations, you have achieved something that almost every other firm in the country would love to achieve. As a marketing professional, you are working as a part of a well-oiled machine, and there is probably plenty of accomplishment for all to share.
If you answered no, your marketing team might be underachieving, and it might not be your fault. Firms fail to achieve their growth potential for many different reasons. Some firms have a management team that lacks motivation. Some are unwilling to invest in the resources and activities that lead to growth. But other firms are committed to growing. They are investing enough in marketing and business development, and they do have a professional team that is actively working to add new clients and better deliver services within their client base. Yet in many cases, they still don’t experience the growth they desire.
There is not one single reason why some firms grow while others do not, but there is one thing that many firms fail to do that diminishes the results of their efforts. Does this interest you as a marketer? If it doesn’t, maybe it should. Regardless of the stated objectives of your department, your long-term objective is growth. You can meet all of your deadlines, produce fantastic content and manage the brand of your firm at a high level, but if your firm doesn’t achieve their growth objectives, you will eventually share in the blame.
So how can a marketing meet it’s stated objectives, while the firm fails to meet its growth objectives? Many firms fail to properly align marketing and business development efforts. While marketing and business development are distinct activities, they are closely related and highly dependent upon one another. If your marketing efforts are not aligned with the business development efforts of your firm, your efforts will not have maximum impact.
Why marketers must care about business development
Aligning marketing and business development requires working together toward shared goals. Think of it like running a play on the football field. If your blocking scheme calls for a run to the left and your running back hits the wrong hole, he’s likely to run head first into an unblocked linebacker with disastrous results. In an accounting firm, you can think of your marketing team as your blockers and your business developers as your ball carriers. If one group is going left while the others go right, your success will be limited.
Your growth efforts depend on coordinating distinct activities and different groups of people toward common objectives. This can become a tremendous challenge when even the business development efforts of the firm aren’t coordinated. Nevertheless, even if ten different partners are working on ten distinct strategies to bring in business, you absolutely cannot throw your hands up in the air and start calling your own plays. Your ultimate goal is growth, and you can not bring in business without your sales team. Regardless of how you have gotten to your current circumstance, if you find yourself working on objectives that aren’t tied to growth and business development goals, you are alienating yourself and you will eventually find your influence and effectiveness diminished.
As a marketer, aligning marketing and business development means being in the room when objectives are stated and strategies are being developed. The more you understand and contribute to the development of the objectives and strategies, the better you will be able to make an impact.
Five Steps to Better Alignment and Better Results
- Follow common leadership
The first step to aligning marketing and business development efforts is to bring them together under one umbrella, with a leader who is takes ownership of overall organizational growth objectives. As a marketing professional, this probably isn’t a directive you can make on your own, but it is one that you can recommend when asked for ways to make your marketing team more effective. Depending on your influence and experience, this might be a responsibility that you can tackle.
Common leadership could be a Chief Growth Officer, a managing partner or another partner suited to take responsibility for firm growth. Putting a single professional in charge of growth initiatives will ensure that someone will take direct responsibility for overall effectiveness – and greatly increase your odds of your marketing and business development teams working together. Your marketing team needs to be accountable, but so does your sales team. This is especially true when your sales team is made up primarily of partners. If you aren’t in it together, your marketing team will be an easy scapegoat when partners fail to bring in work. You can achieve award winning marketing feats of brilliance, but if your efforts aren’t resulting in the desired growth, you will often be the first to shoulder the blame.
- Establish shared objectives
Marketing and business development exist for the same purpose. As such, they should share the same objectives. Strategic alignment begins with joint objectives and common strategy. This is where marketing must have a seat at the table. If your objectives don’t flow directly from the firm’s objectives, then your objectives are misaligned. Start with big goals that will require the efforts of both groups. These are your firm goals for growth. If your firm goals involve specific growth targets, launching a new practice or hitting cross-selling numbers, make those the primary goals of both your marketing team and your business development teams. The top line objectives for both groups should always be the same. Tactics and subordinate objectives can and will vary, but your highest objectives should be the same.
- Co-develop strategy and initiatives from common objectives
The next step is working together to develop a strategy to accomplish shared goals. If strategy is developed together, initiatives will coordinate. With a shared strategy, both groups will work together, utilizing the strengths of each. This process will keep marketing in-tune with the needs of business development, and it will ensure that your partners and other business developer understand what your marketers are doing and why – building their confidence and willingness to rely on your marketing team.
Consider your communications and content programs. So many firms that I speak with have marketing teams that develop or purchase content independently from what is going on with business development. When asked why they are creating and distributing the content, the answers usually tie back into broad – and disconnected – communication objectives. Conversely, the client service teams at many firms have no idea what content is being sent out. This is not a formula where all parts of the firm are working together to maximum benefit.
- Meet with your business developers as often as you can
With joint goals and joint initiatives, it only makes sense that your marketing and business development teams should meet in order to coordinate, update and adjust strategy. Marketers and marketing teams within CPA firms fail when they begin to operate on an island. Whether management isolates them or they isolate themselves out of frustration, independence and isolation are a one way street to marginalization and ineffectiveness. One of the primary objectives of your marketing team is to support business developers. That support can not take place without knowledge of what others are doing. If your business developers are partners, they should participate in meetings with your marketing team organized by your growth leader.
Take special note of the wording in this section. It says meet with your business developers as often as possible. It does not say meet with your partners or management as often as possible. The simple fact is, not all of your partners and managers are effective or even willing business developers. While your job may be to support some of them, you will be the most effective supporting those that are active, energetic and effective. You will need to tread lightly here. Decisions on who to support shouldn’t be made on your own, but you need to understand that marketing time spent supporting true business developers – rather than appeasing or placating others – will be more effective by orders of magnitude.
- Share responsibility and share fates
This last suggestion may seem risky. It may seem like you are putting your fate in the hands of others. If your personality is anything like mine, you probably don’t like this idea very much. But here’s the secret you have to understand – you are already sharing in any failures, whether you volunteer yourself to do so or not. Love it or hate it, marketers are on the hook for the growth objectives of the firm. You can try to set your own, distinct objectives, you can distance yourself from business developers, but in the end, you will be held responsible for the firm’s performance.
Once you come to grips with the fact that over the long-term, you can’t succeed unless the firm succeeds, all that is left to do is ensure that you and your firm succeed. By taking responsibility for firm goals alongside business developers, you will position yourself to receive the credit you deserve for accomplishments.
Ultimately, shared responsibility is what will ensure effective cooperation and coordination. If one fails, both fail. If the objectives of your marketing team will allow you to feel like you have succeeded regardless of the achievement of the firm, too much opportunity exists for misalignment of objectives. Sharing responsibility should eliminate the possibility that either side will marginalize the other or stray from established objectives. If both groups are judged by the firm’s ability to accomplish its growth objectives, all parties involved will have incentive to maximize the effectiveness of the entire team.