Part 5: Professional services marketing is at a crossroads

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Next steps for marketing teams and professional service firm leaders

Those working in marketing in professional services firms have reached a crossroads.

They can either work on activities that perceivably add less value and continue to be seen by partners as operational functionaries or they can choose to redefine their role. In the new role, they can act as  valued ‘consultants’ and ‘coaches’ to fee-earners and partners and support the critical interactions that add real value to the firm by generating work opportunities with new clients or existing clients.

In reality, the second option is the only way to prove to doubting partners that marketing is not a second-tier function or simply an ‘overhead’ within the firm.  To act as a ‘consultant’ will mean learning, practising and developing a new hitherto ‘hidden’ set of skills and abilities not traditionally considered part of the marketing manager’s toolkit.

Likewise, professional services firms’ leaders have reached a crossroads.

In the excellent research report oft-quoted in this White Paper by Source Global Research the authors conclude that professional services leaders need to:

“Liberate rather than constrain the marketing talent they already have within their midst”.[1]

We wholeheartedly agree.

Professional services leaders can either continue to constrain their marketing teams by treating them as operational functionaries who carry out the bidding of the partners, entrusting them solely with activities that add little value to the firm or they can acknowledge the vital role their marketing[2] teams could play in supporting them on critical client facing interactions.

Choosing the first of these options will do little to change the perception that marketing is a “dead end position” and continue to limit and underestimate the value marketing can bring to the firm.

The second option is likely to liberate the marketing talent within the firm and enable the marketing team to support activities that determine the success of the firm.

Next steps

The first step for senior management teams in professional services firms must be to accept the key role marketing can play and determine whether these talented individuals are being used to their full potential in the firm. For sceptical partners who continue to see marketers as operational functionaries, this will likely be a difficult step to overcome.

The second step is for those responsible for learning and development, together with partners and heads of marketing, to define the ‘hidden curriculum’ they believe will lead to success for their firm. This too will be a difficult task because, as Jesse Sostrin from PwC predicted, these skills might be ‘concealed, ambiguous and undefined’.[3] We hope this white paper has provided a good place to start.

Empower and liberate your marketing teams

Once the hidden curriculum has been defined, firms should empower their marketing teams by giving them the opportunity to learn, practise and develop these new ‘consulting’ skills.

Finally the leaders of firms need to liberate their marketing teams and enable them to put their new ‘consulting’ skills into practice. This will be particularly challenging for partners who have become used to significant levels of autonomy and consider themselves to have sole authority. For this reason we suggest the hidden curriculum for professional services marketers should also include skills to successfully navigate the social and political dynamics found in many professional services firms.

Integrate your marketing teams and fee-earners

Another option for firms to consider is how to better integrate their marketing teams and fee-earners. We would suggest that all junior fee-earners are given the opportunity to spend time in the marketing department in order to better understand the role that marketing plays in the firm and the value it creates. Likewise we would suggest marketing teams are given the opportunity to shadow and observe client engagements in order to better understand the role of the fee-earners and how they can add value to the professional relationship.

There is little doubt about the vital role marketing can play in professional services firms.

That said, marketing teams can only play such a role if they shift their focus from activities that perceivably add little value to the firm (even if they are taken from the traditional marketing toolkit) and instead start to influence and consult on the critical client facing interactions that will determine the success of the firm

Similarly, by acting as ‘consultants’ and ‘coaches’ for partners and adding real value to the firm – by informing, challenging, influencing, generating opportunities and solving problems – marketing teams can prove beyond doubt to sceptical leaders that they deserve a place in the top-tier.

Likewise partners and professional services leaders should realise it is in the firm’s best interest to invest in some new chairs. These should be put in each partner’s office with one placed in the boardroom. Most importantly, they should all be permanently reserved with a sign that reads:

“For Marketing”

Professional Services Marketing is Dead; Long Live Professional Services Marketing:

Part 1. The Challenges Facing Marketing Teams in ‘Traditional’ Professional Services Firms

1. The attitudes of partners, principals and fee-earners towards marketing

2. ‘Traditional’ marketing toolkit activities are not as relevant and add less value in professional services

Part 2. The Current Role of Marketing in Professional Services Firms

1. Marketing work on activities that add little value to the firm

2. Marketing have most control over things that matter least

Part 3. Redefining the Role of Marketing in a Professional Services Firm

A ‘Consultant’ to the Partner/Fee-earner group

The new roles of professional services marketers

Part 4. The ‘Hidden Curriculum’ of Professional Services Marketing

Redefining the professional services marketer’s skill set

The ‘Hidden Curriculum’

Part 5. Conclusion: Professional Services Marketing at a Crossroads

Next steps for marketing teams and professional service firm leaders


[1] Source Global Research “Marketing in consulting firms: A two-tier society” 2016 p.2

[2] Not forgetting other support functions such as HR/IT/Admin

[3] Jesse Sostrin “The Hidden Curriculum of Work” Strategy + Business August 8 2016