Follow the Leader

There are five business-building hats managing partners need to wear. Here’s how to make them fit better.


THE FIVE KEY MARKETING ROLES for a managing partner are ambassador, relationship manager, business-development manager, head of research and development (R&D) and communications director.

MANAGING PARTNERS SHOULD BE ACTIVE in industry task forces and boards to stay on top of the latest trends and technologies. The ambassador role segues into R&D and business development when the managing partner brings new ideas back to the office. A firm should work closely with clients to keep development of a product or service on target.

CLIENTS LEAVE A FIRM IF THEY FEEL no one cares. A managing partner should take action to demonstrate commitment to important relationships, which increases the likelihood that clients will stay and bring in more business through referrals.

AS IN-HOUSE RELATIONSHIP MANAGER, a firm leader can use regular meetings to let staff know where the business is going and why. Employees are better motivated and make smarter decisions when they are well informed and feel involved.

THE UNIQUE CHARACTER AND VALUES of an organization are the key to developing a marketing presence. Capturing a passion for living and a unique style of working attracts the attention of the marketplace. Clients respond to a firm’s philosophy—its brand—as well as buy its product or service.

START SMALL, BUT START. Based on the firm’s business goals, develop an informal monthly game plan with concrete action steps for marketing. This can be as simple as creating and following through on one key goal per month for each of the five roles.

LYNE NOELLA is president of Lyne Noella Marketing, a Minneapolis-based business-development firm. Contact her at or 612-865-0379.

hether you’re managing partner of an accounting firm or head of a company, your ability to market has a major impact on the growth potential and long-term viability of the business. Ensuring profitability is one of your chief responsibilities—as is building and maintaining a solid foundation of financial, technological and legal support—and that means much more than cutting expenses and streamlining processes. A firm can’t prosper on gained efficiencies alone; it needs a healthy revenue stream to buy it flexibility if the economy or other circumstances cause a stumble. Because many activities innate to the managing partner position give you the best access to the marketplace, the buck stops or starts with you. To be true to your business mission, you must focus your marketing talent. This article suggests how to do that.

A managing partner has five key marketing roles: ambassador, relationship manager, business-development manager, head of research and development (R&D) and communications director. These roles merge almost seamlessly in your everyday duties. For example, participation in conferences and at other social and professional engagements with key opinion leaders offers you a chance both to promote your firm and to spot new ideas and opportunities (ambassador, business development). Taking those ideas back to the office to provide guidance for developing new services and products encompasses R&D and communications.

As a leader, your biggest challenge is doing the right thing at the right moment to promote and reinforce the business. The amount of time you devote to business-development activities indicates your level of commitment to the success of the firm. The best overall approach involves taking action to bring in an account today while you lay groundwork for long-term growth. If you tend to get caught up in day-to-day management issues instead of proactive marketing, the first thing you need to do is institute a standing weekly appointment—if only with yourself—to plan strategy.
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Take a few minutes to review your five key marketing roles so you can determine each one’s importance to your business plan and how much time to allocate to it.

1. Ambassador . In this capacity, you represent your firm before the public as well as with your clients, prospects, referral sources, employees, the media and the marketplace at large. Accompanying your partners, directors and managers on important proposal meetings to increase the odds of securing an account is marketing as well—as is almost everything you do to strengthen the firm. It is in this role that you set the standard of excellence and leadership to

Raise the firm’s visibility.
Help others understand what your firm does and why.
Open a dialogue with potential customers, referral sources and strategic partners.
Spread news about your brand and culture.
Set an example for employees about how to best represent the firm in public.

The energy and creativity you bring to the ambassador role show your dedication to the firm and have the power to inspire. Employees, investors, your partners, the media, vendors, industry peers and others all contribute or withhold support based on the firm’s visible leadership.

Every managing partner I know would like to be a better ambassador for the firm to its employees. One way to improve in this area is to schedule regular meetings with your staff to tell them where the business is going and why. Staff members are better motivated and make smarter decisions when they are well informed and feel involved in moving the enterprise ahead.

Another way to be an effective ambassador is to nurture relationships with members of the media. Take a reporter to lunch and offer to help with research. (For more information, see “ Meet the Pres s,” JofA , Jul.02, page 39.) To raise one client’s visibility, I helped supply an editor with story ideas about her firm. As a result, my client was featured in an article in a prominent business magazine—and she got the cover. The cost involved: taking the time to present some creative ideas that appealed to the right editor.

In addition to the AICPA, the following organizations have useful guidance for marketing professional-services firms:

Association for Accounting Marketing
14 W. 3rd St., Suite 200
Kansas City, MO 64105
Phone: 816-221-1296; fax: 816-472-7765

The Institute of Management and Administration
29 West 35th St., 5th floor
New York, NY 10001-2299
Phone: 212-244-0360; fax: 212-564-0465

AICPA Publications
Mastering the Art of Marketing Professional Services, by Allan S. Boress and Michael G. Cummings, 2002.
Marketing Advantage II: New Ideas on Getting and Keeping Clients, by Collette P. Nassutti, 1998.
Increase Your Personal Marketing Power: Relationship Skills for CPAs, by Randi Marie Freidig, 1997.
CPAs That Sell: A Complete Guide to Promoting Your Professional Services, by August Aquila, Allan Koltin and Robert Pitts, 1996.
Turning Sales Over to the Pros, by Collette P. Nassutti, 1996.

2. Relationship manager. Because an enterprise generally is valued on projected revenues rather than any given day’s bottom line, the single most important indicator of an organization’s value is the quality of its clients. Your role as relationship manager is to continuously enhance your client base. This boils down to developing long-term relationships and concentrating on customer satisfaction. Focus on nurturing the loyalty of those who hold the fate of your business in their hands: your clients, prospects, referral sources, management team and staff and others in the marketplace. Keep in mind that the single most important reason clients leave an accounting firm is because they feel no one cares.

Show you care. Demonstrate your commitment to important relationships. For example, invite your best client to enjoy a glass of wine and casual conversation with you at the end of the day. Choose an attractive, relaxed setting. Doing something pleasant and social together elevates the interaction from strictly business to a solid foundation of friendship.

When you meet with your clients, make it a point to inquire about their personal interests, from golf to movies to family events. Take notes (if you need to) and make an effort to ask about their pursuits. Better yet, include them in activities you know they’ll enjoy, such as a gourmet meal or a hearty game of racquetball. Learning more about them will give you greater enjoyment in working together and will encourage you to do even better work for them. Forming deeper relationships increases the likelihood that your clients will do more business with you and enthusiastically refer you to their friends.

3. Business-development manager. As the leader of your organization, you have the influence to secure business at the highest levels. Even if your firm has a professional sales force, your role is paramount. Virtually every potential client you speak with recognizes the advantage of your personal interest and attention. This lets you be a strategic “partner” and build relationships with those you most value while you delegate cold calls and second-tier prospects to your sales force. If you have devoted time and energy to the ambassador and relationship-manager roles, you’ve laid groundwork that makes proposing engagements and closing sales easier. That’s because we’re all more comfortable asking for what we want from people we know well.

As business-development manager, it’s important for you to be strategic about the work you solicit. I had a client who was frustrated that other professionals referred business his way only when those prospects were in crisis. The good news was that there was plenty of work involved—the bad news was that there was always some doubt about whether they could pay. Together my client and I worked out a plan: He would reach out only to candidates he considered ideal—those in a growth mode, in a specific industry and solvent. In addition, he would nurture relationships with referral sources who had the clout to refer high-caliber prospects. With such a strategic and disciplined approach to sales, my client was able to raise the quality of his client base. He worked less and made more money.

4. Head of research and development. Your firm’s health is tied to your understanding of what will sell in the marketplace; R&D is as important to service businesses as it is to manufacturing. Even if your firm has staff members dedicated to product and service development, they don’t have the advantage of your leadership view. The feedback you get from clients and business thinkers equips you with the ability to imagine new offerings and ways to add value in your role as overseer of product and service standards.

One way to stay abreast of new product-development ideas is to stay active in industry task forces and boards. If you hear about a peer who is successfully offering something new that might work well for your firm, investigate—make an appointment, hop on a plane and go there.

I encourage my clients to get ideas by spending time with their customers and keeping their eyes and ears open to scan for what clients need. Try it; you may come up with new offerings—which could include outsourcing a task or streamlining a process or gathering data—to help clients reach their goals. Once you think you have a winner, work closely with your clients to ensure your new product or service is on target.

5. Communications director. In this role, you set the tone of your organization, create a recognizable presence in the marketplace and are the general directing the troops (see “ Words to the Wise: Marketing Committee ”). You’re responsible for understanding and packaging your firm’s culture and values for presentation. This includes developing your firm’s core philosophies, purpose and personality. It involves creating key messages and using graphic design to project a consistent image along every experience point, from your office environment to your Web site. (That follow-through is what marketers call “branding.”) You also are responsible for selecting the appropriate marketing mix to disseminate your messages, from public relations to electronic media to direct mail. Although you provide leadership in this role, it isn’t necessary for you to personally develop the creative projects and their distribution channels; marketing professionals can help bring your vision to fruition.

Many companies and firms, from start-ups to those well established, need help with presentation. The most exciting challenge for me in developing a unique market presence is to gain an understanding of the culture of the business. This can mean learning offbeat details such as that a CEO owns three Harley-Davidson motorcycles and the entire company goes white-water rafting each year. Although such activities might at first glance seem irrelevant, they have a rugged quality that can be used to project a distinctive business character. Such details can be the grist of marketing communications when they capture a special passion for living and working that attracts the attention of the marketplace. Clients buy a firm’s philosophy—its brand—not just a product or service.

Start small—but start. Based on your strategic goals, develop an informal monthly game plan with concrete action steps for marketing your firm (see “ Four-Step Game Plan ”). This can be as simple as creating and following through on one key goal for each role over the next month; don’t worry about getting caught up in a full-scale marketing program.

Four-Step Game Plan
Use the five key marketing roles, along with your appointment calendar, to help you stay focused. Follow this easy plan each month:

Put marketing on the schedule. Set aside 30 to 60 minutes at the beginning of each month to think about the best ways to market your firm.
Consider each key marketing role. During your 30- to 60-minute thinking session, examine how the five roles relate to your business goals and opportunities in the marketplace.
Choose your top three to five marketing initiatives. Determine the most important areas to focus on during the next month. Consider short- and long-range growth goals. Select only those that will make a significant difference to your business.
Follow through. Once you have chosen your top initiatives, schedule an hour or two each week to perform a few activities to bring in more business and strengthen client relationships.

Remember, you don’t have to do it all yourself—use your weekly marketing time to delegate projects to internal staff or a consultant. Results are what count.

Which role you choose to emphasize may change over time as your business matures and the market changes, but the core of successful development is recognizing and actively nurturing your most important relationships. Thoughtful and consistent attention to the people who matter most to your business will provide the touchstones for marketing your firm to growth and prosperity.

Words to the Wise: Marketing Committee

I t takes patience and persistence to get the buy-in needed to change a typical CPA firm’s culture to one that is marketing-driven. My firm, The Videre Group, has used such a program for more than 10 years and, in that time, has doubled to its present size of 19 partners and 120 professionals through mergers as well as business development. Managing partner David Talesnick credits effective marketing with making it a desirable merger candidate.

Momentum is easier to achieve if the managing partner appoints a marketing committee. Ours has eight members and includes four other partners. It has the authority to make and implement plans to attain the firm’s sales and development goals, manage a budget and oversee partners’ practice-development activities. The committee’s suggestions have credibility with all the partners, and it sets objectives for everyone, from the head of the firm to office receptionist. The system has been able to deliver growth (a 25% increase over the past year, for example), which reinforces our marketing culture.

When a committee has practical and realistic guidelines, partners cooperate. For example, when we schedule a group breakfast meeting with bankers, partners attend because they know they’re likely to make contacts that will result in new business. In addition, each month we might work out a schedule for every partner that includes some combination of the following individual activities:

Attend three banker lunches.
Go to three attorney meetings.
Schedule three informal client visits.
Make five unsolicited client phone calls.
Write one article.
Attend one community or industry function.

We encourage nonpartners to attend professional and association functions, too. We expect everyone—partner or staff—to follow up with a letter or call to anyone whose business card he or she has taken. Some firms tie a percentage of partners’ compensation to their contribution to the marketing program.

Individual partners have their own style, but it’s up to the committee to provide a structure that enables the firm to build a presence that supersedes the individuality of the partners. Our marketing is based on the observation that businesses have a recognizable life cycle with different needs at different stages. We analyze where organizations are in their development and pitch to those needs.

Market analysis helps us coordinate our activities with the respective talents of our partners. At monthly committee meetings, we discuss what’s working and what can be improved. Each quarter we look at how we’re performing and how the marketplace is changing to learn what existing and prospective clients want. Asking our clients questions about what they need helps us tailor our approach and indicates niche areas to develop. For example, high-net-worth clients let us know they wanted financial planning and insurance services.

If partners are uncomfortable cross-selling nontraditional services such as technology consulting, financial management or outsourcing, a committee might have a difficult time advancing these programs, even if they’re successful endeavors for other firms. On the other hand, if a firm identifies a strong concentration of niche clients, it can design activities to strengthen the firm’s name in that industry. For example, when we identified a core group of construction clients, we recruited strategic alliance partners that offer management consulting—as well as information technology, investment management, property and casualty insurance and executive coaching—to construction and manufacturing companies. The alliance partners attend our marketing meetings, and we exchange information on referral and development opportunities.

The committee must aim to make reasonable recommendations. When it does, everybody wins.

—Sally Glick

Sally Glick is director of marketing at The Videre Group, Parsippany, New Jersey. She is on the board of directors of the Association for Accounting Marketing. Her e-mail address is .


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