A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of leading 18 delegates from the legal, accountancy and engineering professions as we explored the personal, professional and technical challenges of becoming a “proactive marketing executive”. http://www.pmforum.co.uk/training/
Whilst we acknowledge that many marketing and business development professionals necessarily start their careers in a reactive, service providing role they need to transition to a more assertive and proactive role in order to increase their contribution and progress.
1.Aims and focus
Fee-earners are busy serving clients. Marketers are busy planning and implementing operations while responding to a never-ending flow of requests for support from their fee-earners. So the first step in being a proactive marketing executive is to step back from the fire-fighting and the onslaught of requests to consider what is really important. The marketing and business development plan (which should support the business plan) is the starting point – here you should find the agreed goals that help you focus. But what if there’s no marketing or campaign plan – what then? You need to coax your fee-earners to look at the big picture, agree their aims and expectations, help them craft an integrated campaign and focus on tackling the priorities. Still finding it tough? OK. Step back and consider the major projects you need to tackle over the short and the long term – those you drive and those where you have a supporting role. Now select just a few. And organise your time around those few key projects and either fit in or challenge (see below) the other stuff. And remember that as a marketing or business development assistant or executive, there are more senior people to help you prioritise. Remember that strategy is about making informed choices. And no-one likes to say “No”.
Most lawyers, accountants and property professionals are tough cookies. They focus on facts and evidence and are trained in negotiation and they expect to get their own way. So how do you persuade them to accept your recommendations and ideas? While there is a lot to be gained from understanding the science of persuasion (see below) it helps if you are equipped with analysis and research that supports your arguments and ideas. Providing market analysis, client feedback and information about competitor activity is always useful. But a starting point is interrogating your internal systems to learn about the best sources of work, how the best rainmakers succeed and the fees and profits generated by different clients, services and marketing channels.
There are two elements to confidence – what you feel and what you portray. If you feel confident, you will exude that in your non-verbal communication and people will listen when you ask questions or challenge their assumptions. But sometimes, the way we act can convey a lack of confidence – for example, if we speak very softly, if we adopt a defensive posture or if we avoid eye contact. Confidence grows with qualifications, experience and results. Confidence increases when you have stronger relationships with the fee-earners. So project confidence while you gain the knowledge and experience to feel it.
Naturally, you need to develop strong relationships with fee-earners. But this can take time. Making sure that you listen carefully to what the fee-earner wants and needs (and why) is important for empathy so that you understand their perspective better and ease communication. It may be that you need to provide the service that is requested for a while until you can, by delivering what you say you will on time, build trust, your reputation and the relationship. We are on the same side as the fee-earners, but sometimes it feels like it is a “them vs us” situation. Find ways to bridge the gap and play on the same team.
Sometimes we are given instructions by senior fee-earners and accept them at face value. But we need to have sufficient confidence (see above) to know when and how to sometimes challenge their views. Fee-earners – in the absence of other knowledge – may be relying on what they have always done and what appears to have worked for others. They may not appreciate that there might be better ways to achieve their objectives. So developing your consulting skills (e.g. communication, scoping, analysis, identifying needs, active listening, problem-solving, obtaining commitment, managing resistance, negotiation, providing feedback, presenting solutions etc) and asking about their aims and expected results, or helping them to define the target audience more precisely should initiate a more productive dialogue. You are challenging them in order to save them time (efficiency) and help them achieve their results more effectively.
6. Product knowledge
The professional services we help to promote are often complex and technical. And it can be hard for us to understand client needs when we are generally one step removed from direct contact with clients. But we cannot expect fee-earners to accept our suggestions when we have insufficient knowledge of the technical products and services they are promoting. Those who have moved from client facing roles into marketing and business development have a distinct advantage here – they have good product knowledge. Whilst it is unlikely that marketers can develop in-depth knowledge of all the services their fee-earners promote, we should be able to do so for some of them. Investing time in attending internal technical seminars or researching and learning more about services is key to being accepted as a professional peer.
7. Technical marketing and sales knowledge
Many marketers and business developers will have studied either a marketing degree or their professional qualifications and will have a broad knowledge of all the marketing, selling and relationship management theories, frameworks and tools which they can use to help fee-earners make the right choices. Where marketers and business developers have taken a different route into their career, they must ensure that they have adequate technical marketing and sales knowledge to be credible. But the world of marketing is moving fast (not least the digital revolution) so it is imperative that we stay abreast of the latest developments and how they might be applied by our fee-earners. By being conversant in a wide range of marketing and sales techniques we are more able to provide alternatives to our fee-earners and craft effective integrated campaigns. As you progress through your career, you will need to supplement this functional knowledge and skills with a broader understanding of business and more commercial skills.
The following topics were also identified by the delegates as important takeaways from the session and I’ve included links to material I’ve written before on these subjects:
Dealing with “difficult” people: http://kimtasso.com/faq/how-do-i-deal-with-difficult-partners/
Inputs, outputs and outcomes: http://kimtasso.com/productivity-inputs-vs-outputs/