Avoid the revolving door - Recruiting and retaining marketing and business development professionals in PSFs

The Great Resignation arrived somewhat early in the marketing and business development (M&BD) teams of professional services firms (PSF) after Covid. There was a dizzying whirl of junior and senior professionals moving firms – some pushed by the behaviour of firms during lockdown and others pulled to the attractions of firms who appeared improved by the Covid experience. During Covid, everyone realised the greater importance of digital marketing and the dearth of digital talent became apparent. Firms ramped up to seize the opportunities as they entered what many thought would be a period of growth. Many firms reviewed the composition of their M&BD teams and did some much-needed re-alignment. Meanwhile, my work with students and teams from within and beyond professional services revealed numerous issues with working practices that were leading to some new recruits leaving almost as fast as they arrived. So I thought I’d share my thoughts to avoid the revolving door – Recruiting and retaining marketing and business development professionals in PSFs.

Aims and assumptions

Before embarking on any recruitment process you need to consider both your aims for the role as well as your assumptions about the “ideal” candidate.

Marketing or Business Development or both? – Marketing is a professional discipline that is both strategic and tactical. Different levels of professional qualifications are available from Marketing Qualifications, Training and Membership | CIM. There are often different techniques for B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer) marketing – as well as for products and services. While all marketing involves digital technologies, digital marketing as a specialism involves different techniques and skills. Business development can be defined in a number of ways. Some see it as the overall process covering marketing, selling and relationship management. Others see it as focused on selling – particularly the generation of new business. Marketing experts may be lacking in business development experience, and business developers may lack marketing expertise.

M&BD or other professional background? Some firms want to recruit those qualified in their main discipline (legal, accountancy or surveying) into M&BD roles. Where the role is focussed on forging and developing front-line client or referrer relationships this might be a sensible strategy. Some firms feel it is easier to train people in M&BD than to bestow sufficient product/technical knowledge in law, accountancy or property upon M&BD professionals.  But those qualified first in M&BD bring a different set of mental models, theories, processes, techniques and skills.

Professional services or other sector background? Professional Services Marketing is a distinct discipline, and some firms want their M&BD people to have experience in the sector. Understanding how to operate effectively within a partnership environment and the dynamics of a partnership business model is advantageous. Other firms may prefer M&BD professionals who have experience from outside professional services who can bring innovative and cutting-edge approaches into their firm. There are pros and cons of both approaches.

Sector experience Where the M&BD role is to drive growth within a particular sector – for example, financial services or biotech or construction – it is likely that firms will want potential candidates to have experience and contacts within that sector. Although there is value is having experience from a range of sectors.

Strategy or service? Sometimes firms believe that they want a strategic leader for a post. But in reality the majority of fee-earners are seeking someone to manage an operational (and mostly reactive) service. You need someone who can balance both but if your candidate is too far at either end of the spectrum there can be mutual frustration.

Sometimes, an interim or contract appointment might be suitable where the firm is going through fundamental change or where the existing M&BD team is being reviewed.

Recruitment fundamentals

Potential recruits will obviously want to know that you are a successful, well-managed firm. Easy to say, hard to demonstrate and even trickier to provide evidence. Unless you have an accreditation such as Investors In People • Make Work Better | Workplace Accreditations, are listed in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies and Great Place to Work (awards-list.co.uk) or have won recognised awards for your employment or M&BD practices.

M&BD professionals are going to scrutinize your social media accounts before they apply. And your firm’s digital footprint can be telling in terms of the extent to which M&BD culture is embraced by your senior management team and all your fee-earners. Your client comments and reviews will also paint a picture. Make sure it’s a good one!

Most firms will be prepared with clear job descriptions and team organisation charts. In terms of M&BD team structure, some firms have a “hub and spoke” system, others are organised around sectors or territories and some split functional operational support from strategic advisory roles. Each will signal a different approach to M&BD to potential recruits.

Some firms integrate marketing and business development and some keep these two functions separate. Sadly, some firms still don’t know the difference!. Some firms have to deal with the extra complexity of needing both B2B and B2C marketers. Larger firms usually demand greater specialisation while smaller firms offer greater variety in work. When was your M&BD team structure last reviewed, aligned with the business strategy and declared “fit for purpose”?

There were some interesting recommendations in how to balance in-house and external agency skills within the marketing team in Book review: Build your digital marketing strategy by Steve Brennan (kimtasso.com). The book also provides some helpful tips on recruiting marketing staff, freelancers and external agencies.

Are reporting lines clear? In most firms, M&BD professionals have multiple line managers to cover their responsibilities for particular sectors, territories and functions. There’s nothing worse than being caught in the cross-fire when those reporting lines are at war with each other. And is it clear how your M&BD professionals will be measured? And rewarded? What’s the appraisal process?

And is career progression mapped out? Larger firms often have sophisticated M&BD competency frameworks which make the whole promotion journey transparent. This can be supported by in-house M&BD academies. Some firms allow M&BD professionals to join equity partnership and the Board. Smaller firms may lose out in these situations – although the broad experience and early responsibility they confer can make up for that sometimes.

Another fundamental will be the organizational culture. Do your fee-earners see M&BD as a much-valued strategic and proactive advisory service or do they fight against anything that isn’t purely an operational support service to meet their always-urgent needs. How does your firm regard business professionals?

Salaries within professional services marketing are usually pretty high. With only financial services beating us to the top post. There’s lots of salary information around so do your homework. And remember that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!

Vision and Values

Vision and values (especially respect, fairness and commitment to EDI and ESG/sustainability) isn’t only important to the “woke” younger generations. Most people want to work for an organisation that values more than the profit imperative.

So brush up your policies and practices on things such as renewable energy, carbon neutrality (What is net zero and zero carbon? | National Grid ESO) and things like the London Living Wage.

We can’t all be first like Bates Wells & Braithwaite and its commitment to B Corp status (Bates Wells as a B Corp | Bates Wells). But there are plenty of PSFs who demonstrate their social values with innovative initiatives that allow employees to get involved, make a substantial contribution and have a real impact.

Your firm’s stories and legends will be critical in demonstrating the true ethos of those living those values in every aspect of their roles. Be ready to share your stories with passion. They will also demonstrate the extent to which the firm values and trusts its M&BD people.

Expect candidates to ask about the firm’s strategic marketing and business development plans. You’ll need to be conversant with the marketing objectives, strategies, systems and major programmes and campaigns. Marketing planning in a nutshell – simple and complex plans (kimtasso.com)

Flexible working?

There can be a generational angle on the issue of flexible working.

Younger and less experienced marketers and business developers are likely to prefer time spent in the office. They like time with the team to smooth and accelerate their induction and start their learning journey. Having an office presence is also vital for them to establish those important internal relationships both within and beyond the M&BD team.

They will also relish the considerable social opportunities that revolve around office-based working. However, they will want to see office accommodation that suits different modes of working – quiet spaces for deep thinking and communal areas for networking and idea sharing.

And let’s not forget the popularity of initiatives such as Slaughter & May’s bring your dog to work. City law firm Slaughter and May pilots ‘bring your dog to work’ policy in wellbeing drive | Business | The Times (June 2022)

Those who are more established and with more experience are likely to prefer working from home or when travelling overseas. The same too for those with family commitments – whether young children or ageing relatives to care for.

Holidays will also be important – not just the allocation of days but also observance of that protected time.

So a “one size fits all” isn’t going to work and there needs to flexibility from the outset.

Training and Learning and Development (L&D)

Perhaps more so than many other professions, the pace of change in M&BD is eye-watering.

Which means a firm’s attitude to continuous learning (supported by generous budgets and time allowances) will be critical. This could be through apprenticeships(Marketing Manager Apprenticeship – a Level 6 Qualification (kimtasso.com)) or support for professional qualifications (e.g New CIM professional marketing qualifications – 2020 (kimtasso.com)) which can ‘lock in’ employees for years.

But this will need to be supplemented with access to regular training in new technologies and skill updates – whether provided inhouse or from external trainers.

Most firms will have regular strategy and training away days where the entire M&BD team come together to learn together. In many firms, the M&BD people are also invited to the strategy and team events of the fee-earners.

Some firms extend their leadership and management programmes and coaching training opportunities to M&BD people.

Many firms operate mentoring programmes. Although you can tap into mentoring resources outside your organisation – for example PM Forum Mentor Match

Technology infrastructure?

Technology is vital to modern marketing practice.

Some firms have failed to invest in essential CRM, digital marketing (including web site CMS), and pipeline management infrastructure so their M&BD professionals are ham-strung before they even start.

M&BD candidates WILL ask about the firm’s marketing infrastructure. Larger firms with their significant investments here will be a major attractor to the best talent.

But there’s a constant supply of new marketing technology systems and apps – not least in the content production and social media spaces – that M&BD can’t live without. And an overzealous IT team can restrict the use of the latest developments which means that the smaller PSFs might have the edge amongst particularly innovative M&BD professionals.

Support for M&BD

Can you tell potential recruits how much the firm currently invests and plans to invest in M&BD? What is the ratio of M&BD spend to revenue and profit?

Some firms have invested heavily in analysis and research teams which are enormously valuable to M&BD professionals – especially those tasked with new market development plans or significant numbers of pitches and proposals.

Some firms structure their IT and technology teams to ensure there are dedicated professionals supporting M&BD data and applications.

Other firms will have dedicated change management, knowledge management and project management teams who can support the M&BD team when it come to major campaigns and projects.

Check your working practices reputation

It’s not enough to have a great employer brand in principle. It’s got to be seen to work in practice.

I’ve heard some real horror stories recently from junior and senior M&BD professionals. Some face excessive workloads and unreasonable demands – usually from fee-earners but also from marketing and business development leaders. I’ve also heard about hysterical supervisors who think nothing of yelling at their young professionals. Clearly, that is unacceptable.

If I’ve heard the horror stories then you can be sure that those in the market will have heard them too. So while some firms enjoy a fabulous reputation – from their charismatic and results-driven marketing leaders or their extensive awards trophies – others are known to be firms you should avoid at all costs. Regardless of the promised job title and high salary.

If you conceal the inadequacies of your work culture, then you’ll have a revolving door where new recruits leave as rapidly as they arrive. Keeping your longer-serving staff overworked and stressed out as they constantly battle a lack of resources. Some firms avoid this situation by adopting contract and freelance practices to fill the gaps.

Switched on candidates are likely to quiz you on your M&BD retention rates – so be prepared!

The not so little things count too

M&BD roles are stressful. So you’ll need to demonstrate a real commitment to mental health. Some firms have Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) and many have trained up Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) and comprehensive mental and physical wellbeing programmes.

Larger firms can offer a host of benefits that can make a role attractive – from private health insurance, sabbaticals, office-based exercise classes and food/drink concessions to attractive travel/secondment options and even those “pick your own” benefits boxes.

But the little things matter too. The provision of work phones and high-performance laptops count for a lot. And they help to maintain work-life boundaries for those who are constantly on the move or working in international environments.

Potential recruits will be reassured to know that an induction plan exists that will help them ease into the firm and the team. Familiarisation with people, policies, procedures and systems should be included.

Some firms let themselves down by having protracted or unclear recruitment processes. If you are asking potential candidates to invest a lot of time in conducting research, tackling scenario tasks or making presentations then make sure there is a suitable audience. And that they are prepared to provide feedback to unsuccessful candidates. You might also consider some “Getting to know you” sessions where potential candidates can meet with a wider selection of the partners and fee-earners. And don’t drag your heels when making offers and negotiating – other firms will snap up the best candidates if you do.

What are YOUR views?

What would YOU like PSFs to know when recruiting M&BD professionals?

What were your best (and worst) experiences?

What was it from the recruitment process that led to your decision to join (or not join) a firm?

Send me your thoughts and I’ll share them (anonymously of course).

Specialist professional services M&BD recruitment agencies

There are specialist recruitment consultancies who help recruit M&BD staff into professional services firms (please let me know of any others I should add). Whilst some firms may baulk at the fees (usually a percentage of salary), the agencies usually provide a lot of added value such as consultancy help in structuring the job specification, organizing assessments, screening candidates, assisting with interviewing and negotiating terms. Many also provide salaries data.

Anthem Legal and professional services recruitment | Anthem Consulting

Carter Murray Professional services – Carter Murray

EMR Professional Services Jobs | EMR (emrrecruitment.co.uk)

Hatch Recruitment Welcome to Hatch Recruitment For Midlands and Northern firms. Legal, accountancy and civil engineering firms.

Leighton Taylor Executive Recruitment | Leighton Taylor Consulting

Totum Partners Professional Services Recruitment Agency | Totum Partners | London, UK It has teams managing Marketing Recruitment for the Professions | Totum Partners | London UK and Business Development Recruitment | Totum Partners | London UK as well as other business services specialists. It recently launched awards for business services staff.

There is also a Jobs Board at the PM Forum which specialises in training, events and the PM Magazine for M&BD people in professional services firms PMForum Jobs – Sales & Marketing Jobs In The Professional Services Industry (pmforum-jobs.com)

Many firms harness the power of LinkedIn by encouraging a wide variety of their people to promote recruitment opportunities through their personal news feeds.

PS There was an interesting article in PM Magazine in September/October 2022 written by Matthew Gardner, a director of Ambition. He argues that staff want flexibility, a positive culture and greater salaries. He shares some research results into 300 M&BD staff including:

When looking for a new role, what is the main factor you would consider? (54% salary increase, 25% promotion/change of title, 23% more agile remote working)

What three things would you like your firm to focus on as a priority? (47% culture, 47% bonus, 45% team hiring, 41% training, 33% benefits, 32% technology, 24% D&I, 12% other)

Hybrid working – how many days a week would you prefer to work in the office? (45% two, 23% one, 18% three, 9% none, 5% 4, 1% five)

Further information on PSF M&BD departments and careers

PM Forum Career guidance articles

Book review: The psychology of successful women by Shona Rowan (kimtasso.com) June 2022

How to advance your career in professional services marketing (kimtasso.com) April 2022

New Marketing and Business Development Assistants (kimtasso.com) March 2022

Proactive Marketing Executive – Plans, Budgets, Relationships and Career (kimtasso.com) September 2021

marketing case study – Clark Hill redesigns its marketing and BD team (kimtasso.com) January 2021

Emerging marketing and business development roles (kimtasso.com) September 2020

Range – How generalists triumph in a specialized world” by David Epstein (kimtasso.com) August 2020

Cambridge Marketing College on soft skills for marketing professionals (kimtasso.com) August 2020

How to design a marketing and business development team (kimtasso.com) November 2015