August 1, 2023|Kim's Blog, Marketing, Strategy|
How to engage fee-earners in the M&BD planning process?

At the recent PM Forum workshop on “Marketing and Business Development Planning in a Nutshell” the key issue to emerge from delegates was “How to engage fee-earners in the M&BD planning process?”. Delegates were from law and accounting firms with a variety of reasons for attending: a new role or career change, approaching the annual planning cycle, creating a M&BD function scratch, convincing the board to plan, expanding into new territories and the desire for fresh ideas.  So here are ideas on how to engage fee-earners in the M&BD planning process.

Challenge assumptions – Why do we need fee-earners to engage in the M&BD planning process?

But before we plunge in, let’s challenge our assumptions. Why do we need fee-earner involvement in the M&BD planning process?

Reasons might include:

  • Learn about their aims, markets and clients
  • Build a working relationship
  • Obtain their views and ideas
  • Gain agreement to ideas and plans
  • Manage their expectations
  • Educate them on the pros and cons of different options
  • Co-create strategies
  • Encourage them to co-ordinate with others in the firm
  • Achieve buy-in so that they provide the necessary input when required
  • Generate better plans and results

Reflect, for a moment, on how M&BD works in other sectors. A company goes to an external agency (or its internal marketing team) for help to develop more business. The company might submit a brief. The agency explores the needs, undertakes diagnostics and proposes a strategy which they cost and submit to the client for approval. Then the agency implements the plan and the client assesses the effectiveness of the results.

In professional services we need the engagement, buy-in and time of fee-earners because they are fundamental to preparing content, interacting with prospects and converting leads into clients. And yet their priority is serving existing clients and earning fees. And they may need education and encouragement to tackle the M&BD tasks. It’s rare to have a sales team in professional services as they do in other sectors. So M&BD is usually a collaborative effort in professional services.

Encourage fee-earners to engage in the M&BD planning process

During the session – where we explored M&BD theory and frameworks and walked through the process of developing a M&BD plan – we identified several ways to engage fee-earners in the M&BD planning process.

  • Have empathy – Most fee-earners are really stretched to meet their targets, serve their clients and manage their teams. They hardly have enough hours in the day to manage their current clients so the idea of generating more work may fill them with horror. Some may have insufficient knowledge about M&BD to understand the reasons we need M&BD plans. Some may feel fearful that they would expose themselves for not having clarity on which clients they want to reach – and why. Some may feel that their independent efforts will serve them well. So give those time-poor, capacity-challenged fee-earners a break. Accept that they may have a point. Step into their shoes and see things from their perspective. Find ways to make their lives easier and better.
  • Question your assumptions and approach – Marketing and business development professionals need a detailed plan addressing all the issues in the marketing planning process. That’s our professional training. But the fee-earners don’t need this level of detail. So think about what you (and the management team) need from a M&BD plan and what the fee-earners need from a plan. Focus their time on the essentials they need, not the extensive stuff that M&BD people need.
  • Leverage power and role models – Encourage your senior management team – the power partners – to show strong support for M&BD planning. They can make it a firm priority to produce M&BD plans. And let others see these leaders “walk the talk” and produce M&BD plans themselves. 
  • Plan by stealth – Describe planning as something different: Goal-setting, decision-making, prioritising, making strategic choices, directing, choosing, focusing. Avoid jargon. Avoid templates. Engage in a conversation to learn more about what they want. Ask questions that will guide them through the planning process. Then summarise their comments, requests and decisions in a (concise) structure that they value. And that they feel is their own.
  • Do the leg work for them – Immerse yourself in the data relating to their markets, clients, services, teams, competitors and performance. Look at what has been done previously. Identify the weaknesses, gaps and opportunities. Use the marketing audit to prepare. Focus their attention on what the data implies. Ask questions. Highlight opportunities. Show what competitors are doing. Offer ideas and options. Make the problem-solution discussion interesting and valuable.
  • Keep it simple – Fee-earners confronted with a multi-page planning template are likely to be deterred from even starting. So keep things simple. Trim the questions to which you need answers to the absolute minimum. Input your “best guess” – most fee-earners find it easier to amend a draft than to start from scratch.
  • Be agile – In traditional project management, we don’t start until we have scoped the entire project and set out a detailed plan and budget – usually in a Gantt chart. Adopt a more agile approach. Show what you are going to tackle in phase one, obtain their input, get it signed off and start implementation. Then you can focus on what happens next as you progress. 
  • Break it down – Engage in a series of directed conversations. Gather and analyse as much data as you can. Chunk down the process (current situation, competitive positioning, goals, options, strategies and tactics etc). Package up the information and guide the discussion in bite-sized pieces to retain their attention. Use a series of mini-workshops to tackle the M&BD planning process in small sections: marketing planning process into a professional service firm (
  • Piggy-back – Most fee-earners engage in other planning activities. At their regular team meetings. As they develop team and client plans. Piggy-back on the established processes to ask M&BD planning related questions. Integrate your M&BD aims and programmes into their other planning initiatives.
  • Use competitor insight – Seek out examples of what your competitors are doing – study award-winning campaigns to demonstrate what they did and what results they achieved. Pitching, differentiation and competitor analysis ( One delegate said that at every monthly meeting they present an analysis of the main activities, content themes and news coverage by their main competitors. This prompted a review of each team’s response.
  • Present the client view – Share results of client listening exercises and surveys. Map out the client’s buying journey. Make it data-driven. Ask for fee-earner views on how we can improve the experience and accelerate the journey and build those suggestions into a plan. 
  • Share success stories – Encourage fee-earners to share their stories. Ask fee-earners who have engaged in the M&BD planning process to share their success stories. They may have more influence, credibility and powers of persuasion than members of the M&BD team.
  • Show what good looks like – Show don’t tell. If they want a “big, shiny” campaign then show them what it looks like to produce the desired results. Provide a glimpse behind the curtains of all the effort involved by the M&BD team as well as the fee-earners and other functional experts.
  • Make it multiple choice – Prepare a series of options for each stage of the planning process. Guide them to look at the data so that they make choices on the best way to proceed. 
  • Use coaching – Coaching typically involves asking a series of questions – in a particular order – so that the person comes up with their own ideas for what’s happening now, their goals, the options and how best to achieve the goals. Use coaching to guide fee-earners – as individuals or in groups – through the thinking required in M&BD planning process. (Let me know if you’d like an illustrative series of questions to guide them through the marketing planning process). 
  • Keep them up to date with progress and results – Present the data (aligned to the client buying process) of the engagement, appointments and pitches achieved from a marketing programme. Use their feedback to decide what (corrective) action is required in the future. 
  • Use an external agency or consultant – Sometimes it’s hard to promote change from within. So invest in an agency, consultant or other expert to talk to the fee-earners initially. An outside perspective often garners greater attention than an internal voice. “No one is a prophet in their own land”

Other key issues: Maintaining momentum & measurement

Maintaining momentum

One delegate described a familiar scenario. Everyone was motivated by the idea of creating a podcast series. There was significant preparation and planning work. With much excitement, the first few episodes were produced and shared. Then enthusiasm waned and the initiative withered away when the next shiny new tool emerged. The obsession with a new marketing technique adopted in a hasty, tactical and ad-hoc way is familiar to many.

We know from psychology that people typically feel greater emotion at the start and towards the end of a project. It is common knowledge that they may feel stuck or lose motivation in the middle of a project. So set a series of regular mini-goals so that satisfaction can be felt throughout the project.


An ideal outcome is to produce a detailed ROI. But numerous things get in the way. Not least having accurate data on inputs and outputs, attribution, “disconnected” digital marketing and personal selling and highly complex and lengthy sales cycles.

So deploy other measures and report on them regularly. Blend short-term, quick-win (usually process) measures and long term, strategic goals (results).

Plan with a dual horizon. Short term sales efforts to bring in clients and works. Longer term BD approach to identify new markets, new needs and new opportunities.

Reliable and motivational measurement relies on clarity at the outset about the objectives and expected returns.

Related planning articles

Be more strategic – PESTLE, Positioning and Plans ( December 2022

Key issues in Marketing and Business Development Planning ( July 2022

Book review: B2B Marketing strategy ( February 2022

Marketing and Business Development Planning in a Nutshell ( November 2021

Proactive Marketing Executive – Plans, Budgets, Relationships and Career ( September 2021

Marketing and BD planning – Segmentation, Rock Stars and Engagement ( February 2021

Marketing basics – Marketing audits with onions and pestles ( August 2020

Why do you need a business plan? 10 reasons why ( March 2020

marketing planning process into a professional service firm ( March 2018

Marketing planning in a nutshell – simple and complex plans ( June 2017

referrer management strategies for professional service firms ( November 2016

marketing planning – stepping stones, persuasion, motivation ( September 2015

Selected delegate poll results

During the session, we ran a series of polls to help delegates compare their firms and attitudes to others

Are you qualified in marketing?

  • 71% No
  • 29%Yes

How much experience do you have in M&BD planning?

  • 14% Hardly any
  • 43% A little
  • 29% About average
  • 14% A lot
  • 0% A huge amount

Which topic is of most interest?

  • 38% M&BD theory and fundamentals
  • 25% M&BD planning process
  • 38% Overcoming M&BD planning issues

Where is the greatest challenge in your M&BD planning?

  • 11% Marketing/lead generation
  • 11% Selling (winning new clients)
  • 33% Existing client development
  • 0% Referrer management
  • 44% All of them

How clear are you on the client (buying) journey?

  • 11% It’s clear and well-established
  • 11% It’s clear but constantly changing
  • 33% OK – but could be better
  • 0% It’s not clear
  • 44% There are too many different client journeys to manage

Which is the main segmentation approach used at your firm?

  • 50% Industry/sector
  • 10% Size of business/transaction
  • 0% Territory
  • 0% Decision making process
  • 0% Nature of buyer
  • 10% Relationship type
  • 20% Needs/issues

To produce your M&BD plan, do you have access to: (multiple choice)

  • 60% Business plan
  • 50% Sector plan
  • 50% Department/service line plan
  • 10% Territory plan
  • 20% None of these

Which frameworks for M&BD planning to you use? (multiple choice)

  • 43% Sales funnel/pipeline/opportunity management
  • 43% Awareness/Engagement/Conversion/Loyalty/Advocacy
  • 43% Where Now? Where To? How?
  • 14% SOSTAC
  • 14% RACE

Having considered key elements of plans, how would you rate M&BD plans at your firms?

  • 25% Average
  • 63% Good
  • 14% Very good

How would you rate your M&BD audits?

  • 29% Poor – we need more analysis
  • 14% OK – internal analysis is good (not so much external)
  • 57% Good – but we could improve

Our competitor analysis is:

  • 33% Poor (out of date)
  • 44% OK
  • 11% Good
  • 11% Great (constantly updated)

Our objectives are:

  • 78% OK
  • 22% Good

What do you see as the biggest M&BD planning challenge in your firm now?

  • 50% Engagement/Perception of M&BD
  • 38% Engagement/Too busy
  • 13% Culture (short termism)
  • 0% Structure/silos
  • 0% Culture – reward systems/client protectionism
  • 0% Data and knowledge