A half day digital workshop by Professional Marketing Forum  took place in early October for a number of marketing and business development professionals from legal and accountancy firms. Assertiveness, confidence and effectiveness were the topics of discussion.

Key takeaways

The key takeaways from the delegates included:

  • Self-confidence  is based on self-esteem which is determined by how we value ourselves. This means we should take time to consider what we need and want to achieve as well as responding to requests for assistance.
  • There is a need to focus on “big rock” (based on the time management technique) campaigns in order to achieve strategic priorities otherwise our time will be taken up with “pebble” and “sand” less impactful activities
  • Advance preparation enables us to develop ideas and proposals (and evidence to support them) so that we will feel more confident speaking up at meetings.
  • Empathy  is a critical skill as it enables us to understand the aims, needs and motivations of lawyers and accountants so that we can align marketing and BD goals and activities accordingly
  • We should avoid attaching negative labels to people or situations as this will alter our feelings and actions. There is a video on resilience which talks about reframing.
  • There was much discussion about how to say “No”
  • This led to the insight that we should first consider how we might change our own feelings and actions before trying to change the thoughts and behaviour of others. There are many articles on change management – for example, this article reviews the rational, emotional and first step model by Chip and Dan Heath
  • Communication skills were a key theme – particularly the need to be able to articulate honestly and clearly our understanding and needs. Active listening  was required before an empathic response can be offered.


At the start of the session, delegates explained their reasons for attendance:

  • I find some of the fee-earners rather intimidating”
  • “Sometimes I struggle to get my point across and worry that I will upset people if I try”
  • “I’d like to have more poise, assertiveness, confidence and purpose – like my heroine”
  • “Fee-earners are really busy people with many priorities – I need to know how to be more persuasive to get faster action for marketing and BD activities”
  • “As an introvert, I find it hard to have my views heard and discussed – I need to work more on adapting my interaction style” (the video on dogs, cats and bear personalities was mentioned)
  • “I need to develop my influencing and persuasion skills” 
  • “It is hard to make a contribution when you are the most junior person in the room” 
  • “I want to move from being a reactive service provider to being a more proactive adviser” 

A poll on how much impact delegates had had over the last year showed an average of 7 with one as low as 3 and a high of 9.

Similarities and differences in roles

As part of an exercise on personal brand values and understanding the contribution of marketing and BD assistants and executives we looked at similarities and differences in roles. These were the main observations:

  • Collaboration is a key component – both within marketing and BD teams and with fee-earner teams across the firm. We touched on ideas of ingroup-outgroup and aligning goals. It is interesting that collaboration is one of the four key ways we can guard against automation
  • Adaptability – this is required to adjust to different aims, styles, situations and technology to enable effective collaboration (adaptability is one of six themes in Better Business Relationships)
  • Authentic – Knowing our own values and strengths and being true to ourselves is important if we wish to remain authentic  and generate strong relationships within and beyond our teams
  • Honesty and confrontation – Early honesty about what can be achieved in the time available is challenging. However, it is better than waiting for a later confrontation when expectations are not met.
  • Mindfulness – Avoiding past conflicts and future challenges, you need to focus on the present moment. Be aware of people’s differing goals and priorities. Choose your moment carefully.
  • Respect – There is a need to respect the roles of both those in marketing and BD and those in client-facing fee-earning roles. The quote by psychologist William James was considered “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated”.
  • Knowledge and skills – There is a need to develop knowledge and skills – both in terms of the marketing and business development methods to use in our new environment and in terms of understanding the skills, services, clients and markets of our fee-earners
  • Innovation – We are all in firms that are very similar. Typically, the professions do not embrace new ideas easily. Yet we are all struggling to come up with bold, new ideas. Innovation in marketing is critical.

Role plays on saying “No”

Before the role plays, we polled our level of confidence which averaged at 7 with a few as low as 2 and one as high as 9. In terms of the assertiveness assessment, 44% were assertive with 56% being either passive, passive-aggressive or aggressive.

  • Clarity on goals – Whilst the immediate goals of marketing/BD and fee-earners were often different, we can “chunk up” to find goals in common for the client, team or firm in common
  • Time management Once you have identified your priorities and assigned time to deal with them, you can allocate blocks of time so that you are available to help with new requests
  • Coaching skills  such as questioning and listening can help us probe the requests and requirements to find alternative ways to achieve desired outcomes. With this approach we can move from passive recipients of requests to challengers and advisory consultants.
  • Mirroring back their language after listening carefully to what they say shows that you are paying attention and understand
  • The acknowledging technique from assertiveness helped to smooth the discussions and put us on a more level playing field. It demonstrates empathy.
  • Persuasion skills can encompass logic (data, evidence and research), emotional appeals (values, motivation, psychological ideas such as reciprocity, conformity etc) and collaborative links to alliances. Offering options and alternatives can also make it easier to deflect requests for help.
  • Compromise and consensus – Working in a partnership – with different levels of seniority and power – means that most of the time we make concessions in order to reach some sort of compromise to achieve a Win:Win outcome. Understanding negotiation styles and techniques  can be helpful.
  • The tools and techniques in project management  can help to balance changes in time, resources and quality of outcome.

Goals and barriers

The final break out exercise looked at our goals for the next six months and how to overcome the anticipated barriers. Mental contrasting (being an optimistic whilst realistically assessing the potential issues) is shown in research an approach adopted by the most successful people.

  • Professional and personal goals – We need to set goals to achieve both professional and personal ambitions otherwise there can be a lack of work-life balance. Goals give us meaning in our work and this guards against stress.  In ideal situations, we can find ways to achieve both together. Several delegates are planning to complete their CIM qualifications whilst working full-time. We also talked about the strong evidence for the effectiveness of visualising what we want to achieve and writing down our goals.
  • Stakeholder mapping –  We need to analyse the different people we need to work with – their personalities, styles, thought processes and preferred working methods. Then we can adapt and adjust our approach to different types of stakeholders.
  • Preparation and planning – We need to anticipate what needs to be done and plan accordingly. Allow ourselves time before meetings to know what is likely to be discussed so that we can prepare and be mindful of what we want to achieve.
  • Early engagement – If we build a strong relationship and demonstrate we are trustworthy by delivering what is promised on time, then fee-earners are more likely to engage us early in their plans. This gives us more time to influence their choices and decisions.
  • We must accept that our managers and fee-earners are not mind readers. We must articulate what we want and need to achieve – for example, what skills, training, experience and help we need. Then it is possible for others to provide the support required.
  • Often, our role is to educate fee-earners as to the appropriate marketing, business development and communication methods to adopt and what is involved in their deployment. By educating people as we go, we can start to limit the number of last-minute urgent requests. We also talked about having examples available of what can be achieved when sufficient time is allowed for tasks.
  • More senior marketing executives can manage their time more effectively by identifying which tasks can be completed by others and delegating.  More junior assistants and executives should seek guidance from their line manager and team members where they face requests that cause time conflicts.
  • By clearly articulating the two or three major campaigns or projects you are working on it makes it easier for people to understand what you are doing and how you might accommodate their requests.