Last week I was joined by a group of marketing and business development (M&BD) Assistants (and some Executives) from law, accountancy, actuarial and consultancy firms for a half day PM Forum workshop on “Practical and professional skills for Marketing and Business Development Assistants”. From the discussions, exercises and polls they come across as impressive group. I’ve been working with M&BD assistants and executives from across the professions for many years and the change in the capabilities and responsibilities of people in these roles is astonishing. Despite their relatively junior status, they have demanding jobs in sophisticated firms supporting senior people. What motivates them? What are their challenges? What do they yearn for? After the session, I thought I’d share some insights into the needs of the latest generation of M&BD Assistants.
A need to connect
M&BD roles can be lonely – and this was always an issue in the past for those in small and medium sized firms with a small (but beautifully formed) M&BD team. However, even in the largest firms now there can be feelings of isolation – not least because of the predominance of working from home (WFH) practices. Plus everyone is so busy it can be hard to find the time to chat informally which is a great source of knowledge, insight and comfort.
So there is a desire for peer support. This reflects on the importance of peer group networks – most know the value of connecting with those in similar roles in related firms to share ideas. And to understand the differences between sectors. This 2022 book on networking (written by a young lawyer in the City of London) offers good advice Book review – Great networking by Alisa Grafton (kimtasso.com)
Firms must ensure that internal communications and team cohesion are high on their agenda to ensure M&BD folk feel engaged. And have the support they need to make an impact.
Many reported that the Covid pandemic had focused their attention on seeking fulfilment and happiness in their work. Despite most being relatively new in their roles – and professional services marketing – most were curious about career progression.
Considering these delegates are in relatively junior roles at the start of the careers in professional services marketing, they are ambitious. A feature of the newest generations.
It was also interesting to note that some had fairly strategic roles – and were interested in a wide variety of topics (including cross-selling). And I was particularly struck by the comment from one delegate “I’m interested in a real mix of the different options, especially now as the advisor on the account has left so I am temporarily working on the biggest client account of the firm so I will be involved with the global tender”.
Variety is the spice of life
Almost all of the delegates reported that their roles were varied and they valued this enormously. Even though 88% felt Covid had changed their roles quite a bit or a lot.
But there are indications of an emerging gap between where they currently spend most of their time and where they want to focus.
An early poll asked about their interest in the modules of the session: 50% were most interested in tactical marketing/communications, 30% in client and referrer management relationship practices and 20% in all aspects (including strategy).
They were asked to indicate where most of their time is spent at present:
- 33% supporting M&BD executives and managers
- 22% pitches and tenders
- 11% research
- 11% supporting internal communications
- 11% organising events
And where they want to spend more time in the future:
- 30% digital marketing, content marketing and social media
- 30% events, seminars/webinars and contact programmes
- 30% something else (comments included integrated marketing campaigns and key client programmes)
- 10% internal engagement and internal marketing
Equipped for the job
A poll revealed that 78% hadn’t formally studied marketing. Yet after reviewing the key concepts they were confident when rating their technical marketing your knowledge.
20% felt their knowledge was really good – they knew more than they thought, 10% answered good – that they were familiar with most of the key ideas, 50% answered “Ok” – that they had just learned a lot in the session and 20% reported their knowledge needed improvement and they had a lot of learning ahead!
These articles relate to marketing qualifications:
Yet technical marketing and business development knowledge wasn’t the biggest challenge. Assistants have to assimilate substantial technical information about the services provided by their fee-earners and a similar amount in each of the many sectors they serve. And this has to be within the context of the firm’s overall and territory strategies – which can be complex, especially in large firms.
When it came to knowledge of selling, a poll revealed that 60% felt they were average, 20% felt that had good skills in selling and 20% rated themselves low. This indicates a need for further training and support in this area.
Some introductory books on selling processes and skills:
Overcoming the technology challenge
As well as the challenge of acquiring substantial information about internal and external environments and forging strong relationships with fee-earners, it was surprising to hear the delegates talk about technology issues.
In the past, many assistants had found limitations in their CRM systems and client data – making digital marketing and relationship management difficult – but this is no longer an issue for many. 80% were happy or really happy with their firm’s CRMs.
56% of delegates felt that the digital strategy at their firm really good, 33% average and 11% said that it needed improvement. Perhaps the reliance on data during Covid drove firms to invest in systems and time in these areas?
But other technology was mentioned as a challenge. Specifically, some found that the need to use so many different platforms for events caused issues – especially if their IT teams were unable to support them.
Relationships with fee-earners
Previous generations of assistants and executives had been challenged by relationships with fee-earners but this seems much improved.
Engagement with fee-earners appears to have improved. 60% felt about half of their fee-earners were engaged in M&BD compared to 30% who felt only 10% to 40% are engaged. It was encouraging that 10% felt that half to two thirds of their fee-earners are engaged.
Asked how they thought M&BD was perceived at their firms, the views was mostly positive with words including: persistent, pragmatic, engaged, innovative, enthusiastic, experienced, active, friendly, approachable, engaged, knowledgeable, insightful and supportive. Although one did mention stubborn.
There are many articles on building relationships with fee-earners and achieving buy-in, including:
Focused on digital marketing and events
At break out sessions, the groups choose to focus on digital marketing (brand conformity, social media trends, client interests, personalisation and knowledge of current affairs) and events (global webinars, targeting, information on key organisations and people, cost effectiveness and justification, accessibility, aligning with broader goals, engagement, quality leads, pre-planning and post event action). There was also discussion about the climate relevance of in person events, the reluctance of clients to attend in person events and the challenges of hybrid events.
Key takeaways for M&BD assistants
During the session, delegates indicated their interest in a variety of topics including fundamentals such as the difference between selling and marketing, the business development process and the need for marketing to focus on meeting client needs. One of the delegates liked Peter Drucker’s quote “The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous”.
Other areas of interest included theories into practice for:
- segmentation and personas (see Back to basics – importance of segmentation and personas (kimtasso.com) or Marketing and BD planning – Segmentation, Rock Stars and Engagement (kimtasso.com))
- different strategy models (see, for example: Strategies for developing a private client practice – Business development (kimtasso.com))
- the importance of marketing plans (see Marketing planning in a nutshell – simple and complex plans (kimtasso.com)) – especially to agree priorities and for resource management.
After an intensive half day, their key conclusions were varied but conveyed common themes:
- Have empathy and build relationships with fee-earners
- Manage the first impression that you make (perception)
- Adapt how you approach and work with different personalities
- Set personal goals that align with team and firm goals
- Be more strategic
- Reach out to new people in the firm to explain how M&BD can contribute
- Develop and promote your personal brand
- Continue to develop knowledge of practice areas
Related articles on M&BD assistants
practical and professional skills for marketing assistants (kimtasso.com) checklist of 25 actions November 2015