It’s a sad but true fact of life in professional services – many managing partners don’t trust their own marketing departments.

The result? Many marketing departments don’t get the support and resources they need to deliver on their potential. Of course, this doesn’t just hurt the marketing department, but the firm as a whole. When marketing can’t work efficiently to drive new business, it’s all too common for an organization to fall behind in the marketplace.

Where does this dysfunction come from, and how can it be avoided? Let’s try to identify the roots of the problem – and propose some practical solutions.

1) Many managing partners have never been exposed to an effective, modern marketing department.

Many baby boomer partners joined their firms before marketing was even allowed in professional services industries such as accounting and legal. Others have grown up with the belief that face-to-face networking was the only useful strategy for generating new business and everything else was just a waste of time and resources.

2015 Professional Services Marketing Priorities

In both cases, individuals’ formative experiences of their industries and best practices are very different from the realities of the modern marketplace, and that’s where the disconnect lies. Here, the best solution is to educate those in your firm about what is possible, achievable, and often competitively necessary today. Fortunately, the wealth of research and success stories available online can make this process a lot easier.

2) The belief that marketing is an art rather than a science.

This is a common and problematic misperception. The reality is that marketing today is a well-defined science that uses elements of art to act on empirical observations about a business, its audience, and the marketplace at large.

Recently, we’ve seen many advances in understanding about how clients find and select firms. Marketing department research helps to gather data – like the sometimes vast gulfs between potential clients’ top priorities and what a firm believes is most important to them.

Buyers and Sellers’ Perspectives on Top Selection Criteria

The last decade has seen particularly large strides in our scientific understanding of brain function, learning, information processing, and decision making, especially as they relate to marketing. Our ability to track and quantify behavior online, capturing and analyzing marketing interactions, has truly transformed the playing field. Organizations with a robust, data-driven marketing department have a decisive advantage.

On this topic, the solution is to understand that marketing can do more – so managing partners should expect more. The research on scientific marketing is clear, so once decision-makers are exposed to it, they should be eager to leverage its advantages.

3) Marketing departments have often been underfunded and staffed with undertrained talent.

The decision to underutilize a marketing department only compounds over time, reinforcing itself through the lackluster performance of an underfunded or poorly trained department.

If you don’t think the marketing function is valuable to begin with, you probably won’t invest in well-trained, talented people. Similarly, if you have no particular expectations of your marketing department, it is one of the first places you are likely to look for cost savings. Underfunding marketing programs dooms them to failure even before they start. It’s not surprising that these hobbled departments don’t deliver on their true potential.

In order to correct for this mistake, ensure that your department has adequate funding and is staffed with the best people you can find. If there are marketing budget benchmark reports available for your industry, these can be highly useful references. Also, consider supplementing marketing department with outside resources.

SEE ALSO: Blog Post Roundup: 5 Topics Every Professional Services Managing Partner Should Know

4) Letting individual partners or practice leaders drive marketing decisions.

This practice allows and even encourages marketing to become responsive to “amateurs.” Consider whether you would allow individual partners to decide on how your firm should do its accounting. Why, then, would you do that for marketing?

The results of this approach can be chaotic: unrealistic expectations of the marketing department, highly inconsistent approaches, a fractured brand, and ultimately, subpar results. Marketing should be a force for planning, consistency, considered risk-taking, and measured results. It should never be rooted in arbitrary whims.

Yet when this happens and marketing is driven by individual partners, firms often start unadvisable and ineffective sponsorships, develop marketing pieces with little or no consistency, and miss the power of focused, sustained marketing strategies. The results invariably suffer.

In order to succeed in its marketing efforts, a firm needs a professionally run marketing department with enough power to influence firm growth – and be held accountable for its execution of consistent, continuous strategies over time.

5) Marketing is left out of important decisions.

If you operate from a position of mistrust with your marketing department, they will not be at the table when key decisions are discussed and made. This prevents the marketing department from delivering its full value, a constellation of insights that encompasses everything from brand strategy to marketplace research.

For your firm to be at its most effective, marketing should be present for key moments, conversations, and decisions, such as:

  • When strategy is discussed
  • New services are considered
  • Business development activities are planned
  • Pricing is considered
  • Issues related to branding are under discussion
  • Marketing funding is considered

If it seems that your current marketing department is not up to taking a central role in these tasks, it is important to ask yourself why. Have you developed, staffed, and trained the department in a way that would make it up to the task?


You’ll notice a recurring theme in these problems and solutions – for marketing to be at its most effective and truly demonstrate its value, it has to be taken seriously.

Managing partners have to trust and invest in the marketing department for it to perform optimally. But that trust doesn’t have to be based on blind faith – by understanding the research behind the value and power of a modern marketing department, decision-makers can help their firms be as successful as they can be. For more insights on the key initiatives for modern marketing departments, we welcome you to download the 2015 Professional Services Marketing Priorities Report

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2015 Professional Services Marketing Priorities Report