[IMGCAP(1)]Is your firm experiencing double-digit organic growth year after year? If so, you have achieved something that almost every firm in the country would love to emulate. If you answered no, you might be underachieving—and the most important question is why.

Firms fail to maximize their growth potential for many different reasons. Some firms have management that lacks motivation. Some are unwilling to invest in the resources, activities and culture that lead to sustained growth. But other firms are committed to growing. They are investing in marketing and business development. They do have a professional team that is actively working to add new clients, launch new practices and deliver services within their client base. Yet in many cases, these firms still don’t experience the growth they desire.

There may not be one single reason why some firms grow while others do not. But there is one thing that too many firms fail to do that diminishes the results of their efforts. Many firms fail to align marketing and business development efforts. While marketing and business development are distinct activities, they are closely related and highly dependent upon one another. If your marketing and business development efforts are not aligned, they may seem to excel separately, but together they will fail to produce the results they could, and spending additional time and resources on unaligned activities may produce minimal results.

What does it mean to align marketing with business development?

Aligning marketing and business development requires working together toward shared goals. Think of it like running a play on the football field. If your blocking scheme calls for a run to the left and your running back runs into the wrong hole, he’s likely to run head first into an unblocked linebacker with disastrous results.

In an accounting firm, you can think of your marketing team as your blockers and your business developers as your ball carriers. If one group is going left while the others go right, your success will be limited.

[IMGCAP(2)]Your growth efforts, including business development and marketing, depend on coordinating distinct activities and different groups of people toward common objectives. In the world of accounting, the marketing team doesn’t usually doesn’t sell anything. The role of marketing is to create, support and enhance opportunities for business development. If your marketing team is developing objectives independently from your business development group, how can they know that they are creating and supporting business development? Conversely, if your business developers have lost confidence in the marketing team, they are making their job much more difficult than it needs to be. Aligning marketing and business development means having your entire team working together toward common goals.

Five Steps to Improve Marketing Alignment and Jump-start Growth

1. Establish common leadership: The first step to aligning marketing and business development efforts is to bring them together under one umbrella, with a leader who is takes ownership of overall organizational growth objectives. This could be a Chief Growth Officer, a managing partner or another partner suited to taking responsibility for firm growth. Putting a single member of management in charge of growth initiatives will ensure that someone will take direct responsibility for the overall effectiveness—and greatly increase your odds of your marketing and business development teams working together. Whether your firm has dedicated business developers, or relies on the efforts of your management team to bring in work, your business developers and your marketers will work together better when following common leadership.

2. Develop and communicate shared objectives: Marketing and business development exist for the same purpose. As such, they should share the same objectives. Strategic alignment begins with objective driven strategy. Start with big goals that will require the efforts of both groups. These are your firm goals for growth. If your firm goals involve specific growth targets, launching a new practice or hitting cross-selling numbers, make those the primary goals of both your marketing and business development teams. Primary objectives for both groups should always be the same.

3. Involve your marketing team in growth strategy development: Your business developers, whether partners or otherwise, and your marketers must be executing a common strategy. The best way to get buy-in for your strategy is to involve both groups in strategic growth planning. If strategy is developed together, the initiatives will coordinate. Both groups will work together, maximizing the strengths of your entire team. This process will keep marketing in tune with the needs of business development, and it will ensure that your partners and other business developer understand what your marketers are doing and why—building their confidence and willingness to rely on your marketing team.

4. Hold frequent, regular collaborative growth and pipeline meetings: With joint goals and joint initiatives, it only makes sense that your marketing and business development teams should meet to coordinate, update and adjust strategy. One of the primary objectives of your marketing team is to support business developers. That support can’t take place without knowledge of what others are doing. Far too often, marketers are isolated and frozen out of practice development and client development discussions. If your practice leaders are partners, they should participate in meetings with your marketing team organized by your growth leader. This is the only way to establish and maintain the proper connection between business development and marketing activities.

5. Demand shared responsibility and accountability: Ultimately, shared accountability is what will ensure effective cooperation and coordination. Marketers are accountable to business developers, and business developers are accountable to marketers. Most importantly, both groups are held accountable to the same set of objectives. If one fails, both fail. If the objectives of your marketing team will allow them to succeed regardless of the achievement of the firm, too much opportunity exists for misalignment of objectives. Sharing responsibility should eliminate the possibility that either side will marginalize the other or stray from their established objectives. If both groups are judged by the firm’s ability to accomplish its growth objectives, all parties involved will have the incentive to maximize the effectiveness of the entire team.

Stephen Brunson is a director at Catalyst CPA Marketing, a marketing and growth agency working exclusively within the accounting industry. He works closely with both firm management and marketing teams to develop and execute effective growth strategies.

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