Marketing and business development are often mistaken as synonymous or interchangeable, frequently by those who rely on and believe in these services' ability to grow their business. For example, many CPA firms have multiple partners, each with differing concepts of marketing and business development. They often don't understand the difference between these, the role of each within the firm, or how to leverage them effectively.

To set each department up for success toward the firm's overall goal -- building the firm's pipeline, and ultimately the business -- it's crucial that firm leadership understands these roles. By clarifying and communicating each department's responsibilities, accounting firms can best use each department's strengths, and then integrate these roles for greater success. While both marketing and business development certainly cover similar ground and ultimately contribute to growing your firm's business, the roles are actually quite different. Both have different strengths and strategies, and each department should have clear and distinct responsibilities.



The foremost function of marketing within a firm is to understand the needs and wants of your target market, and to promote the firm's services in a way that raises awareness and interest within that market.

Successful accounting marketing involves developing a strategic plan and budget for the firm; establishing the firm's overall message, benefits and capabilities; and ensuring that this information is consistently and accurately expressed through all communications. With this in mind, a marketer's role within the firm is to develop and execute a strategic plan for the firm to:

  • Discover what clients and prospective clients want by conducting research via surveys and interviews to gain insight into clients' needs and desires;
  • Refine and communicate the firm's current service offerings to align with client needs;
  • Identify new service offerings that should be added, and discover how current offerings can be improved;
  • Maintain awareness through consistent communication within the client base, target markets and referral sources;
  • Educate targeted audiences about the firm and its services through the latest industry news and working with the firm's professionals (e.g., through seminars, webinars, articles and blog posts);
  • Create and maintain a professional and consistent image for the firm, managing visibility through public relations, the Web site, and other collateral pieces;
  • Generate leads and support business development with a wide range of proactive tactics and campaigns ("touches"); and,
  • Measure success toward reaching marketing goals, monitor the effectiveness of campaigns and create client satisfaction survey programs.


In order to create and execute an effective plan, a successful professional services marketer needs to have a diverse skill set, including these essential attributes:

  • Knows the industry dynamics;
  • Has a clear understanding of how the business operates, what makes it profitable, and what its financial goals are;
  • Understands what a client's or prospect's needs are in order to develop campaigns around topics that matter to the particular target audience;
  • Is an effective storyteller who helps the audience understand the value of each service and educates the firm's professional staff on how to convey this message to clients and prospects;
  • Gets the firm's professionals involved, identifying "rising stars" and helping them create a personal marketing and business development plan;
  • Keeps the firm abreast of new tools and technology, including adopting social media that the accounting industry has traditionally shied away from; and,
  • Measures success by tracking completed tasks, campaign results and revenue, then by matching how these interrelate and helping the marketer and firm understand what works to tweak the plan as necessary.


For accounting and other professional service firms, business development should have a strong focus on developing partnerships and strategic relationships with other firms in order to bring in new clients, by expanding into new geographic areas, or identifying new potential markets for an existing service. The following are some components of the business development role within the firm:

  • Building relationships with other professionals who target the same market or work for a company within the target market, perhaps creating "top 50" referral source and prospect lists, developing relationships, and filling the pipeline with meetings and opportunities;
  • Generating new business from existing clients by expanding the scope of current projects and finding new ways to work with clients and partners;
  • Joining trade associations and committees specified in the marketing plans, attending conferences and other industry events;
  • Scheduling meetings for firm partners and management to meet with prospects and referral sources and make introductions; and,
  • Educating the firm's staff and conducting internal sales training to help groom the firm's professionals.


Accounting firms may have a devoted business development professional, or a firm's partners may be responsible for building these relationships.

Either way, some key skills and traits for success in this role include:

  • Knowing the industry dynamics and firm messaging;
  • Managing time strategically by researching and evaluating where time will be most productively spent;
  • Conducting organized, consistent follow-up after an event, and passing the information on to marketing to build the database;
  • Being curious and consultative -- asking the right questions, actively listening, collaborating and understanding the client's business goals, passions and struggles;
  • Making personal connections, using "soft" skills when acting as the face of the firm;
  • Being resourceful and fearless, willing to initiate conversations with anyone who may be a potential client or referral source;
  • Creating connections and making introductions to serve as a catalyst for mutually beneficial situations, and getting the firm's partners and managers in front of the right contacts; and,
  • Contributing to firm-wide momentum and excitement by holding regular team meetings to share information, present referral rewards, train staff in sales skills, and celebrate progress and victories.


Marketing and business development work together and support each other. Marketing's overall goal is to position your firm for success by warming up the market, while business development's focus is on developing one-on-one partnerships and strategic relationships in an effort to ultimately bring in new business.

These departments' efforts and key attributes effectively work together to increase a firm's return on investment by supporting the firm's ultimate goal -- to grow the business.

When a firm embraces marketing, yet lacks business development outreach and follow-up efforts, potential clients may be aware of the brand, but the firm will miss opportunities to close red-hot prospects. However, emphasis on only business development without brand awareness and clear, consistent messaging may make getting the face-to-face meeting and nurturing prospects challenging. Finally, when marketing and business development efforts are balanced, but not coordinated, neither department is being used to its full potential.

To ensure that the firm uses both its marketing and business development resources effectively, the following are some areas where the two disciplines should be closely aligned:

  • Strategy and planning: Smooth communication of firm messaging, goals, and simply knowing what makes for a good client.
  • Firm messaging: A message should be developed based on how the firm is uniquely qualified to meet the needs and wants of the prospect or client.
  • Speaking opportunities: The marketer successfully pitches a partner at the firm to speak at an event, and the partner (and/or other business developer) on-site then meets prospects, hands out cards, and follows up post-event.
  • Client feedback: Both marketing and business development need to be aware of changes and challenges to client needs and adjust how the firm responds.

Marketing and business development naturally have skill sets that complement each other, and while each function is separate, they work together to support the business. It's crucial for any firm to take advantage of the strengths of both departments and strike the proper balance (and coordination) of marketing and sales.
A firm that understands the role of each function -- and how they interact and support one another - will be able to leverage both functions to streamline efforts and improve ROI.

Debra Andrews is president and owner of Marketri, a Doylestown, Pa.-based professional services marketing firm that provides marketing solutions for small and midsized B2B and professional services companies, including CPA firms.

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