In every organization - indeed, in every civilization - it's natural that people align themselves into "camps." The camps are defined by positions on controversial issues, preferences and personality traits. There are many such camps in accounting firms; two of them differ over practice development.
Bringing in business: The two camps
The following question divides the camps on practice development: If one wants to be a proficient business-getter (i.e., not necessarily a rainmaker), is it necessary to do most of your marketing after five o'clock during the week, and on weekends? Put another way, can someone be a proficient business-getter if they do most of their marketing between eight and five during the week, with occasional activity after hours?
The behavioral issues involved with practice development are probably legendary to you by now:
* CPAs didn't become accountants so that they could become sales people.
* Most CPAs are not comfortable marketing.
* Most CPAs have never received effective training in selling.
* Accountability among partners in firms for marketing is practically non-existent.
* If CPAs are honest about it, they would prefer never to have to sell anything.
Our experience with firms corroborates the effect of the above: At best, one in five partners in CPA firms is active and effective at bringing in new business.
Now, add to this discussion the following life-style change that has evolved over the past 10 years or so: CPA firm personnel value time with their families a lot more than their Baby Boomer predecessors died. As everyone knows, the family values issue was one of the key themes in the 2004 presidential campaign.
The coming together of these two issues - practice development and family values - has produced a chemical reaction of sorts, resulting in the creation of the two different "camps:"
* Camp A believes that to be effective at practice development, one has to devote a substantial amount of time after hours and on weekends to marketing activities. Further exacerbating this issue is Camp A's belief that a lack of willingness on the part of CPA firm personnel to market after hours demonstrates a lack of ambition to become or stay a partner, a lack of commitment to the firm, a severe personality deficiency, or all of the above.
* Camp B believes that one can be an effective, business-getting partner by doing most marketing during core weekday work hours. Not surprisingly, family values are equally important to them. They will sacrifice their family life for the good of the firm occasionally, but not regularly.
And of course, Camp B members feel that they are just as committed to their firm and their career as the Camp As.
When two camps become entrenched on an issue, frustrations and anger unfortunately develop. A "Cold War" of sorts evolves. Camp As resent the Camp Bs' marketing performance. Camp Bs resent the criticisms from the Camp As and the resulting accusations that they are not "committed" to the firm. These cold wars can even erupt into "border skirmishes."
If we knew the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this article, perhaps these cold wars and border skirmishes could be avoided, and the partners could actually learn to work with their colleagues more effectively.
What do MPs think?
To find the answer, we surveyed managing partners of substantial midsized firms from across the country. We also surveyed two highly respected national sales training organizations for CPAs. Finally, we surveyed several of the nation's leading CPA firm management consultants.
The 44 managing partners we surveyed responded as follows:
* Twenty-two felt that one can definitely be a proficient marketer between the hours of eight and five.
* Thirteen felt that to be a proficient marketer, one has to market both between eight and five and after hours, with the majority being done during normal business hours.
* Nine felt that the only way to be effective is to do most of your marketing after hours.
The consensus of responses - 80 percent - felt that one can be a proficient business-getter by marketing between eight and five, but that this should be supplemented by occasional after-hours activities.
The two sales training organizations, The Rainmaker Academy and The Growth Partnership, as well as several national consultants, strongly concur with this consensus.
There seem to be two types of marketers. One type of marketer routinely mixes their business lives with their personal and social lives. They enjoy and seek out opportunities to socialize with clients, prospects and referral sources, frequently involving spouses. Few partners are like this, but those who practice this approach are likely to be rainmakers, as opposed to merely proficient business-getters.
The other type of marketer separates, for the most part, his business life from his social life. There may be some overlap, but not much. Most marketing takes place between eight and five. Spouses are rarely involved. Most partners fall into this category.
Neither group is right or wrong. It's a question of how partners wants to lead their lives and what their goals are for bringing in business.
Here's a sampling of the opinions of those who support marketing during core business hours:
* "I am a single parent raising three girls. I don't work evenings or weekends. Most of my marketing is at breakfasts or lunches with occasional evenings or weekends, but the latter is seldom more than a couple of times a month. My ledger is $1.3 million. It works for me."
* "I focus most of my marketing during the normal work day, with some morning meetings before 8 a.m. Our average annual growth is in the double digits."
* "Fifty percent of new business comes from existing clients. In a $5 million firm, I believe there may be as much as $2 million on the table going unmined. The bigger issues are targeting of marketing efforts and time management skills."
Patrick Patterson of Nashville, Tenn.-based Rainmaker Academy said, "Show me a firm with the attitude that marketing can/should be done mostly after five and on weekends, and I'll show you a firm that could care less about the life balance of its personnel. Do firms really believe that they can attract bright, new staff if they continue this ridiculous pagan paradigm that marketing must be done after hours?"
"Flexibility is the key," he continued. "When an important after-hours opportunity presents itself, one must be prepared to take advantage of it."
Here's a sampling of the opinions of those who support marketing during core business hours and after hours:
* "Time of day is not the determinant of business-getting. Being available when the decision-maker is available is the answer."
* "It's a 24/7 program; anybody talking and thinking about limits is not a true marketer. One characteristic of a professional is that he/she is always on the job."
* "I rank 'during the business day' and 'after hours' about equally. If someone does only one, they will be about half as effective."
* "The key is managing your time. Board meetings and organization activities are often at night. At lunch, instead of going with people from your office, go with a client or referral source."
And here are the opinions of some of those who feel that the bulk of marketing must be done after hours:
* "In my experience, clients and prospects are so busy during the business day that marketing to them at this time is hard to do."
* "You can do breakfasts and lunches, but relationships are done in social, fundraising events and civic involvement - after hours."
* "Going places, being involved and 'being seen' are the keys. I would say it's 80 percent after hours and 20 percent during the work day.'
Combining the camps
Steven Covey, in his classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said: "When two people want to be understood before they understand, when both want to be understood simultaneously, that's called the dialogue of the deaf: They're not listening - they are either speaking or preparing their speech. Once we feel others understand us, defenses are lowered and we become more open."
If you're a partner who believes that marketing must be done primarily after hours, listen to the partners who want to market during the day. They may be saying, "My kids and spouse need me to be there at night, after school, and at their plays and games. While I attend to their needs, I am representing the firm in the community anyhow. The key is that I am active in meeting with clients, prospects and referral sources, asking for business. Most of these meetings can occur during the day. I am conscientious of my responsibilities to both the firm and my family."
Camp A supporters need to understand that:
* Camp B people are still making meaningful contributions to the firm's business-getting efforts.
* They bring other benefits to the firm - that's why you made them partner.
If you're a partner who believes you can be effective at business-getting by primarily marketing during the day from eight to five, listen to your rainmaking partners. They may be saying, "I found a way to bring in a lot of business to the firm by participating in civic organizations and entertaining clients heavily after hours. The business I've cultivated drives this firm, employs staff and even partners. If all the partners pursued marketing the way I do, we would have a dynamic, thriving, growing and hugely successful firm."
Camp B supporters need to understand that:
* You shouldn't go to lunch every day with your co-workers; instead, use breakfast and lunch time to meet with clients, referral sources and prospects. Plan your contacts well ahead of time; calling someone in the morning to have lunch with them at noon that same day won't work.
* From time to time, you will need to be available before or after hours. Being available when the decision-maker is available is critical. Also, allow for an occasional evening meeting.
When the two camps really begin to understand one another, they can stop dividing themselves in two. They can both be great firm marketers - and camp together!
Marc Rosenberg, CPA, is a management and marketing consultant to CPAs nationwide. His firm, The Rosenberg Associates, is based in Wilmette, Ill. Reach him at (847) 251-7100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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