I just got back from the Legal Marketing Association conference in San Francisco. I'd been persuaded to attend by a number of people who assured me that the legal profession was ahead of accounting firms in this area, and I hoped to bring back valuable information to share with any firms who might be struggling in this aspect of the business.

As part of the three-day event, the organizers hired a number of motivational speakers. One in particular stood out. Dennis Snow, a former Disney executive, who travels the world speaking out about world-class customer service and how it’s the driver of exceptional enterprises.

One of the points Snow made was that a firm may hire excellent employees, and spend a fortune on beautiful furniture or top-class products or services, but still not be aware of how much impact an empty soda can outside the office or a pile of papers on an associate’s desk might influence a client or prospect’s opinion of the entire firm.

"Everything speaks," he noted. The pile of papers might make the client wonder whether his or her work is at the bottom of that pile, and if a soda can is stuck in a row of beautiful flowers outside a company’s office, the prospect might wonder how much care a company takes on the inside. Similarly, if top management says one thing, but does another, every employee notices.

Considering the conference as a whole and from an outsider’s point of view, an "Everything Speaks" moment came for me at a luncheon keynote speech on the last day devoted to getting firm management to buy into the marketing department’s ideas. The title? "Make it Happen: How to Sell Internally."

The entire conference, it finally dawned on me, was essentially an exercise in convincing a firm’s powerful managers that marketers and their ideas were worthy of respect and attention.

In the hallways and in informal talks with dozens of attendees, it became apparent that in law firms, the marketing department still gets no respect – even though some firms have hired dozens of employees to do this work.

One breakout session I attended was essentially a gimmick to get the managing partners’ attention – teaching marketers how to generate marketing proposals that talk the attorneys’ language by factoring in revenue and profitability goals. And fully one-third of those who attended this session wouldn’t be able to complete this task because the firm refused to give them complete access to its financials.

If marketing executives – whose sole purpose is to develop and bring in more business and help organizations satisfy and retain current clients – are treated as nuisances or a drag on the bottom line or are deemed not important enough to gain a seat at management meetings, that attitude filters down through every partner, associate and secretary of the firm.

And if accounting firms are still bringing up the rear in marketing, then they indeed have a long way to go.

Everything speaks.




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