by Gale Crosley

The latest buzzword I’ve heard from managing partners is “ROI marketing.” I believe it is an attempt to cost-justify the ongoing salary of the marketing director and related expenses.

The problem is, marketing in and of itself was never traditionally intended to be a discipline to drive revenue. It promises to target, build awareness, position, brand and perhaps identify leads that need developing.

A comprehensive practice growth approach — converting appropriate activities into revenue growth — requires a different definition from the classic job description of a director of marketing.

Many marketing directors are stuck, for a number of reasons, in the tactical quagmire of marketing communications, such as brochures, advertising and direct mailings. These might occasionally expand into related tactical activities such as events, lead generation and training. Directors of marketing who are early in their career still need to get the basics under their belt. However, more experienced ones might be stuck for a number of reasons.

Which came first — the chicken or the egg? Are marketing directors stuck in tactical execution because they are not asked to the table during the firm’s strategic growth contemplations, or are they not asked to participate in strategic growth activities because they are perceived as not experienced enough to contribute?

It makes no difference.

The end result is that many marketers are shackled and relegated to sub-optimization of their own efforts, as well as their potential impact on the firm. And an unfortunate result is a self-awareness that their discipline is perceived as fluffy, immaterial, of secondary importance, a necessary evil — and they have the uncomfortable feeling that they are perceived as “second-class” citizens.

Many directors have their hands tied — in administrative work, by a lack of support staff, insufficient budgets and a general inability to get their hands on needed financial information that is deemed confidential and inaccessible by the very director who is supposed to be supporting revenue growth! More often than not I hear, under their breath and with the door closed that “the CPAs just don’t get it.”

I remember when a network engineer accused me of not “getting it,” several years ago, in the telecommunications business.

Ouch! That hurt!

A lack of examples
Let’s face it. We don’t have that many examples of senior-level professionals in the practice growth discipline within the CPA firm environment. You can pretty much count them on one hand. The result is a lack of understanding on the part of managing partners of what a senior level professional in this discipline looks like — someone who would be on a par with the level of expertise of a senior or managing partner in their own discipline.

And since there are few role models, many marketing directors are equally unclear on what they should do to enhance their career. For those of you who saw Steve Martin’s “The Jerk,” you might remember that after he became rich, he went back home and built the same cabin he grew up in, except many times larger. This analogy reminds me of the marketing directors who build the better brochure or more attractive logo.

So, let me create a vision of what a very senior practice growth expert looks like. This person creates and understands the strategy behind what grows the practice. She understands intimately the appropriate roles of marketing, lead generation, opportunity development and service line management — the disciplines that make up practice growth. She can advise the firm on the appropriate resource deployment alternatives to optimally grow revenue. This person is compensated based upon overall firm growth, not tactical efforts.

The person might have come up through any one of a number of sub-disciplines associated with practice growth, but has been able to stretch horizontally and add understanding and experience in related disciplines. As a result he has touched (performed, managed or been responsible for) virtually all of the following: marketing strategy; marketing communications (including public relations and advertising); lead generation; lead qualification, as well as developing and closing opportunities; and product management.

If your director of marketing doesn’t sound like this person, there is plenty of room for career development, and there are many opportunities to develop these competencies within the typical midsized CPA firm — especially in today’s turbulent environment, which requires a sharpened competitive axe.

My suggestion is that you first change the title from director of marketing to director of practice growth, which reflects the more enhanced role and expectation of the next generation. Next, include them in all strategic partner meetings, even if only as an observer. Marketing directors who have the potential will rise to the strategic level — but only if they are proactively included in strategic matters.

Linking practice growth strategy to your invested practice growth resource is critical to getting the bang for your marketing-director buck. Ask your newly renamed director of practice growth to rewrite their job description, goals and compensation scheme. Tie their goals and compensation directly to practice growth. This will get rid of the “nice to have” marketing initiatives that don’t contribute eventually to growing revenue.

A director at a midsized firm recently commented, “Making the director of practice growth position effective and successful requires the support of the managing partner. After all, if it comes to a point where a firm is willing to tie growth to a director’s salary, there are some hard-core requirements on both sides of the fence. I personally like the idea, and hope my managing partner will do this with me — it offers a greater incentive on a personal level.”

There are those marketing directors who are not yet ready to take their career to the next level. However, for those who are, the result is a director of practice growth who will be a more potent, valuable and motivated individual directly contributing to practice growth. And that’s what it’s about — getting the most out of this valuable investment in practice growth.

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