How can I tell if our firm needs an in-house marketing person?

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Marketing has been formalized in some CPA firms for upwards of 20 years. Those early experiences weren't all good ones for the firms or the ground-breaking marketers brave enough to step into firms never before exposed to marketing.

We've all heard horror stories about “the marketing person we used to have.” Partners will say, “We had a marketer and it just didn’t work,” or “We didn’t get any results after a whole year!” They sometimes confess they weren’t sure what the marketer was supposed to do. Often we learn that there was no formal marketing plan or budget. I won't be popular saying this, but this is most often the fault of the firm rather than the person they hired!

To succeed, even the most brilliant marketers need partners and firm dynamics that enable/facilitate success. Partners often squelch their own marketing success and usually don’t even realize it.


Marketing on the fly (without distinct intentions and goals) isn't much more effective with an in-house marketing person than without one. The key to increasing results when adding a marketer is to be committed to marketing planning, hiring the right person considering the level of sophistication of your plan, and allocating the budget to support the plan—in advance…not on a piecemeal basis. If you want your marketing to choke, skip the above steps.


Hiring the RIGHT person is critical. More than once, I've seen firms bring in somebody with heavy desktop publishing skills and then become annoyed the person doesn’t go out and find and nurture leads. These are two very different job descriptions, and often different personality types!

This is sort of misalignment between expectations and skill sets is something that we see ALL THE TIME. Don't make this common mistake. Your firm is only ready to employ a marketer if your firm understands the differences in levels of skill and what your marketer should be expected to achieve—and if your firm is willing and able to support the marketing function properly.


To ensure a successful experience with an in-house marketing person, your firm must commit to each of these:

  • provide a clear job description, including mutually agreed-upon evaluation criteria
  • seek the best level and fit for your firm (see my earlier post: "What is the difference between "marketing" and 'selling'?" )
  • make sure your marketer reports to the right person (rarely is reporting to a “committee” a good idea)
  • provide guidance, direction and prompt feedback regarding proposed initiatives
  • unfailingly support your marketing person and your marketing plan through the stages of acceptance and culture change (resolve any disagreements privately, not in front of your other partners where the marketer's credibility can easily be shattered...which greatly reduces marketing participation, thus reduces results)
  • require everyone’s participation in marketing activities and compensate accordingly
  • undergo formalized marketing training programs for all professionals
  • budget at least 3-5% of gross revenues (3% for maint. level, and 5% or more if you're serious about growth) for funding your marketing initiatives (not counting marketing salaries/consulting fees)
  • hire or allocate appropriate support personnel for the marketer, when needed

These steps facilitate an environment with minimum frustration and maximum results. Anything less spells trouble.

Be honest about who you are, and what you will and will not do. Know what you want, and be committed to participating in marketing initiatives—the marketer will not be able to market in lieu of you.


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