How should sales and marketing functions be aligned in a CPA firm?

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The marketer as a business developer

In my last post, I described the roles and responsibilities of CPA firm marketers. Some marketers are skilled in “sales,” but most are not.

Selling requires a unique skill set—some marketing professionals possess it but far more do not. All marketers should be able to identify ideal prospects and introduce them, very effectively, to the capabilities of the firm. Many marketers are adept at coaching partners/team members on conducting sales calls and by critiquing sales techniques. Some marketers can handle sales calls personally, but most don’t want to do this full time—it usually isn’t their core competency or deepest desire.

If you want a person to focus on delivering qualified leads to you, closing the leads, or teaching you how to close the leads, you will probably want a sales professional instead of, or in addition to, a marketer.

Some firms hire both marketing and sales professionals

If you hire both a marketing professional and a sales professional, involve the first hire in the process of selecting the second. Structuring them as laterals works best.

Though effective salespersons often to receive higher overall compensation (base plus commissions), don’t assume you must structure according to pay level. One reason to avoid positioning the sales person over marketing (aside from the difference in skill sets) is that the sales person should not be spending his or her time managing the marketing function—s/he should dedicate full-time to securing new business.

Partners can get very excited about the potential of rapid bottom-line impact a salesperson can bring and they sometimes over-glamorize this position. Be careful not to alienate an existing marketer in the process of bringing in a salesperson. Sadly, this happens A LOT.

Recognize that rather than contributing to the bottom-line overnight, the marketing professional’s initiatives usually take 18-36 months to reflect in revenues. In the meantime, whether there is a salesperson or not, marketers can receive intense and undue pressure from partners to justify their presence in the firm.

Since the sales and marketing functions rely heavily on each other, it is critical to cultivate a strong rapport between the two. Discourage an adversarial or competitive atmosphere; do everything you can to create a team. An effective way to align the roles could be to provide a split incentive for new business generated by the team. Since the sales person is probably a commission arrangement, perhaps the marketer could receive a 1/2 percent for their involvement in the sale. This arrangement creates a cooperative team.

Even at the height of success, marketers can rarely take sole credit for specific sales (and seldom bear sole blame for non-sales, too!) because others are involved in the sales process. Be sensitive to this and factor it in when measuring the marketer’s performance.


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