Seinfeld on Marketing For Professional Services Firms

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by Allan S. Boress, CPA, CFE

"Hey -- Did you hear the one about the guy who set up his kids' educational trust funds as tax exempt corporations because he knew that if any college accepted his children as students it would be pure charity on their part?"

It's no wonder that you won't see stand-up CPAs on HBO. For some reason, the professions don't lend themselves to being a comedian, although at times our clients do some very funny things (usually without consulting us first).

However, Jerry Seinfeld offers a mighty analogy that we can draw between what it takes to be successful in show business with what it takes to be successful as a professional service provider and as a consultant:

Not Always The Best Become The Most Popular

There are lots of talented artists, authors, actors, musicians and comedians who never make it as big as they should because talent, in and of itself, doesn't guarantee prosperity.

There are many attorneys, CPAs, engineers, architects, consultants,, who don't bring in a dime's worth of business, and aren't as successful as one would expect. Because talent, in and of itself, in the professions, doesn't guarantee success.

In fact, in the professions and as a consultant, one can be quite incompetent and still be enormously successful! This is because we sell an intangible professional service, similar to "air."

Success Builds Upon Itself

Once someone becomes "hot" in show business, they seem to be everywhere. It seems everywhere you look, they are there, be it on Letterman, or the cover of a magazine or in a movie. If they nurture their careers, if they continue to do the kind of effective marketing that we describe in this book, they can remain popular over a long period of time.

Same thing holds for the professions and consulting. Once someone becomes a celebrity, they seem to be everywhere. If you are lucky enough to find out before it happens, you find out they are talking to or romancing your clients and referral sources. You see them at events. They have more referral contacts than most. They get more than their share of sales opportunities. People know them and flock to them when they walk into a room.

It Takes Time to Become a "Celebrity"

There are very few "overnight successes" in show business. Jerry Seinfeld paid his dues by working dingy, smelly lounges for free and in small venues. It took him years and years of failure and rejection to become a true celebrity, and he started quite young at it.

It takes time, persistence, effort, risk taking, consistency and lots of failure in personal marketing to become a "celebrity" in the professions as well.

The Key to Becoming a Celebrity is Exposure

One cannot become a star by hiding out in their dressing room or their apartment. There was only one Great Garbo (attention Gen X'ers: She was a very famous actress in the 1930s and 1940s).

One has to constantly expose him or herself to people who are in a position to hire and help them, in order to eventually get the career break that leads to success in show business.

The same holds true in all of the professions and in consulting. One doesn't garner referrals and new clients by sitting in his office. One doesn't become the service provider in demand by eating lunch at her desk. One doesn't become well known in the community or the niche you choose without repeated exposure in the right markets and using the right star-making vehicles.

One Has to be "Star Material" to Succeed

In order for Seinfeld and others to make it, they had to draw attention to themselves. And people had to like them in order to want to help them.

The very essence of personal marketing is "broadcasting." It's sending out the message "Here I am and I want your business."

The problem is that this broadcasting must happen over an extended period of time to penetrate the consciousness of the marketplace. And one has to be "star material" in order to accomplish it -- they have to look and act the part.

Recently I had a client share with me his concern over his fellow partner's inability to bring in business. "I just don't understand it," he said. "Larry was the silver-medal award winner in our state on the exam! He's brilliant and should know better. New business is so important, yet he doesn't bring in anything!"

I said, "Have you ever taken a look at Larry? He wears Coke bottles for glasses. Yes, all of his clothes are coordinated, blue polyester, as a matter of fact. And Larry drives a 1985 Dodge K Car that's never been washed. If you were to meet Larry, would you be impressed by his appearance or his lack of social graces?"

"Uh, no" the partner replied. "But that's not important! He's brilliant!"

So I said "How is the client supposed to find that out? Do you think the client is interested in the latest pronouncement or regulation? People automatically assume you are competent because of the three initials at the end of your name, just as you believe the dentist is capable without inspecting her equipment and grilling her on where she went to school and her academic awards."

You Have to be "Hungry" to Make it

More than anything else, Jerry Seinfeld and others like him wanted desperately to succeed. They didn't go home at five p.m. and expect the world to drop into their laps. They were willing to go the extra mile, invest the extra time and effort that others wouldn't.

The same holds true for all of the professions. One has to be "hungry" for success.

Staff people and partners can't expect to go home at five p.m., or spend all of their extra time with their friends and families, and expect to "make it."

Unfortunately, for some reason I've never understood, most of the professions don't compensate or motivate the behavior necessary for success. In fact they tend to compensate the wrong behavior and then wonder why business development doesn't work.

Partners, like Larry, often are compensated mostly on chargeable hours and collected billings. This forces them to stay locked to their desks. They tend to be quite overpaid for often doing staff level work, which they then hoard. Then we wonder why they aren't motivated to do personal marketing or change.

And those few who do bring in business find out that they are stuck doing the work they bring in, just like if a business owner had to wait on all of the customers or fill all of the orders himself of the people who came into his store. Crazy!

And professional firms tend not to include as part of annual compensation reviews one's personal marketing efforts in determining next year's raise. Many firms don't pay a commission on additional work identified at the client to do, or even work from new clients, not that compensation in and of itself is the motivator to change.

One has to be "hungry" for success in order to become a star, and there are few positive role models in our professions to model ourselves after.

The Good News

Here's the major difference between show business and what you do, besides the fact that the financial rewards tend to be somewhat greater in the arts: You compete against professional service providers and consultants, not Jerry Seinfeld or people like him clawing their way to the top.

Succeeding in the professions and as a consultant is the easiest business in the entire world.

  • You and your people compete against rivals who would rather sit at their desk than go out for lunch with a referral source.
  • You contend for business against people who don't even thank their clients for their business, let alone give them an occasional gift.
  • You compete against people who refuse to distribute a newsletter because it costs more than 25 cents.
  • You compete against people who charge their clients for a five or ten minute phone call, rather than build the relationship by adding value and have the client hand- carry them to another client, who becomes an annuity for them.
  • You compete against people who have one laser printer for ten professionals to share, which wastes enormous amounts of time.
  • You compete against morons who rarely compliment their staff on a job well done and then wonder why morale is so bad.
  • You compete against people who are too lazy and cheap to become "star material."
  • You compete against people who won't take a public speaking course before they do a seminar.
  • You compete against people who won't learn how to sell before they go out and blow the sale.
  • You compete against people who won't join an organization because it costs money.
  • You compete against people who go to meetings and sit by their colleagues, instead of mingling with the others there, many of them prospective clients and referral sources.
  • You compete against people who would rather create busy work than invest the time, effort, energy and failure necessary to build their business.
  • You compete against people who would never buy or read my I-Hate-Selling Book because ‘they already know this stuff.'
  • And you compete against people who would never invest in training their professionals in The Greatest Skill in the Business World, Selling - because it costs money.

Yes, the riches of success and wealth quite readily await those in all of the professions who are willing to "pay their dues" in the public domain.

And that's no laughing matter.

Allan S. Boress, CPA, CFE is one of America's most sought after speakers and trainers on the subject of personal marketing, systematic selling and client retention. He is the author of the "I Hate Selling Tapes" available on his web site. You may reach him at 954/345-4666 or at [email protected] or

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