Gaining Partner Support for Marketing Efforts - with Tina Kersen

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Tina Kersen
Tina Kersen
the one80 group

Session Moderator: My name is Michael Platt and I want to welcome you to today's workshop! We're very fortunate to have Tina Kersen with us today to discuss gaining partner support for marketing efforts.

Tina is the former marketing director of a CPA firm. Her view of the accounting industry comes from both a marketing and human resource slant. She has published articles about outsourcing, employee retention, employee morale, and financial strategies. She currently is the president of a marketing consulting group headquartered in Dallas, Texas called the one80 group. She holds an interdisciplinary degree with emphases in behavior analysis, psychology, business, and disaster management.

Before we start, can we get everyone to identify their position in the firm, so Tina can recognize the audience?

Karen Love: Director of business development.

Susan McMains: I'm in Business Development too.

Diane M. Coyle: I'm the Marketing Coordinator for an 80-person firm... and VERY new to the accounting field (3 months)

Christen Allison: I am a Senior Marketing /Sales Coordinator for my firm.

Alan Barber: I am a new partner with a three partner firm; I have $140,000 in billing.

Jim Crampton: I'm a director (partner) with Henry & Horne, PLC, CPA firm.

Rick Bean: I am the 'technical consultant' for a 25 person firm.

Session Moderator: For those of you who are new to the process, we'll be taking questions throughout the session. Feel free to jump in and offer your opinions, insights, etc. So, without further delay, let me welcome Tina Kersen...

Tina Kersen: Thanks Mike. It's good to be here. Before we get started, are there burning questions or issues that have brought you here today? Do you find that it is easy to get partner consensus on marketing issues in your firms?

Susan McMains: My question is whether it is important to get buy in from every partner.

Rick Bean: I want to get our technical consulting to a higher level of participation, but the older partners don't seem to understand what I do, and therefore don't offer my services to clients at the level I'd like to see.

Christen Allison: It is so new to my partners, that no It is hard to get consensus. They are not quite sure what they need.

Karen Love: I would like to have a system of accountability between the partners --affecting compensations--any models out there?

Tina Kersen: Thanks. I understand what you are saying. During my four years at a mid-size CPA firm and a few at a big six firm, I learned quite a few things about accountants. In that same time, I've also learned a lot about myself and other marketing directors. I think the key is to learn what you can about three groups and marry this knowledge into a system that works for you and your firm.

First, the group you need to understand is the accounting firm and the players in it. You have your partners, your accountants, and your support people. Everyone has a job to do and each (as they should) thinks that their job is very important to the firm. Understanding what each group needs is key to getting partner or group support. Think about your partners. When you go to them about an idea, what do they want to know?

Chances are very good that they want the FACTS. They want to know how much it will cost. They want to know how many billable hours it will affect, right?

Rick Bean: How many billable hours will it generate?

Alex Armstrong: What will it cost?

Bill Jenkins: They also need to know how to measure direct results from any effort.

Tina Kersen: Bill, yes, that's exactly right. They want to know how to QUANTIFY what you are doing.

Rich: Do you do activity based costing?

Tina Kersen: Rich, I'm sorry, what is the question?

Rich: I'm under the impression this chat is about partnerships in marketing. I have a software product I want to market through accountants. So the question is, do accountants do activity based costing, and if so, can I help them do it? That's what my software does - it accurately measures the time spent on any activity by any employee on any work order.

Session Moderator: Rich, why don't you hold off for a bit and then we'll see if your product fits in to the discussion.

Rich: OK

Tina Kersen: Partners analyze data for a living. They understand solutions and they understand that you, as a marketing professional, bring expertise to the table. However, they need the FACTS to truly understand the idea or project you are pitching to them. Of the partners here, would you say this is true?

Jim Crampton: Yes, I want to know all the facts and how it ultimately will benefit the firm, like in the next year or two.

Tina Kersen: Next, you need to understand the partner synergy that takes place in accounting firms. Partners are people, too. They don't want to appear as though they don't understand something. They just want the facts, ma'am, and then they can make a decision.

Alan Barber: Definitely, but sometimes marketing efforts cannot be readily quantified. What then?

Tina Kersen: Alan - good point. Marketing efforts sometimes can't be readily quantified, but what you CAN do is measure the activity that is occurring AROUND your efforts.

Diane M. Coyle: That's my problem -- how do you justify things (like chamber of commerce memberships, trade shows, etc.) that don't have immediate or concrete results?

Tina Kersen: Diane-- I understand what you are saying, but sometimes some of the things people "do" just because really don't add to the bottom line. If you find that it's a struggle, don't fight, just inform them of the risks or consequences of not participating, etc. and move on.

Bill Jenkins: Not everything relates to the bottom line. Some are just "gut feel" projects

Tina Kersen: I found that the key to getting partner buy in was to ensure that each partner had ALL the facts that he/she needed PRIOR to going in to give my presentation for a project. Once you have visited briefly - this isn't about taking up a bunch of billable time - with each partner, that partner will have all the FACTS he or she needs to make a DECISION. That's exactly where you want to be because you will learn exactly what their concerns and fears are about the project and will be able to do your homework before your final presentation. You will be able to expertly address their issues and talk benefits that will put you on level footing so your IDEAS are heard. The LAST thing you want to do is cut corners on this. And the VERY last thing you want to do is walk in without the FACTS.

Susan McMains: Tina, I have found it helps to communicate to the partners where leads have come from. That way they are able to see the results from networking. Emails work extremely well.

Tina Kersen: Exactly - that's when you are measuring the activity that is SURROUNDING your marketing efforts.

Generally, a marketing director has a one-point decision maker that will approve/disapprove memberships, trade shows, etc. It's hard to say that a networking event will yield 10 leads, but if you measure the lead activity AFTER the event, it will be easier next time to get buy-in because you have measurable results.

Sue, your question earlier about getting all the partners to buy-in in your firm is interesting. I have observed many different firms and it seems that some firms have a few partners that really don't get involved, but can really stop the show. I think each firm is different and once you learn the firm dynamics, you will be able to tell which partners absolutely must buy in for your project to be approved.

I found that my managing partner was instrumental in my education of the firm dynamic. He guided me and explained to me how the partners worked together. This helped me understand what was driving some of the decisions.

Mary Ellen Hackney: Then treat those resistant partners as an internal client, probing for exceptions to marketing efforts and addressing those issues.

Tina Kersen: Mary Ellen - I appreciate your comment. Resistant partners, I have found, are generally resistant for two reasons: 1. they don't have enough information or 2. they are concerned about how it will affect them personally. Yet some other partners really just don't want to be involved. They are fine with whatever you want to do.

Susan McMains: Some of the activities I do are at a Niche level. It is difficult to get a Niche Buy-in if the principal doesn't support your efforts.

Session Moderator: Susan - how large of a firm are you with?

Susan McMains: We have about 100 employees. I feel I'm not supported because the partner is able to get new business without my assistance.

Tina Kersen: Sue - why do you think the principal doesn't support your efforts? Of course, please feel free to be vague or not answer this question. Do these ideas make sense about understanding partners and how THEY think and how that will ultimately help YOU do your job? Would it be easier to work with someone else who needs more of your support? Could you work with other members of the niche, for example?

Susan McMains: Yes, and I have done that. However, when I do get leads, should I involve him?

Tina Kersen: Sue- maybe if you can, you should ask him what he expects. That way, you know exactly what he's thinking and he knows exactly what you are doing.

What experience does anyone else have with garnering partner support? I know it's hard when you don't feel valued by a key member.

Okay, onto the next group. And lo and behold it's YOU. You know who you are. You are marketing directors, consultants, and other professionals who are not accountants. But that's EXACTLY why the ACCOUNTANTS hired YOU in the first place! They know that they need your expertise. They understand that they don't have all the answers. BUT, you have to remember that you are cut from a different cloth. You are motivated by different things and sometimes it's hard to put yourself in their shoes and understand that they aren't questioning YOU, they are just probing to get what? Yes, the FACTS.

Tina Kersen: Does any of this sound familiar?

Chris L.: And the third group??

Tina Kersen: The third group is the accounting firm.

Although, I spilled into it a bit earlier, you have to learn and get to know your firm. How does it work? Who does what? What dynamics are at play? How do they affect you? Marketing? Partners? Your budget?

Rick Bean: So how do I develop my skills at giving them the facts, because they don't seem to understand much of what I present to them, and then dismiss it.

Tina Kersen: Rick - that's a great point. And this is what I tell people. In all due respect, when you are talking about a technical issue, it's best just to boil it down to how you would explain it to your mom. And, don't forget to leave out all the stuff that is important to YOU and unimportant to THEM. Think about what they have to consider to make a decision. Then you will be able to anticipate what FACTS are needed for them to understand your issue, project, or concern.

Rick Bean: I think I am good at that. My problem tends to be that the main decision makers are not technically savvy. So I need to learn to concentrate on the dollars and cents?

Mary Ellen Hackney: Rick, get this book, "Type Talk At Work," by Otto Kroeger. It will help you understand how your partner gathers and processes information.

Rick Bean: OK, I'll give it a try.

Tina Kersen: Rick, I've found that generally, when partners gravitate toward "the bottom line" when it appears that they don't understand the project, it's a mechanism that takes them to a place that is more comfortable for them - they can analyze the dollars and cents, for example. BUT, be careful. Don't just give up on these folks. Don't do what I've seen lots of people do - throw up your arms and say, "They just don't get it!" Talk to them afterwards. Answer their questions one on one and be sure that they truly understand why this project is so important to the FIRM - not YOU.

I'm not here to say I have all the answers, because I certainly don't. I've talked to lots of marketing directors, though, and have learned a lot from talking to managing partners and partners of other firms over the years. I've observed these scenarios first hand and learned through trial and error. If I can help you avoid the trials I went through, then it's a good Tuesday!

Lawrence P. Lowe: Tina, the dollars and cents are all that count. If marketing programs don't deliver payback why should they be approved?

Tina Kersen: Lawrence, I understand what you are saying and it's a subject that countless books have been written about. The question is what does the firm VALUE. Let me give you an example.

If you were to get a half a page article or write up in your local newspaper on an event that took 100 billable hours away from the firm and cost your firm $2,500 out of pocket, would that be worth it? How do you know what the payback of that article will be?

Kent: What sort of things are you doing to quantify marketing results?

Tina Kersen: Kent- with PR, definitely count inches and quantify space by ad rates. That's an easy one. Lead tracking is an excellent way to measure activity. BUT, you have to develop a system and ensure everyone asks, "How did you learn about our firm?"

Mary Ellen Hackney: Kent, there was a seminar at AAM on Marketing metrics. There ARE ways to quantify many of your projects!

Session Moderator: We've got about 5 minutes left. Does anyone else have any quick "Golden tips" to share on getting partner support? Partners in the workshop - any advice or input?

Lawrence P. Lowe: Marketing people will never get the recognition they deserve until they demonstrate first and foremost that they are business people and that they understand the reason they are on the payroll--to produce profit.

Tina Kersen: Lawrence, that's exactly right. And that's part of what we've tried to convey today. Developing a business mindset helps marketers understand the FACTS that are needed to get projects off the ground.

Lawrence P. Lowe: You could make a good case that if you can't measure it, why do it?

Tina Kersen: Lawrence, yes, you could. And there's a little something to be said for business people that have the right "gut" instinct that they prove themselves successful time and time again. I think that when the three groups learn to work well together, great things can happen. Not only do marketing directors need to learn how partners and their firm "think" but partners need to also realize that marketers and GREAT business developers have gifts that can't be taught.

Session Moderator: Tina, thank you so much for your ideas and insight. Transcripts from the session will be available on the site within thirty minutes. Each of you are encouraged to offer additional comments directly on the transcripts themselves. Thank you all!

Diane M. Coyle: Thanks!

Session Moderator: Thanks Tina!

Tina Kersen: Thank you!

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