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Getting partners to engage with marketing initiatives

By Tim Prizeman, Director - Kelso Consulting (Public Relations agency)

Whenever we ask people in management consultancy firms "What is your biggest marketing challenge?" invariably "Getting partners to engage" is high on the list.
Why is it such a challenge?

Most partners are keen to get more and better clients. If a marketing department or another part of the practice comes up with a ready made initiative that is quick, simple and appropriate forthem to implement...why wouldn't you jump on it?

Of course life is not that rosy when people are busy, perhaps sceptical and, maybe wary through past initiatives not working.  Maybe a past initiative did work well,  but recognition was not forthcoming for those who led the charge?

Here are some thoughts on some steps if partners are not engaging with firmwide initiatives:

1 - Many partners think they are engaged, it is marketing that is not 'wMarketing meetingith it'

When I've put it to partners that "marketing teams often think partners are not engaged, why is this?" perhaps not surprisingly, many don't feel it is a fair assessment. They feel they are engaged and that marketing is not supporting them in the way they want to grow their practice.

Of course it is fairly standard for marketing to get all sorts of blame in consultancy firms, but maybe there is something there? When initiatives are launched and seemingly dumped on partners with time consuming instructions, has there been prior consultation, discussion and attempts to both get their buy-in and to ensure it will meet their particular needs?

2 - Constantly reinventing the wheel

Things work best when there is a process that is simple, straight forward, people are used to it and, ultimately, it delivers good results.

Many consultancy firms don't achieve this with their marketing. Instead initiatives are sporadic and involve the wheel being constantly reinvented. Not only is this time consuming (and so off putting) it means partners spend a lot of time on things they see as low value (such as checking details on mailing lists) rather than things that deliver good results (such as follow up meetings with well qualified prospects).

Do you have a process that minimises partner time and allows them to focus on the high impact rather than the routine?

3 - No consequence for disengagement

In some management consultancy firms it is almost a badge of honor to not properly support firmwide initiatives! Something has seriously gone wrong with the culture where this is the case. Something like this is too big for the marketing team to fix. It's going to require the serious attention of the managing partner and management board.

Where it is individual partners or departments who are not engaged, there is only a certain amount charm and cajoling can achieve when there is no consequence for not pulling your weight. Here is a great article from Peter Scott, a former managing partner at Eversheds.  While the subject is about dealing with senior slackers, it has wider applicability.  In particular it has the great story of the American law firm where reward is determined in part by a 360 degree appraisal with the key question being "Which of your fellow partners provides you with the most referrals".

Imagine if your pay depended on the positive feedback from other partners about the opportunities you had generated for them, and vice versa. I have no doubt that consultancy firms operating such a system would quickly become partnerships in the true sense of the words (as opposed to a bunch of professionals who call themselves partners for tax reasons). 

4 - Too busy through too many billable hours?Marketing compass ii

It is very rare that you will come across someone who admits to not being busy.  And when partners tell me they are too busy to do something involving a few hours here and there I am often pretty sceptical - I can honestly say the busiest people I have come across are nonetheless the most effective at getting things done (as opposed to people who are "busy" with unproductive meetings, reading pointless emails or through failing to delegate).  It is not a question of busyness... it is simply one of prioritisation.

Nonetheless there are management consultancy firms where people get eye-wateringly long hours... whether all the time or during particular periods.  Not surprisingly they will think "I am flat out and well rewarded...why should I bother?". Do  you have a good answer to this?  Appealing to their good nature may not be sufficient.

As for the rest.  They aren't too busy.  They are simply keeping themselves busy by prioritising other activity.  What is your strategy to bring time-management and project-management rigours to ensuring partners quickly give their input at the right time. 

 5 - Metrics

Most management consultancy firms are ninjas when it comes to measuring billable hours and costs incurred.  But that is as far as it goes, they are hopeless at measuring what people do with their time and what they achieve with it.  If marketing is important to your firm there need to be metrics, targets and management figures.  If a lack of marketing management information allows inactivity to go unnoticed, whose fault is this?  The partners, the marketing team or the management board?  After all, there is the adage that "what gets measured gets done" 

What are your thoughts - do these problems sound familiar, and what other solutions has your firm tried (whether successful or not)? Or do you have a different view on the problem?

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Tim Prizeman, Director - Kelso Consulting (Public Relations agency)

Written by Tim Prizeman, Director - Kelso Consulting (Public Relations agency)

Director of Public Relations agency Kelso Consulting. We specialise in working with B2B tech companies, management consultants, financial and professional firms to help them build business-winning reputations. We do this through award-winning PR skills and a proven approach to creating high-impact thought leadership campaigns. I am the author of The Thought Leadership Manual: