In public accounting, we often use “mixed” terms when describing marketing and selling activities and now the combination of marketing and sales activities is referred to as “business development.” The challenge is that these terms are used interchangeably; often causing confusion and disappointment because they are not defined properly. This causes firm leaders – and staff – to have different interpretations about what they mean and what’s expected with each.

We think it is important to separate each of these disciplines and define and identify the activities that are included in each. By doing so, you can use the appropriate terms when setting expectations for specific activities or results, developing marketing and sales skills in your people, and hiring marketing and sales resources for your firm.

  • Marketing – is the act of promoting your organization and its products and/or services to other constituents. Marketing is a “one-to-many” activity where your firm (one) promotes your products and services to multiple organizations and/or individuals in your market (many). There are two types of “corporate” marketing:
    o Branding (i.e. your firm’s web site, your firm’s logo, positioning, brochures, PR, etc.)
    o Lead generation (i.e. seminars, teleprospecting)
    There are also forms of “personal” marketing activities where you build individual brand or personally build your firm brand and these include networking (“old school” traditional networking and online via various social media platforms) and developing your referral source relationships.
  • Selling – is the process of persuading people to buy an idea, product or service and includes the series of activities that result in the “buyer acceptance” or sale of your product, service or idea. Selling is a “one-to-one” activity and occurs after your firm’s marketing activities (one) have uncovered a prospective client (one) for your products or services. This allows you to then take the prospect through a sales methodology or approach, such as targeting, rapport building, qualifying, proposing, and closing (and sometimes losing) the opportunity.
  • Business Development - is the process of creating opportunities for growth through a combination of marketing and selling activities. In public accounting, business development often refers to personal marketing activities, followed up by personal selling activities. People tend to use the term business development instead of marketing and selling, because “selling” has a traditionally negative connotation for accountants.

When you define marketing, selling and business development this way, you can now clarify your expectations for your professional staff, which is often personal marketing for entry level staff positions. If you clarify that you’re looking for entry level staff to help build the firm brand through their personal interactions, this will help alleviate a common fear that they have because they hear “marketing” as “selling” and they may not feel prepared or capable of that yet.

As your professional staff progress to manager and partner, many (but not all) should be expected to sell, or engage in those one-to-one activities that turn opportunities into a new engagement or client. And you should use the word “sell” so you are crystal clear that you expect engagements to close from their efforts versus having them just attend events and trade business cards. To help your up-and-comers develop their selling skills, you can teach them your firm’s sales methodology and process and have them participate in meetings with prospects to quality needs or present your proposal.

These definitions will also help firm leaders identify the marketing and sales needs of the firm so you can determine whether you should be hiring a marketing coordinator or a professional sales person, which are two very different skill sets, experience levels, responsibilities and results that the individual would be expected to produce. Often, firms hire a marketing coordinator and some partners expect the individual to coordinate seminars, update the web site, and write, design and print brochures. Other partners expect the marketing coordinator to attend networking events and generate referral sources, make calls to lists of potential clients to generate leads, and write proposals, which are actually selling activities and would be expected of someone with sales skills. By defining the position you are looking for correctly, you’ll set expectations appropriately with your partner group and help ensure the individual’s success when they come on board.

How has your firm been using marketing, selling and business development? How can you clarify these terms and their definitions to help you manage expectations and develop and hire the right skill sets? We’d love to hear your perspective on this topic!