Marketing DNA

Do these scenarios sound familiar at your firm when it comes to marketing?

  • Passive-Aggressive ("everyone agrees, smiles, and nods, but nothing changes"): entrenched underground resistance makes getting anything done like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.
  • Fits-and-Starts ("let 1,000 flowers bloom"): filled with people pulling in different directions.
  • Outgrown ("the good old days meet a brave new world"): reacts slowly to market developments, since it's too hard to run new ideas up the flagpole.
  • Just-in-Time ("succeeding, but by the skin of our teeth"): can turn on a dime and create real breakthroughs but also tends to burn out its best and brightest.

According to Suzanne Lowe, it may mean that your professionals lack marketing DNA.  "Over the past year, I've been struck by the amount of marketing-oriented dysfunction that I continue to see in professional service firms, regardless of professional sector:  poor internal marketing communication; diplomatic and political ineptitude regarding garnering leaders' endorsement of marketing strategies; counterproductive and sometimes truly baffling marketing reporting relationships; not implementing client-endorsed differentiation strategies; under-resourced marketing teams; inexperienced marketing partner leadership; and more "ready-fire-aim" marketplace programs than you'd believe," she says.

"Some of my past research findings, and the painful marketing struggles that I've witnessed recently, suggest that for most professional service firms a true Marketing DNA is not a given, and that too little is being done to improve effectiveness in achieving substantive marketplace gains," she says.

I agree with Lowe: "It's clear that many professional firms simply don't have a market-driven DNA; they are undoubtedly driving their CMOs and senior marketing leaders crazy as a result."

What to do?  Here's what:

  • Management must issue an edict: we now have a marketing strategy and we expect everyone to play a role in carrying it out.
  • Each lawyer must compose a personal business development plan and file it with the marketing director and firm management.
  • Create a carrot and stick.  Every partner should have a certain amount of points at risk in their performance review for completing or failing to complete their personal marketing plan.  At least $50,000 in points should be at risk.
  • If the partner fails to complete a marketing plan two years in a row, they should have their pay cut by $100,000, and asked to leave.  There's no room for "library lawyers," grinders and minders who expect to inherit clients.
  • Change your recruiting criteria and don't hire lawyers who are non-rainmakers.  Give them a personality test to check out their nascent marketing skills.  If they have none, don't hire them.
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David Maister - February 12, 2006 7:06 AM

I agree with the diagnosis but not the solution. It all sounds both authoritarian (issue an edict, every partner must..)and the reaoning assumes you can get people there through pay schemes. (Beware, incentive schemes can have perverse unintended effects, like getting partners to shoot at anything that moves, and bringing in junk work.

The answer lies in helping partners (and others)understand what participation in marketing can do for them personally, so that they are doing it for their own reasons, not just as a response to a manipulative, dictatorial boss. (See my article "Doing it For the Money" at

As people who advise on marketing, shouldn't we show a little more sophistication about how to influence people? If we can't sell the idea of marketing to our own partners, how are we going to sell our services to the clients?

Randall James - February 13, 2006 7:21 PM

I think the issues is the same accross most industries. Businesses initially grow as sales organizations. Marketing is traditionally a second thought, and is rarely emphasized as an independent resource in the company. Only after a lot of growing pains do companies tend to adopt official marketing policy and activities.


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