Tracey Crevar Warren

Does Your Firm Have the Right Culture for Success?

The three Gs of practice growth revealed.

August 8, 2011
by Tracey Crevar Warren

Do you ever wonder why some firms are so successful at marketing and business development, while others struggle? Is it luck or by design? If you take a closer look at the successful ones, you will find that marketing and business development does not happen by chance. It is not something their professionals get around to when it’s convenient. In fact, it is something they are committed to throughout the year, just like billable time and taking care of their clients. For a growing number of firms, including Ernst & Young, Moss Adams, Lattimore Black Morgan & Cain, and Rehmann to name a few, marketing and sales is integrated into who they are and how they do business. It is a part of their culture.

Making a cultural shift requires recalibration, realigning key professionals and knowledge transfer. That involves sharing a common vision, engagement, infrastructure, accountability and rewarding success along the way. Because culture shifts do not happen overnight, they also require a tremendous amount of patience and persistence until the new ways of operating become the norm.

What Is Culture, Anyway?

Firm culture, simply stated, describes who your firm is and the way you do what you do in your organization. It can be likened to your firm’s DNA. It includes the working environment, how you operate, your organization’s personality, how you do business with your clients, how you set your priorities, how you make decisions, what drives your employee’s actions, how you deal with problems and how you embrace change.

When you talk about altering your culture by introducing sales and marketing, it is important to understand that it is not a simple task, which is often the reason why it is faced with resistance. “That’s just not how we do things around here.” sums it up best. In fact, firms often struggle when they don’t take the time to examine how marketing and business development will fit into their own cultures.

Three Gs of Practice Growth

To build growth-focused cultures, leading firms are replacing old-school mind-sets and models, which focused solely on driving the bottom-line, with multifaceted approaches. Although a sole focus on bottom-line results may produce results in the short-term, it will not create an environment of acceptance, engagement and sustainability.

The new picture of practice growth is built on an expanded foundation which includes a combination of the three Gs of practice growth. Integrating marketing and business development into your firm’s culture is dependent on this well-rounded approach, which includes three key components:

  • Growth of the organization
  • Growth of its people
  • Growth of its clients

Just take a look at how some of the industry’s leading firms are embracing growth by examining their missions. Clifton Gunderson’s mission is “Growth of our people. Growth of our clients. All else follows.” Frazier & Deeter’s mission is “To help our clients and people achieve success and realize their potential.” Moss Adams’ focus is “People. Clients. Safety. Growth. At Moss Adams, we succeed by first helping you succeed.”

Not only do these missions guide their firm’s growth, but they help define how their marketing and business development initiatives must align with the overall direction of each organization. This clear alignment of marketing and business development initiatives with the firm’s overall strategic direction is essential to moving these organizations cohesively toward the achievement of common growth goals.

A Model for Culture Development

Because changing your firm’s culture may seem like a daunting task, you might be wondering if there is a road map or a model on which to pattern your firm’s culture development as you get started. Good news! We will introduce you to a practical, proven methodology that you can put to use in your firm.

The Marketing & Sales Culture Development Model illustrated in Figure 1-1 provides your firm with an easy-to-use framework. It contains seven key components that are essential in culture development and can be tailored to your firm’s specific objectives. This tool is designed to help you focus your efforts on building a growth-focused culture while building a rewarding practice for you and your colleagues.

1. Vision

One of the most common characteristics of firms with strong marketing and business development cultures is a clear vision of what they want to accomplish. Unlike a culture that focuses on what and where you are now, vision focuses on where you want to go and what you want to become in the future. More than an elusive concept, there is a real understanding of what the team is working toward and what success will look like when it is achieved.

To get started, you must define what you want the firm’s marketing and sales culture to look like once it is in place. To develop a clear vision for your firm’s marketing and business development culture, it is important to answer the following questions:

  • What do you want your firm’s marketing and sales environment to look like?
  • How will leadership promote and support marketing and sales initiatives?
  • Will everyone in the firm be responsible for marketing and/or sales?
  • Who will lead your firm’s marketing and sales initiatives?
  • How will you align your firm’s overall goals with your firm’s marketing and business development goals to achieve practice growth?
  • How will the firm integrate marketing and sales?
  • What will marketing and business development success look like?

Once you answer these questions, you can develop a clear vision for the type of marketing and sales culture you are working to build in your firm. It is important to develop a written statement that clearly outlines your vision.

2. Buy-in, Expectations, & Defined Roles

Successful firms understand that building a growth-focused culture requires more than simply communicating their firm’s vision to the team. Even if the managing partner or marketing director has articulated a well-thought out message to the firm’s employees, there is no guarantee it will be embraced or acted upon. One of the biggest mistakes that firm leaders often make is thinking that they have gained buy-in because they communicated a brilliant message when, in fact, all that employees heard was, “we are going to build a $25 million practice and business development will be essential to helping us achieve that goal.” Although the managing partner understands all that will be involved and all the benefits that can accompany the achievement of this goal, most professionals need more information to embrace it, much less take action.

Practice Growth is Everyone’s Responsibility

Firms that have built marketing-rich cultures understand that people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They realize that professionals yearn to find a place where they not only belong but can make a difference.

Yet, they understand that employees outside the executive team often do not feel it is their responsibility to contribute to the firm’s growth, nor do they have a clear understanding of how they fit into the mix.

For CPA firms to reach their true potential, it is increasingly important to involve everyone in the growth agenda. That means helping employees to accept that practice growth is everyone’s responsibility. A good starting point is to clarify exactly what practice growth means to your firm. Define the broad concept of business development.

This definition may be as simple as “everything your firm does to get and keep a client.” From there, help employees understand its three key components — marketing, sales and client service and what each means to your firm. People have many different understandings of these words, so it’s essential to set the record straight by creating a common understanding. How can you expect employees to get involved if they don’t really have a clear understanding of what you are talking about?

This article has been excerpted from Bull’s Eye: The Ultimate How-to Marketing & Sales Guide for CPAs, which is available on CPA2Biz.com.

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Tracy Crevar Warren, founder of The Crevar Group, helps professional services firms win more new business and build more profitable practices. You can reach her at 336-889-GROW (4769) or www.thecrevargroup.com. If you are looking for more practical tips to help build your practice, visit her new blog.