Brand Building: Do you really have a marketing department?

Jan 23, 2015

Distinguishing between marketing and sales offers a true perspective of investment.

We have a problem in this industry. Many of us have a simple-minded perspective of “marketing.” For many firms, the marketing department is a group of people who spend most of their time responding to proposals and presentations. If that describes you, I have bad news. You do not have a marketing department, you have a sales support team. Part of this stems from how marketing departments tend to evolve in professional service firms. A common story is that as firms grow, they tend to add low-level administrative staff to help with proposals, reports, presentations and other similar needs. Then they reach a point where some technical or design professional in the firm who expresses even the slightest interest or talent in marketing or sales gets assigned to lead the marketing team. At the end of the day, they have a support team for business development activities. Sound familiar? Regardless of your exact story and the makeup of your current marketing department, it is important to have a correct perspective of what marketing and sales is. First of all, let’s define marketing and sales independently. Marketing is the process of finding out the needs of the client, then persuading them that your service meets their needs. Sales, or “business development,” is the process of persuading the client to actually buy your services. Marketing tells a broader group of potential buyers who you are and what your value proposition is; sales is a focused effort toward earning a specific sale. Confusion around marketing and sales runs rampant in our industry, causing a big problem. Existing structures perpetuate a reactive approach to building the business. We have so many resources dedicated to sales support that we do not have any bandwidth left for strategic marketing and initiatives. Additionally, “marketing” is already viewed negatively as a necessary evil from its inherent place in the overhead category. It creates a vicious cycle: As more opportunities present themselves to firms, they add more people to churn out proposals. If firms can interrupt that cycle long enough to invest in meaningful marketing, they will see that the rewards of strategic positioning and messaging. Those rewards are usually more wins with fewer proposals and a stronger, more resilient brand. One of the single most important things a firm can do to set itself apart from the firms listed above is to invest in true marketing leadership. If you are a firm of 50 or more people, you need a full-time true marketing leader. This is a person who has training in marketing and sales and understands the professional services industry. This is almost never a design or technical professional who has a side interest in marketing. This is an individual who has made a career out of marketing and sales, a true marketing professional. Depending on the size of your firm, that leader then needs a cadre of marketing and sales professionals (see my article titled “Building a Competitive Marketing Department” in the Nov. 17, 2014 issue of THE ZWEIG LETTER, #1080, for more info on this). Sales and business development activities are critical for survival, but they should complement a well-orchestrated marketing program that defines your brand and leads you to the most profitable markets, clients, and opportunities. Investment in true marketing as we have defined it above is critical for any firm that has a strategic plan and a vision for the future. If you simply want to evolve, a support team of proposal writers will probably suffice. Marketing should play a key role in the execution of the strategic initiatives in your plan. Take a look at your marketing department and especially the leadership. Do you trust that your highest order initiatives are in good hands? If not, make changes and hire marketing professionals to help your organization grow and outperform your peers. Understanding the differences in marketing and sales and having a deliberate strategy and focused investment in each of those critical areas will go a long way toward making you a Hot Firm in 2015! Chad Clinehens is Zweig Group’s executive vice president. Contact him at
This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1088, originally published 1/26/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.