Archive for the 'Careers' Category

Rain Making Problem #3: Expecting Mother

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

Among the people I am now coaching are two expecting mothers at different firms. Both are first time mothers. One made partner last year and the other hopes to be put up for partnership within the next couple of years. Both want to know what they can do to minimize the loss of momentum during maternity leave.

Surely, there are readers better qualified to answer this question than I. To be honest, I usually refer these cases to my partner, Mimi Spangler. Mimi suggests that it often helps to think in terms of things you can do in the three stages of maternity leave:

  1. Before: How do you prepare your contacts for your absence and prepare yourself to maintain market awareness during your leave.
  2. During: What must you do at minimum and what additional might you do.
  3. After: How do you speed up your reentry into the market.

You men would do well to read the responses, too, because you may one day be married to or managing someone with this question. You may take a leave of absence, yourself, some day and have a similar concern.

What would you advise these women to do? Feel free to comment on all three of the stages or just on one or two.  In your comment please let us know of the kind of professional firm you work for.

Preparing a Professional Bio

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Don’t underestimate the importance of your bio. This short summary of your professional credentials is often a client’s first introduction to you. When set alongside those received from competitors bidding on a project, it provides the client with an easy basis for comparing your experience and intellectual horsepower to theirs.

If you work for a big firm, colleagues will review it to determine your suitability to work on a project or receive a referral. It is also used by association program committees to assess your suitability as a speaker. In short, it is a critical marketing document.

In spite of the bio’s importance, it is often thrown together in a rush, seldom updated and delivered in one form to all parties, regardless of their reason for wanting it or yours for giving it. This cavalier treatment of your bio must stop. The time to update it is now. You can then review it annually and before each use to update and customize it.

You want your bio to make your case as compellingly as is consistent with honesty. You want it to be accessible, meaning that it must appear easy to look at and engaging to the reader. To the degree possible, you want to make it memorable. You want it to stand out, even while adhering to the format designated by your firm.

One format to accomplish these ends is provided below with content kindly donated by an old friend and master publicist for professional service firms, Meg Wildrick. We have created two versions of her bio, directed at her two major markets, professional service firms and financial institutions.

Immediately after her name, title and firm comes a short statement of the value she provides her clients. Here it is in the form of a quote—quite acceptable at a public relations firm. A tax, estate and trust attorney might do better with something more staid. Then there are brief summaries of work she has done, emphasizing the benefits the clients received from her efforts. She can develop many of these to plug in and out and so adapt her bio to different clients.

After that comes a client list, also adapted for the use of the bio. So, for example, knowing that the readers of this blog come from many professions, she chooses to emphasize the breadth of her experience with professional firms, rather than the depth. If you can’t identify a client by name use a description like, two large, New-York-based banks.

Because all of her former work history is relevant to financial institutions, each employer gets a single line in Version #2, but in Version #1 only McKinsey & Company gets this honor.

In contrast, she has done more publishing directed at professional firms than at financial institutions, so publications are noted in Version #1 but not in Version #2.

Note, finally, that both versions are dated, allowing readers to quickly determine its currency. One of those readers should be you, reviewing and adapting your bio each time it is used.

Each version creates a compelling case for Meg’s experience and competence. But this is only one format and there are many that work. Do any of you readers have suggestions for how to make a bio compelling?

Version #1

Bio: Meg Wildrick Title: Managing Director
Firm: Bliss PR Email: meg@blisspr.com

Quote: Professional service firms sell their services with stories, which is why they are among my favorite clients. Stories fascinate me – what makes them interesting? memorable? effective? After studying literary stories in school, I moved to the business world. There, I refined and adapted my storytelling skills. In 1998, I landed at BlissPR where I get to tell the greatest stories imaginable—such as stories about building new businesses or turning around troubled companies—to the people who need to hear them. I also help clients hone their storytelling skills through strategy sessions, messaging workshops and media training.

Sample experience:

Build Name Recognition: Helped a large consultancy expanding rapidly in North America increase firm-wide name recognition and build visibility for senior consultants in healthcare, financial services and new media.

Support Lead Generation & Increase Valuation: Helped a small firm develop a publicity-based lead generation system which substantially increased its value, captured by the partners when they sold it a few years later.

Attract Employees: Worked with the New York office of an executive search firm to help them attract mid-career professionals for their Board and Financial practices.

Increase Credibility: For an international accounting firm, worked to position key professionals as experts on business trends and accounting issues.

Representative
Clients:

Accounting: Deloitte & Touche
Consulting: Roland Berger & Partner, Strategic Decisions Group
Architecture & Engineering: RTKL
Executive Search: A leading firm

Prior
Experience:

Consultant at McKinsey & Company

Strategic Marketing Positions at Brown, Brothers Harriman, Bankers Trust, GE Capital’s Financial Guaranty Insurance Company

Speeches &
Publications:

Meg has spoken to Association of Management Consulting Firms and published in Consulting to Business.

Education:

University of Edinburgh, M.Litt. in Comparative Literature
(Marshall Scholar), Williams College, B.A. (Valedictorian)

September 17, 2008

Version #2

Bio: Meg Wildrick Title: Managing Director
Firm: Bliss PR Email: meg@blisspr.com

Quote: Stories are the real currency of financial services. Financial firms sell products (many of them quite technical), but what customers buy are results. Stories that demonstrate these results make complex products more tangible. I’m a born story-teller. After studying literary stories in school, I moved to the business world. There, I refined and adapted my storytelling skills. In 1998, I landed at BlissPR where I get to write tell the greatest stories imaginable—stories about retirement, health & wellness, savings/investment and philanthropy—to the people who need to hear them. I also help clients hone their storytelling skills through strategy sessions, messaging workshops and media training.

Sample experience:

Increased Name Recognition: Secured company and product profiles for an asset management firm, which has a solid reputation in the institutional markets but was relatively unknown among consumers.

Launched a New Service Area: Worked with an insurer to define a cross-company retirement strategy – and promote that strategy in the media.

Raised Credibility: Worked with a national network of financial advisors to position their estate planning and retirement experts as authorities on personal finance issues.

Attracted New Members/Clients: For an investment group of high net worth advisors, secured profile stories and national business coverage. Membership doubled as a direct result.

Positioned Company as Industry Leader: Helped a large benefits provider build and implement a thought leadership platform, establishing itself as the expert voice on workplace issues.

Representative
Clients:

New York Life MetLife
GE Capital Key Bank
Deloitte & Touche AIMR
Sentinel Capital Management

Prior experience:

Brown, Brothers Harriman, Strategic Marketing
Bankers Trust, Marketing
GE Capital’s Financial Guaranty Insurance Company, Business Development
McKinsey & Company, Financial Services Practice

Speeches:

Meg recently gave a speech on Marketing and PR at the Securities Industry and Financial Management Association (SIFMA)

Education:

University of Edinburgh, M.Litt. in Comparative Literature
(Marshall Scholar), Williams College, B.A. (Valedictorian)

September 17, 2008

Staying the Course

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

I met with Andy today.  Barely hidden beneath his usual cheeriness, stress crackled like static electricity.  A lateral hire at the partner level, he got his job on the expectation that he would bring in enough work to revive a failing practice.  He has been at it a year and has yet to deliver … anything. 

The rainmaker at one firm who can’t even raise a dust devil at another is seen fairly often in the professions.  Why?  When a client buys a professional service, she is buying the ability of a team to solve a serious problem.  She bases her perception of that ability on the reputation of the seller’s firm, on any past experience she has with the firm and on the trust she has in the word of the rainmaker. 

When the rainmaker moves to a new firm, a lot changes.  If not better or worse than the old firm’s, the reputation of the new one is at least different.  The rainmaker may praise the abilities of his new one, but the client knows he was singing a different melody just yesterday, and, rightly is skeptical.  Many will prefer to wait and see, before taking a chance on the new arrangement.

Rainmakers tend to be optimists who overrate their own importance in the buyers’ weighting of factors in their hiring decisions.   The inability to sell to their old clients comes as a devastating surprise.  When that occurs, the rainmaker often loses focus and seeks to sell a broader array of services or recommends the latest miracle marketing service that will get him better meetings or jumps to another firm in hopes that it will go better there.

I don’t want Andy to fall into any of these traps.  In his case I think he should stay the course.  That’s because the input measures are favorable. He is having more meetings with the right people on the right subjects.  Selling is a numbers game. Get the inputs right and the probability that someone will buy grows.  I think he is near a breaking point on several pursuits.  I feel his success coming in my aging bones, as sure as spring follows winter.

It will take courage for Andy to stay the course.  I hope he does.  And I hope I am right and that luck starts to run his way.

Is Selling Practicing Your Profession?

Monday, November 5th, 2007

I recently gave a speech to a group of architects during which I referred to a structural engineer, whom many of us knew. One of the architects corrected me, saying, “He’s not really an engineer, though. He’s a salesman.” “Yes,” I agreed, “he certainly is a big rainmaker for his firm. But why do you say he’s not an engineer?” “Because he’s not practicing his profession,” said the architect. To which I responded curtly, “Yes, he is . . . at the highest level.” We looked each other in the eye and then decided not to have that argument and went on to other subjects. Pity. If we had argued, we might have learned something.

So, instead of debating with the architect, I have done so with myself, as I often do. After winning and losing the argument from both sides several times, I called the engineer (or former engineer) in question and asked him what he thought. He was extremely busy and, I sensed, thought me either mad or with far too much time on my hands to be bothered by such an angels-on-pinhead issue. And he stunned me with his answer. He wasn’t sure, but leaned towards the view that he wasn’t a real engineer any more.

Instead of a definitive answer, I came away with a second question, is it important whether an engineer or actuary or architect or accountant or lawyer or consultant is practicing her profession when selling? I find it best to deal with these questions simultaneously.

The first question comes down to what practicing your profession means. The simplest definition is using one’s specialized education and training in a specific area to solve a problem. 

The answer to the second question—is it important whether or not selling is practicing your profession—depends, of course on your point of view. Here is mine:

One of the pernicious aspects of the professions is the pecking order among specialists. This is, arguably, most egregious among architects, where designers look down on project architects, who look down on construction administrators, who look down on specifiers. Name a famous architect and it will be a designer.

Pecking orders exist in other professions, too. Strategy consultants outrank all other types of management consultant, for example. Trial lawyers outrank other litigators, who are effective at negotiating settlements. Structural engineers outrank their more common brethren, the civil engineers.

In some professions, like architecture, the rankings remain rigid over time. In others, the rankings have changed. Over the past twenty years, the prestige of mergers and acquisitions attorneys has risen from the dregs of the profession to one of the most acclaimed specialties. The status of the general counsels, working inside a corporation, has also risen over the years, as the corporations have given them more power.

There are two strong arguments I can make for saying that a professional who sells her firm’s services is practicing her profession. First, she uses that education and the knowledge she has gained from experience to understand the client’s business issue, translate into a set of technical needs, assemble a team that has the right set of technical abilities to address those needs, and then with the team, develops an affordable solution to the business problem. She may not work at a drawing table or CAD machine, she may not write briefs or argue a case in front of a judge, or do many of the other tasks which she studied in school to earn a professional degree. To say that doing this is not practicing a profession is like telling a pianist that he is not really a musician, because he composes music.

The second argument for including rainmakers among those who practice their profession is based on an analogy. If a general counsel or in-house architect is still considered to be practicing her professions, then logic dictates that professionals who sell their firms’ services are, too. One is the buyer and one is the seller. Both buyer and seller use their technical knowledge to structure and negotiate the transaction. Why should the person on one side of the deal be considered to be practicing her profession and the other not? The general counsel doesn’t plead cases before a judge or write contracts and the in-house architect doesn’t design buildings any more than the professionals who sell do. But they do use the specialized knowledge in other ways.

To say that a professional is no longer practicing her profession, because she makes her contribution to the firm by selling, is not only inaccurate, it is harmful. It is pernicious, because the person who says that selling isn’t practicing a profession is attributing a professional inferiority to sellers and is most likely justifying his own sales ineffectiveness on the grounds of professional purity. He is saying, “I studied to be an architect and want to remain one, so, of course I can’t sell anything.” This form of elitism is not good for the speaker nor for the one who has supposedly given up his profession. Because I like a good rant from time to time and because I feel a passion about this subject, I want to say, :”Stop being such an ineffectual dweeb and be a real architect (or actuary, accountant, engineer …) and sell something.”

Maybe it’s just as well that the architect and I didn’t have that argument after all.

FEAR: The Obstacle to Rain Making Success

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

by Gary Pines

Mental barriers to doing what we must to bring in business hamper us far more than do lack of skill or time.  These mental habits are invisible parasites that suck away our vigor, making it hard to perform.   They attack us in many circumstances:

  •  I am about to make a phone call to someone I have not spoken to in six months. I go to the phone. I get ready to pick up the receiver … and then I hesitate as worries race through my mind.  She won’t remember me.  She won’t want to talk with me.  Why haven’t I called her sooner? I have no great idea to give her.  She probably won’t be there anyway.  I just remembered that I have to finish working on a project.  The phone call doesn’t get made.
  • I attend an association meeting intending to meet prospective clients.  The room is full of people chatting in small groups.  Again, doubts undermine my determination:  These people aren’t interested in me.  They will think that I am just trying to sell them something.  This will never work.  My thoughts are interrupted by a former colleague, and I spend the rest of the event with him.
  • During a three-hour flight my seat mate turns on her computer, the desktop has the logo of a company I have wanted to have as a client for years.  I think briefly of starting a conversation, but say to myself:  She’s going to think I’m weird.  This is such a long shot, it’s not worth it.  At the end of the flight, we go our separate ways without have shared a word.

There are many situations where we doubt our Rain Making intentions and hesitate; whether it be asking for a catching-up meeting, inviting someone to an event, asking personal questions about their kids and vacations,  or asking for the business.

So … why do we hesitate?  Why do we hear two voices in our head arguing with each other, the positive voice saying “Do it’” the negative one giving all the reasons not to. The simple answer to why we hesitate is … FEAR.  We all FEAR something bad will happen.  And if something bad happens, we will be in some kind of trouble.

Trouble can be as easily understood by using FEAR as an acronym:
 
 F … I don’t want Failure
 E … I don’t want Embarrassment
 AAnd
 R … I don’t want Rejection

Failure, Embarrassment And Rejection are a real problem if they interfere with your professional work.

But, Failure, Embarrassment And Rejection are a natural part of being a successful Rainmaker.  You will not be successful as a Rainmaker unless you bust through FEAR.So … if you can break through the barrier of FEAR when developing business … and accept (and even celebrate) failures, embarrassments and rejections … then your chances of new business success go up.  But it takes practice.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Identify situations where FEAR takes over.  Some people fear making phone calls, some mixing in a crowd of people they don’t know, and still others something else.  Articulate to yourself clearly what situations bring out the negative voice of the parasite, FEAR.
  • Recognize and name it when FEAR inserts itself.  Now that you understand what brings out FEAR, when it comes, stop for a moment and acknowledge what is happening:  “This is irrational fear speaking.  It doesn’t always speak the truth.  Accepting its words as if they were true will set back my career.”
  • Do a logical assessment of the risk you face and use that to dispel FEAR.  Listen to the specific words of the little voice and assess their truthfulness.  If the voice says, She doesn’t want to talk with me, you might conclude We always got along well.  There is no reason to believe it is otherwise now.
  • Seek out situations where you can overcome FEAR.  Push yourself to test the truthfulness of FEAR in a situation where logic tells you that the little voice is not speaking the truth.  Once you have completed the action assess again whether FEAR was rationally justified.
  • Once you have succeeded in a slightly fearful situation, up the ante by seeking out situations which would cause greater FEAR.  Try again it a more fearful situation. And again assess the truthfulness.
  • Repeat the process.  Eventually, you will learn to manage FEAR instead of it managing you.

How unfortunate it would be if you let irrational FEAR stand in the way to your success.  Most of us have helped a child face and overcome unnecessary fear that stood in the way of his or her success.  We did it using a process similar to the one described here.  FEAR is not restricted to any age.  At any age it is best to face it, recognize it for what it is, an irrational, loudmouth bogeyman, who will not stand up to the light.

What Does a CMO Do?

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Suzanne Lowe consults to professional firms on marketing. Because Harding & Company consults to the same market on sales, our practices naturally complement each other.  Her book (Marketplace Masters: How Professional Service Firms Compete to Win) and her blog (www.expertisemarketing.typepad.com) are must-have resources for marketers of professional services.

Our services don’t neatly abut each other.  Rather, they overlap.  This is hardly surprising given our market.  The distinction between marketing and sales remains murky at most professional firms.  This is complicate by the avoidance of the S-word at many professional firms, where “marketing” is often a euphemism for “selling,” and where the distinction has been complicated further by the injection of the term, “business development” into the mix, at first to replace the S-word.  Since its appearance the meaning of b.d. (as it is commonly abbreviated) has morphed.  Depending on the firm and context, it can now refer to selling, marketing and selling, lead generation or parts of all of these.

All of this makes it impossible for me to avoid meddling in Suzanne’s business.  She tolerates it, as the good soul she is.  So here I go again.

Suzanne is fighting to make the top marketing person (chief marketing officer, if you will, because every function must have a chief these days) as strategic a player in professional firms as is commonly the case at product companies.  She has been joyously stabbing and hacking at this windmill for quite some time: it’s a big windmill and her energy is boundless. 

I would hate to see her give up, because it is a worthy cause.  Her thoughtful analyses, practical experience, and hard work have helped her define the eleven competencies of a competitively-effective professional firm which a CMO is supposed to help them develop.  I don’t question the desirability of getting CMOs to this level, but getting there from here will be a neat trick. That’s because of the four conflicting roles a top marketing person at a professional firm must play if a managing partner is relying on him for serious work.  (The other option is the marketer-as-gopher role, which I abhor as much as Suzanne does.)

The roles are:

  • The marketing strategist:  In this role, the marketer conducts research on markets, clients and competitors and serves as a sparring partner and motivator to the managing partner and the marketing committee, if there is one.  This is the role of the expert and deep thinker.  To play this role, the marketer must have resources and access to the managing partner and relevant committee members and practice or studio heads.  To play it successfully she must be seen as an intellectual equal to the partners.                                                  
  • The marketing service provider:  In this role, the marketer provides the various partners, practices or studios, with marketing support to their sales and marketing activities.  She takes orders from the heads of teams pursuing specific markets or clients. She and her team help make brochures and other marketing documents, qualifications packages and proposals.  This person and her team must work late into the night on every client submission because the professionals are always late handing in the parts of the documents they are responsible for.  This is a service role in which the marketer must treat the partners as customers.
  • The brand and marketing police:  In this role the marketers demand, chide and threaten to keep others in the firm from damaging the firm’s brand. To this end, they read all proposals, press releases and anything that hints at being a marketing document to make sure they don’t hurt the firm or muddy its brand.  It is not a role that endears them to others in the firm.
  • An extension of the managing partner:  When a conflict arises and the managing partner must attend two meetings at the same time, she will sometimes send a staffer to represent her at the less important meeting.  In this role of borrowed authority the marketer has substantial power, but must use it adeptly.  If the managing partner feels that her head of marketing makes too many mistakes when representing her, she will stop using him this way.

It is virtually impossible for one person to fill all four roles.  A person can’t be the loyal, marketing service provider working uncomplainingly to 1:00 in the morning because an inconsiderate partner failed to get his portion of a proposal in until just before midnight and then be the tough brand police officer and extension of the managing partner’s power the next morning.

In big firms the problem can be reduced by assigning these functions to different people in the marketing department.  The many small firms don’t have that choice.  The only choice they have is which of the four roles do they most need fillerd.  Unquestionably, that is the thankless job of getting proposals out the door.  That is also the lowest status marketing job, preparing neither the firm nor the proposal polisher for a marketing organization with a strategic role.

We Make Choices: Specialist or Generalist?

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Ann, an architect at a big firm, got her first opportunities to be the lead designer on two daycare centers. A young, working mother, herself, she developed immediate rapport with her clients. The two completed projects gave her technical knowledge of the building type that few other architects had. She knew how the requirements for bathroom capacity grew with the number of children at a center, that the space had to be designed so that no staff member could be out of sight from his colleagues with a child, and much else. The partners saw her as a strong advantage in winning additional daycare projects, and, more critically, winning bigger projects that included a daycare center. But, on the next opportunity to help sell such a project, she tried to opt out. Her reason? She didn’t want to become a specialist.

I hear this a lot. I also work with people ten years older than Ann was at the time of the events described in the preceding paragraph who have labored diligently to remain generalist. Many of these people find themselves in a difficult position. They are at the point in their careers when they are expected to do some real selling. The question is, what?

Young professionals who feel they are ready to start selling face a challenge: Their firms’ partners perceive little short-term benefit from putting them in front of a client during a sale, and the clients perceive none at all. The partners know more about handling a sales meeting, and more about almost any subject the client is likely to raise, than is the young professional. After all, the partners have been at it for years. Lacking this knowledge, the young professional has little to add, and might even say something wrong which would reduce the firm’s chances of winning.

But if you are a specialist in, let’s say, the design of day care centers or of the effect of the new tax law on insurance trusts, you do know more about that one thing than older partners. Then there is a reason to bring you to client meetings. You have something to talk about that few others can. Being a specialist makes you special. Anne, at her tender age, was being offered more opportunities in a month to sell a professional service than many would have in a year. That experience had huge value.

As you can see, I am an advocate of specialization. I am because I have seen and experienced its value. I also don’t see it as being as limiting as many do. That is because I don’t share some of the mistaken beliefs that many others have. Before ending this note, I will try to debunk three of the most pernicious ones:

Mistaken Belief #1: If I specialize, that is all I will be able to do. While this is sometimes true, often it is not. Frequently there is not enough work in the young professional’s area of specialization for them to work solely in that area. That was certainly the case with Anne. This question requires careful consideration on a case-by-case basis.

Mistaken Belief #2: If I specialize now, I won’t be able to specialize in anything else. Also untrue. There are many people who have more than one specialty. And quite a few who have more than one specialty at a time. It’s hard to develop two specialties at a time—the development usually happens sequentially—but once you have expert credentials in an area, the maintenance of your reputation is not so time consuming. You can then go out and develop credentials in a second area. If your markets for the two specialties differ, your clients for one specialty won’t even know of your other area of expertise.

Mistaken Belief #3: The leading partners in my firm aren’t narrow specialists, so there’s no benefit in my becoming one. But most of the senior partners and rainmakers in your firm where specialist, or at least what was considered a specialist at that time. That they don’t seem to be specialist now is due to another trend at professional firms, the tendency for specialists with good client skills to become generalist again as they get older.

But that’s an issue for another day.