Does your firm have a marketing problem or a sales problem?


In my work, I come across many professional services firms that lump marketing and sales together under the heading of ‘business development’ (BD), though they are each very different disciplines.

And when they come to me for help to improve their BD function, they don’t know whether they have a sales problem or a marketing problem. And misdiagnosis can lead to wasted time, effort, and money.

In fairness, there are many firms with unsophisticated BD functions who indeed suffer from both marketing and sales problems.


The two disciplines are mutually dependent: it is very difficult to sell your services unless you have first resourced time, money, and effort to the marketing function; and why spend money on generating more leads and enquiries if you have not yet mastered your conversion tactics?

How your BD problems are defined (marketing or sales) will determine how you should tackle them. Let’s look at some typical examples which cause confusion.

1. Not enough of our target clients know who we are, and we struggle to attract enough new business leads

It’s a marketing problem.

You need to raise visibility of your firm and/or your personal brand in the target market place. The best options involve speaking, writing, and networking which require little or no financial investment. Most firms waste inordinate amounts of cash on advertising, sponsorship, and hospitality without accurately measuring any return on investment.

Changing attitudes and behaviour of decision-makers in your firm towards business development is likely to ensure sufficient non-billable time is committed to the cause. Remember, only what gets measured gets done and can be managed. If you only measure billable hours, you will really struggle to succeed.

2. We convert fewer than 50% of the new business enquiries we receive

Probably a sales problem.

You need to raise your credibility. You also need to be able to close, and ask for the business. How well educated and trained are the people who deal with the enquiries?

But it’s also likely to be a marketing problem.

The marketing problem starts with taking the wrong message to the wrong people. For example, telling everyone you can do everything. Nobody wants to hire the generalist anymore, only the specialist. You cannot just tell people you are an expert without having tangible evidence to support your claim.

3. We rely on word of mouth referrals, but don’t get as many as we used to or as many as we would like

It’s a marketing problem, if you’re not worth referring.

Whilst referrals from joint venture partners are the quickest route to exponential growth, it’s also very dangerous to rely on other people talking about you as the main route to maintaining a sustainable and profitable business.

It’s a sales problem, if you never ask for referrals.

I’ve found that humans are inherently greedy, so incentives for both staff and intermediaries often work well. The process starts with really understanding where your value lies to a specific client in specific situations, and being able to articulate the value you offer both verbally and in writing – which goes back to being a marketing problem.

4. The aspiration to cross-sell departments, individuals, and services remains exactly that: an aspiration

It’s a marketing problem and a sales problem.

Cross-selling still remains the Achilles heel of many professional services firms, and is a missed golden opportunity. Cross-selling is often the path of least resistance to generating new revenues.

Four key factors need to be in place to maximise results:

  • compensation for the achievers

  • control of the client relationship is agreed in advance

  • competence of individuals to do the technical work is not in doubt

  • communication between colleagues and sharing of information.

5. We struggle to raise our prices in line with delivery costs, and clients are continually insisting on discounts

It’s a marketing problem.

Your clients don’t ‘get’ your value because you’re seen as a commodity supplier. Remember, technical ability no longer guarantees financial success. You must be able to explain the value in your service offering by talking results rather than process.

Experts don’t charge low fees. There are numerous ways to charge clients and remain profitable without reverting back to the billable hour.

You can’t do today’s job with yesterday’s methods and still be in business tomorrow.

Growing a business is not a spectator sport, and hope is not a strategy. Make tough decisions, take responsibility, and make yourself accountable.

Should any of these scenarios sound familiar, do get in touch.