Marketing and Business Development: Same Thing, Only Very Different

There has been so much discussion of late in the professional services world about the virtues of business development and account-centric approaches, I’m surprised we still aren’t seeing a great deal of change in the status quo. The reasons for the cultural stall may differ between the accounting and legal worlds, but one truth remains constant: until firms distinguish the difference between marketing and business development, as well as the human resources that support each function and where the two converge, progress will be slow and clients will not benefit from thoughtful evaluations of business needs and imperatives.


Let’s start with defining marketing since most professional services firms have spent the last twenty years staffing up in this category. Marketing is what your firm does to stay visible within its targeted arena. It is an extremely important function and includes advertising, website, social media and print collateral strategies. It covers event/sponsorship activity, surveys, press appearances and is tasked with positioning firms’ brands within the many industries served. Ensuring accurate participation in the numerous journal rankings, directories, and award programs has created its own set of industries and new software programs. Firms vary in the percentage of operating costs devoted to marketing but most, with the exception of the Big Four accounting firms, spend far more on marketing than business development.

So what is business development and how does it go beyond marketing? A focus on business development switches the emphasis from branding to understanding and fully serving clients. This distinction will make or break firms in the coming decade. Business development assesses new and existing clients’ needs and matches those needs with beneficial service responses and expert resources. Firms that are dedicating time and sophisticated personnel towards developing account teams, client clinics, and feedback programs are invariably changing the conversation, both internally and externally. Compensation structures also morph as financial incentives reward sharing and innovation. Sales executives are brought on board to not only warm-up targets, but to actually manage client relationships and make suggestions on how to improve delivery of services.

It is important to remember that marketing and business development must work collaboratively. Both functions require the use of a client relationship management software program and both work to educate clients on industry issues, whether it be at high-level meetings with the C-suite or pushing out client alerts and formulating collateral to display at trade shows. Both functions benefit from a sophisticated sales support staff able to research, write and manage pipeline tracking.

Partner Track Academy offers sales and sales support training to professionals in the accounting and legal arenas. We not only provide individual coaching and training sessions to accountants and attorneys, but also provide change consulting services to accounting and law firms wishing to create or bolster a business development culture, focusing on client satisfaction as the route to increasing revenues. For more information contact Brenda Pontiff, managing principal, at