A Conversation With BKD’s Dawn Howard On Misunderstandings, Expectations And Buying Decisions

Dawn Howard

Dawn Howard is the marketing director for the East Region of Springfield, Mo.-based BKD (FY18 net revenue of $594.6 million). She is responsible for working with 13 offices in seven states in developing and executing their commercial industries’ strategic marketing initiatives. She is passionate about business development coaching and mentoring for all levels of accounting professionals. Based in she is pursuing her master’s degree in management at the University of Indianapolis.

IPA caught up with Howard recently during a break at the AICPA’s 2019 ENGAGE conference in Las Vegas, where she presented a session on developing a strong sales pipeline process.

What should MPs understand about marketers? I think MPs need to check in with their marketing professionals about whether they feel empowered to hold partners accountable on following up with prospects. If they’re five years or less in the industry they may not feel they have the power to go to a 20-year partner and say, ‘Hey, you’re paying me to help grow the firm, I need to have this conversation with you.’ The MP needs to understand that sometimes they literally need to go to their marketing personnel and say, ‘I need you to know that I have your back.’ A lot of changes can come about with that one simple thing.

What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding managing partners have about the marketing function? MPs need to identify the line of demarcation between business development and marketing, and they need an understanding of what the firm or their particular office actually needs. Do we need someone who’s better on the PR side, or do we need a true business developer? It’s hard to find someone who is equally strong, as well as passionate, in both areas.

How would you define the difference? A business developer has a different mindset. Sales is a process-driven event, certainly in professional services – it’s a relationship game. Marketers look at the holistic view of the marketplace, in placement of ads or PR, so it’s a little bit different. They’re both good, but the MP has to make a determination that if one person is handling both things, that person needs some direction on what is expected. Sometimes marketing personnel think they know what the MP wants and vice versa. It’s imperative to have more than a once-a-year review to get something accomplished with that. My two favorite words strung together (other than free lunch) is ‘realistic expectations,’ and sometimes neither side has that.

Where do you think accounting marketing is going? Does it seem like it is going more in the direction of business development? The way the industry is going is that marketers are starting to understand two things better – one is the business development aspect of their job and the other part is the way that digital is playing into their job. We all have to be business developers. I’m taking a class at the University of Indianapolis right now, and they’re focusing on looking at HR from the outside in, from the perspective of an investor looking at a company. I think marketing needs to start doing that too, even though we don’t have investors, per se, but clients, as well as prospects and the general business marketplace, are on the outside looking in. Marketing people are really closet psychologists when we’re thinking about buyer behavior. For example, you’re not getting a buyer who has $20 million of their own money to suddenly change their advisor overnight, that’s a huge relationship sale. Being able to look at those clients and to understand what actually drives how they make decisions is huge, and really should be included as a part of the sales training for internal marketers.

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