“Professional services experience required” … Just how important is it within the BD & Marketing function?

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By Will Dunn, Practice Director: Professional Services


There has long been a debate surrounding the importance of having previous professional services experience in order to work within the sector. The most common reason for such, is that candidates need to truly understand the nuances and unique dynamics of working in a partnership environment – one where there might be fifty, one hundred and fifty or in larger firms even more, equity partners that all have equal say in key decisions made by the firm. Contrast this to a corporate environment, where it is genuinely thought that with advice, one person, the CEO, makes these decisions on behalf of the company, the staff and the shareholders. So is it really fair to say that if you haven’t had experience working in a professional services environment, you won’t be able to ‘pick up’ how they work?

The trouble with recruiting people who have only ever worked in professional services, is that it can be very limiting when it comes to implementing fresh ideas or new approaches to BD & Marketing initiatives. Whilst clearly still the ‘safe bet’ when it comes to hiring decisions (more so among the Partners, than the hiring managers themselves) can the function really survive long term, without the injection of fresh talent? Can new recruits that are recycling initiatives that have been tried and tested at a competitor firm, really give practice groups and partners a competitive advantage in the market?

There is a belief amongst many in the industry that law, architectural and engineering firms are somewhere between five and ten years behind accounting firms. So exactly how far behind other industries such as financial services, IT or telecommunications does that leave them? Some of the recent positions that I have recruited for within the legal sector include a Social Media Manager, Digital Marketing Manager, Business Performance Analyst and a client facing Business Development Manager. Given that law firms are sitting behind the curve in this space – wouldn’t it make more sense to recruit someone from an industry that is a pioneer in this space? In the last 2 years I have seen an increased appetite from the Big 4 accounting firms to recruit people in BD, Marketing and Pursuit positions, that come from outside of professional services, such as IT&T, financial services and even the construction industry and so far, the reports on these candidates have been good.

So where does that leave the other professional service firms then? Some would argue that until they become more commercial in terms of how they run their business and expand the processes and mindsets of the partnership, it’s unlikely that they will see any benefit from bringing in BD & Marketing professionals from outside the sector. Indeed, there are some exceptionally talented BD and Marketing professionals currently working within the sector, that strive daily to influence the partnership with new ideas and initiatives. So can it be argued that it’s not the lack of ideas that’s the problem, but rather a blunt refusal by the partnership to adopt them?

Whichever camp you sit in, I believe candidates with a transferrable skill set and the right IQ/EQ balance will be able to succeed in any industry – not least professional services.


Will Dunn

Practice Director: Professional Services

T.  +61 2 8014 5570  |  E.


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