Accountant, lawyer, marketer & IT - a gauntlet of business advisors

Ed Marsh | Jan 28, 2015

Business advisors that enable and inhibit

I had an interesting conversation recently with the founder of a successful business that places high level executives on an interim basis.  The focus of the conversation was his firm's marketing effort, budget, results and strategy.

He was quite frank that the multi six figure budget was built on tactical components and lacking an undergirding strategy.  That got me thinking about different business advisors that companies engage, the roles they play, and the way they are utilized.

It seems there are some odd inconsistencies and missed opportunities - and some interesting conclusions one might draw regarding how the situation evolved and why it's difficult to overcome.

business_advisors_for_B2B_companies

Lawyers

Companies tend to refer to counsel for assistance with specific matters.  Those may be small (advice on an employment agreement) or large (corporate transaction) but they tend to be defined scope.  Great attorneys have perspective and experience which would allow them to provide strategic guidance to companies on general business practice.  But most don't proactively offer, and very few companies solicit such counsel.  And frankly, the percentage of attorneys that are capable of providing that sort of value is relatively small.  Most exist in silos of expertise.

Effective lawyers can foresee a myriad of cataclysmic consequences in even standard matters, and will provide long lists of caveats and considerations.  That's their job.  But business people are accustomed to digesting those caveats and warnings, asking a few questions, and making risk adjusted business decisions built on that input.

The businessperson essentially says "You may not know my business as well as I do, but you've seen similar situations.  I should consider this perspective."  There's a productive and beneficial relationship.

Accountants

Too often accountants are in the weeds - and not just the rookie auditors, but even partners who respond to client questions but fail to step back and ask insightful questions to uncover the strategic opportunities to leverage finance in support of corporate strategy.

More than managing a bank relationship, preparing returns and assisting with compliance, accountants should provide business advice.  But often they don't; and generally business owners don't expect otherwise.  The relationship is typically built on the assumption that execution will happen in the background, and any specific question either party has for the other will be asked as needed.

IT

This group represents an interesting inversion of the lawyers' role.  Where too often lawyers should be supporting strategy but focus on execution details, too often IT should be focused on the details but instead dictates strategy.

I'm sure some teeth are being gnashed about now, but honestly - computers don't do business autonomously.  Business is done by people representing themselves and companies.  Technology can facilitate or impede that business but it doesn't drive it. (You don't panic when your email crashes because the computer won't be able to run itself, but rather because you won't have access to take action.  Similarly the mind boggling supply chain efficiencies companies have achieved are built on incredible analytical minds...using technology to collect and interpret data to guide their decisions.)

And yet oddly, where the attorney lays out business risks and management makes an informed decision, instead too often IT pronounces something best practice, impossible, or mandatory and management simply accepts it.

What's the difference?  Good question and one I'd love to have you offer a hypothesis on below.  My take is that the jargon laden mystique of the "IT guy", combined with some technical skills that create barriers, have created a beast among business advisors that's awfully hard to tame.

Marketing

And then there's marketing.  Among the business advisors, the luckiest.  The only one that's typically been held accountable for nothing - strategy or results, and therefore is often viewed skeptically (or truth be told perhaps enviously) by the others.

But strangely they seem to engender the same diffidence as IT.  Similar to IT there's an official sounding lexicon with which marketers liberally punctuate their communications.  Vague (OK, often meaningless) terms are employed with a gravity which discourages the rest of us knuckle draggers from asking.  And that suits marketers fine....because often they don't have the answers.  It's bluff and bluster and "add 10% to next years budget.  We can't tell you why you need to spend it, but we dare you (because we know you don't have the nuggets) to just completely cut it out.  You have to sell....and you're worried that without us you just might not!"

Business advisors focused on revenue growth

If you're still reading - here's a secret.  I know that this is full of clichés and stereotypes.

But we also both know there's a kernel here that's common and undeniable.

Most advisors just offer advice without direct interest or accountability in helping you strategically grow your revenue.  It's so common that most don't even stop to weigh that capability in their advisor selection.  

Maybe you should....

The bigger takeaway

What struck me as I wrote about this, though, is another relevant angle for most B2B companies.  There's an institutionalized model for managing collaboration between internal & external resources which breaks with the way marketing is normally handled!

For instance, in house counsel manages most functions but relies on external IP specialists, just as the CFO expects her controller to manage most operations but relies on external auditors and finance strategists for specific functions.

Companies used to outsource creative and media buys to "ad agencies" but more and more marketing for SMB manufacturers is done internally.  And that internal resourcing model impairs the effort.

You use external IP counsel not to fill out forms, but for strategic advisory and intuition regarding barriers and opportunities.  And yet you use a web developer to "fill out the forms" - to code pages according to your in-house marketing's instructions.  Where's the strategic advisory and intuition?

You rely on a finance advisor to coach on managing your commercial lending relationships, but you  allow your sales & marketing groups to blithely thrash about in their respective silos without regard for how buyer behaviors have changed.

Is it time to rectify this dissonance?

A business advisor with B2B sales & marketing expertise, business acumen and strategic perspective could help you turn "check the box" marketing into strategic revenue growth.  Download our free eBook on how the process should work for industrial manufacturers.

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