Tuesday 20 November 2018, Bristol

The PM Forum South West event in November 2018 was a panel discussion on what professional services marketers should be considering as they plan their careers. It made interesting listening for anyone already in professional services marketing or about to embark on such a career.

The panel was made up of four experts from a range of professional backgrounds:

• Antonia James, Director of Client Relations at VWV
• Rob Sheffield, Director at Bluegreen Learning
• Sarah Crawford, Director at Flair4Recruitment
• Simon Marshall, Director at TBD Marketing

PM Forum South West Chair Liz McCloskey, led the discussion, probing our panel for their insights and advice on marketing career development.

Standing still is not an option
We started with an assumption which everyone could agree with: standing still is not an option for professional services marketers. So the first question was “How do you keep up?”

Simon kicked us off, urging marketers not to stay in their silo. It’s important to get out there and find out what your peers are doing. On this point he noted that he would have liked to have seen more people at a marketing exec level attending this talk (so if that’s you, make sure you book on to our next event!).

Antonia added to this by advising people to spend time developing their internal network within a firm. Really nail your day job and then put yourself forward for other projects that interest you, or spend time learning new skills.

The specialist recruiter on the panel, Sarah, shared her perspective. Evidence of standing still is a warning sign for recruiters. It’s fine to stay at the same company for ten years, but if you are in the same job, at the same level, doing the same tasks for that time, then they’ll be asking “Where is the drive?”.

Antonia tempered this by observing that companies do need those people too, those who’ll reliably get on with the job. So perhaps it’s a question of recognising who you are and how the decisions you make will affect your prospects.

How do employers identify drive?
Liz stepped in to ask how an employer identifies the drive in their employees. Antonia’s direct response was: “Ask them.” It’s helpful to know whether or not an employee wants more responsibility, training and development – helpful in how you structure your team. So why not spend a moment to reflect whether your manager is having those direct conversations with you?

A trap to avoid
Rob cited some of the difficulties that professional services marketers face in “keeping up”. Specifically, that as with other knowledge-based careers, the work can be so interesting that you get sucked into just doing tasks. This is a trap you can fall into so be aware and make extra effort to keep in touch with the marketplace and what it is asking for.

Another point that Rob highlighted was to consider which jobs will be automated in the future. Ones that involve creativity will be harder to automate. Looking ahead and anticipating what will be required in 10 years’ time is a skill – good for an individual to have, and also in hirers’ interests to seek out.

Are you ready made for your next role, or will you grow into it?
The next part of the discussion focused on how employers buy in the skills they need. Antonia expressed a preference for building her team in-house and using agencies more for specialist digital expertise for example. And that she liked her agencies to develop her employees so they upskill at the same time.

Sarah described the hunt for the mythical perfect candidate who simply does not exist. And, at this point, how attitude and a willingness to learn becomes the deciding factor for hiring someone who has most of the skills and can grow into the role.

And what about from a firm’s perspective if they take this person on, train them up to who they wanted to be, and then they leave within two years? It was mooted whether millennials are more prone to this behaviour, but quickly poo-pooed with the observation that in all generations, everyone is different and some will always have such traits.

Simon shared some of his hiring experiences, and balancing wage demands versus responsibility and accountability. He advised these matters must be handled through honest, clear conversations.

Liz concluded this section by quoting Richard Branson:

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to.”

Talking to your learning and development (L&D) team
Managers will obviously talk to their L&D teams, but what conversations should employees have with them. Rob cautioned how confidential such conversations can ever be.

That said, he highlighted how acutely aware companies now are of the cost of recruitment (maybe 1 x salary), and that it’s in their interests to facilitate such conversations perhaps by other means – through non-line manager career mentoring for example. An idea which was echoed in the room.

When to stay and when to go?
The question was put to the panel: If you have “hot skills”, should you stay in a firm or move on for more money? This provoked some lively debate. The first response from the panel was that a manager should identify if someone was moving for more money or for better development opportunities, as that is very helpful to understand.

It was then noted that it will eventually catch up with you on your CV if you hop from one job to another each year for money.

One panellist said they would find it hard to move beyond a conversation if a team member said they were considering moving elsewhere for more money.

But there was pushback from the room saying that it’s perfectly acceptable to be motivated by money, and that a manager should take the emotion out of a conversation if an employee discusses it with them.

Antonia suggested a way for an employee to frame such a conversation diplomatically: “I’m ready for my next move. I’ve looked at the business and this is where I think I can add value. Is there an opportunity for you to help me with that?”

Are my skills drifting from what the marketplace requires?
Rob cited this as a real red light for you to keep an eye out for. His advice is to actively spend time ensuring you stay relevant – talk to people who do the same job as you. Belonging to networks is a good way of doing this. Simon observed that there is no shortage of articles to read online to stay abreast of trends – 10 minutes every now and then reading content on LinkedIn will get you far!

He also observed that there is often a premium to pay for non-fee earning staff. He would expect “drive” to be present in anyone he was paying a premium for.

What are the most important skills in sales and marketing?
As the discussion drew to a close, Liz put the panel on the spot and asked what they considered to be the most important skills in a professional services marketer. The answers were diverse which reflects the range of skills required:

• Good communications skills.
• Understanding what is value for the client.
• Internal networking skills.
• Being brave to say the things that no-one else will say.
• Having the answers when people on your team or in the wider company come asking.
• And, living out the adage of killing two birds with one stone as often as possible.

Come along and benefit from our future events
With much food for thought and some practical advice to implement it was a valuable event for people developing their marketing careers in professional services. There are similar events running every couple of months or so in Bristol, so be sure to sign up to the next one.

Huw Bendon, Managing Director and Founder
On Point Copywriting