Purple Papers

Debunking the Partner Buy-in Myth

How many times have professional services marketers heard the following?

That’s a great idea, but how can we get buy-in?
Personally, I think it’s the thing to do, but partners won’t want to pay for it….
Even if a few people will do it, you’ll never get full partner buy-in….

Achieving partnership in a firm may be the fulfillment of a professional ambition (nothing wrong with ambition!), a reward for hard work (nothing wrong with hard work!), or a recognition of a unique skill-set (nothing wrong with unique skills!). Partners are lauded, revered, respected, and compensated differently than all other firm members. However, not every partner should be allowed to influence every firm decision.

Is it counter-intuitive for a partner who resisted electronic timesheets to have any say in whether a firm implements a new time and billing software program? Does it make sense for a technical partner who works independently to have any significant influence over personnel issues? Probably not, yet the mythical partner ‘buy-in’ provides avenue to stop vital initiatives in their tracks.

Professional service partnerships tend to cede the right of ‘buy-in’ to partners more than other industries. As contrast, hedge fund manager David Einhorn recently agreed to purchase a minority interest in the New York Mets for $200 million. While it was not revealed exactly what percentage of the team Einhorn will own (definitely less than half), one thing is clear – as a minority owner, he is not going to be able to choose new uniforms, change the price of hot dogs, or demand any trades be made. Einhorn is not entitled to automatic ‘buy-in’ on key decisions. He may certainly be consulted, but his $200 million hasn’t guaranteed him ‘buy-in’ carte blanche.

A consistent message during the executive track at the recent Association for Accounting Marketing summit in Chicago was that strong leadership is vital for overall success of professional service firms. Michael Newtown, Managing Partner of Fuller Landau, LLP flat out stated that democracies don’t work. Mr. Newtown’s firm rose from the ashes of nearly splitting to instilling a cohesive, successful culture.  Strong leadership provided direction without getting mired down in ‘buy-in’ paralysis.

As marketing leaders within our firm, we are charged more than ever with positioning the firm for the future. The PICPA is forecasting increased mergers and acquisition activity within the accounting industry. Firms with strong leadership will be well-positioned to make the most of opportunities. Wade Clark, Chief Growth Officer of Carr, Riggs & Ingram, LLC told the AAM crowd that his firm was getting questions from potential acquisition targets about their marketing programs. Mr. Clark’s value to his firm jumps dramatically when he is positioned as a key driver to the overall expansion of the firm.

Strong leaders are able to set personal agendas aside and determine what is best for the firm. When consensus is required, progress is often stymied. Why should a partner with a close retirement date choose to invest in an acquisition today? Why should the same partner choose to ‘buy-in’ on an expensive software program that won’t provide true benefits for several years? As you plan for the future, keep the phrase ‘best interests’ of the firm in mind. Sometimes feathers will be ruffled, and marketing can help lead the charge away from the status quo.

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