Marketing inside professional services firms— CPAs, law firms, architectural and engineering practices– has come a long way in the last 25 years.

While there are still partners who equate marketing with brochures, webinars or coordinating the firm’s holiday gifts, in many firms the role of marketing has evolved. No longer a department that just makes “stuff”, marketing has become recognized for solid competencies in lead generation, client acquisition and retention, and brand awareness.

With this growth in functional responsibilities comes a natural question: Do we need someone with broader, deeper experience to lead our marketing, to be our CMO?

That’s the BIG question. To get the best answer, consider answering these three questions first:

  1. How did our current most senior marketing person gain the respect of and trust from his/her colleagues, especially partners? How long did it take
  2. In what ways have we invested in this person’s growth and development? What specific skills, talents, abilities, and attitudes would it take for this person to “grow into” our CMO?
  3. What would this person do, think about, feel like if we bring in someone above them? What would it do to their department, and, to relationships inside the firm?

In a world where it’s become more popular to rent a vacation home than buy (and maintain) a summer cabin, where it’s become more common to engage a consultant to tackle non-recurring work than to add headcount, it’s also become more practical to bring in an executive coach to train and groom a highly competent marketing professional into becoming a CMO. This versus adding one from the outside and living through the painful period of cultural adjustment and acceptance.

If your current most senior marketing professional has 10 + years of professional experience, solid confidence from his/her colleagues throughout the firm and a commitment to the organization, compare the financial costs and the impact on firm morale both before making the decision to hire from the outside or coach and develop what’s already inside. Time. Trust. Investment Value. Morale. Results. They all matter when it comes to this big question.