Sean Smith, Chief Marketing Officer at Schneider Downs, is used to being a right-brained person in a left-brained company. He joined the firm in 2007 after 20 years of working in advertising and serving clients ranging from Major League Baseball teams to drugstore chains.
At that time, Smith had two daughters entering their teenage years and wanted to be able to spend more time at home. When a friend mentioned an accounting firm looking to hire a Marketing Director, Smith wasn't sure it would be the right fit but agreed to take the interview.
"I was very impressed with Schneider Downs because their primary objective was to find somebody who had never done accounting marketing before," Smith says. "Their thought was they wanted to do things outside of the box and stand out. That was an attractive challenge, so I went from being one of the more buttoned-down people in the advertising industry to being a bit of a maverick in the accounting world."
Finding a collaborative community
Smith understands how valuable it can be to network with peers outside the firm. He was aware of the Boomer Marketing & Business Development Circle for a while before deciding to join because he had friends from PrimeGlobal and the Association for Accounting Marketing in the group.
"It seemed like a very good group to be a part of because I felt like I could learn a lot," Smith says. "That's one of the things I look for in a peer group. It's fun to network with people who do what I do for a living, and I can get new ideas or learn how to take a different approach to solving a problem. That's valuable to me."
That sharing of collective knowledge is especially crucial with the rapid pace of change in marketing technology.
"I have a deep background in strategy and concept, but not such a deep background in technology," Smith says, "so it's very valuable for me to be around peers who understand these tools and can help me see their potential."
"It's also helpful to see what technologies other firms are using, so I can pull my team into a meeting with some CMOs and Marketing Directors of other firms using the same tools we use. It's really accelerated our learning curve," Smith says.
Having been with Schneider Downs for 16 years, Smith has seen many accountants advance from staff to senior to manager to partner. He recognized that what people are asked to do from a marketing standpoint changes throughout their careers.
Early on, accountants are expected to pass the CPA exam and focus on client service. But as time goes on, they're expected to get involved in marketing and business development—a role accountants don't always feel qualified for or comfortable in. To address that gap, Smith created the Marketing Mentor program.
At the manager level, the program focuses on helping professionals create their internal and external networks and learn about other services the firm offers.
"This helps people feel comfortable cross-selling and representing the firm, either in the community or when they're out and about coaching a kid's soccer team, going to church or visiting their college alumni—all those times they're representing Schneider Downs," Smith says.
Smith also encourages firm members to get to know people in other departments and learn about their service offerings.
"I’ll batch-order Starbucks gift cards and give them to people so they can reach out to people in other departments. Suddenly you have somebody from the tax department going out for coffee with someone from the 401(k) administration group.”
Once someone makes partner, the Marketing Mentor program gets personalized because partner relationships are expected to go long and deep rather than shallow and horizontal.
“Instead of going through a checklist together, I sit down with them and say, ‘What are you working on? And how can I help you?’ So it’s much more customized,” Smith says. “One of my favorite days of the year is when they announce new shareholders because I can look at them and say I’ve been working on their marketing plan for three years. That’s really satisfying.”
The value of an outside perspective
Smith believes strongly in getting outside your own four walls and hearing fresh perspectives from other professionals who’ve been where you are—something he finds in abundance in the Boomer Marketing & Business Development Circle.
“Whatever size your firm, whatever size your department, you’re in the minority working in marketing in an accounting firm,” Smith says. “We spend our days meeting our firm's needs and completing our task lists. Now and then, it’s important to take the long view, look at the future, and identify how we can lead our firms into the future instead of just playing the cards we have right now.”