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Guru12: The Top 12 Gurus of Professional Services

OK – there's a huge risk here that I'm going to put quite a few noses out of joint – including a number of people I know personally.

But I'm going to give it a go anyway. The following is my personal list of the most influential writers, advisors and consultants to the professions – particularly when it comes to strategy, marketing and business development.

I've gone for a global list rather than people who have had an influence in specific countries or specific circumstances.

And please, please, please – if you expected your name to be on the list and it isn't – I can promise you, it'll be an oversight rather than a deliberate slur. My memory just isn't so good nowadays.

The list is in no particular order.

David Maister1. Well, I said the list was in no particular order, but who better to start with than David Maister. Since the publication of Managing the Professional Service Firm in 1993, he's been responsible for pioneering or popularising countless ideas and principles which we now take for granted. Now retired, his body of work (including First Amongst Equals, The Trusted Advisor, Practice What You Preach, True Professionalism and Strategy and the Fat Smoker) and the impact of his personal influence mark him out as the most influential contributor to the professions over the past two decades.

Ford Harding2. Ford Harding literally wrote the book on Rainmaking (as well as Cross Selling and Creating Rainmakers). Harding's work is characterised by deep, insightful thinking. You won't find simple “one size fits all” remedies in his books. What you will get is experience, research and critical thinking combined to allow professional firms to develop the unique strategies and approaches that will work for them.

Charlie Green 3. After co-authoring The Trusted Advisor with David Maister and Rob Galford, Charlie Green has gone on to make the “trust niche” his own. He's broadened his scope by publishing Trust Based Selling, and has become the leading commentator on the importance of trust in business relationships.

Alan Weiss 4. Alan Weiss is perhaps best known as a prolific author and advisor to the independent consultant sector. But his contributions to the professions go way beyond that. He's published on management, recruitment, work-life balance – and he led the field in driving for value-based fees. He's often controversial – but always worth paying attention to.

Bruce Marcus5. Bruce Marcus was writing a blog way before any of us knew what a blog actually was. As the author of 15 books from Competing for Clients back in 1986 through to Client at the Core in 2005, and as a Marketing and Public Relations consultant to some of the leading accounting, law, consulting and financial firms, he's been at the forefront of both defining and implementing leading techniques in Professional Services Marketing. He was one of the early pioneers who highlighted the real differences between services marketing and product marketing and has continued to bring new insights and ideas to bear to this day.

Suzanne Lowe6. Sadly the only female in the Guru12, Suzanne Lowe focuses on the gnarly issue of Marketing Integration: how to get marketing and sales, and professionals and staff aligned and working together on business development challenges – rather than taking refuge in their comfortable silos. While many of us focus on the perhaps more straightforward issues of helping individual professionals and practice areas improve the way they market and sell; Suzanne tackles the sort of problems of cross team and cross discipline integration that bedevil large firms.

Andrew Sobel7. Like Charlie Green, Andrew Sobel is an ex Gemini Consulting VP and expert (or Deep Generalist as he would put it) on Client Relationships. Sobel's work has focused on how professionals can build trusted advisory relationships with their clients. Latterly, he's explored how relationships can be deepened beyond individuals to allw teams and entire firms to build long-term partnerships with their clients.

Mike Schultz & John Doerr8. Mike Schultz & John Doerr are perhaps the “New Kids on the Block”. As the authors of this year's best selling Professional Services Marketing, they're at the forefront of today's knowledge of “what works”: from social media, to the web, to good old fashioned seminars and networking. And as publishers of, they bring the leading thinking from global experts right into the reach of practising professionals.

Robert Middleton9. Robert Middleton was the first “online guru” of professional services. Focusing on independent professionals, Middleton pioneered information marketing approaches (email marketing, teleseminars, etc.) long before the current wave of “experts” jumped on the bandwagon. And his material remains the best and most versatile resource for the sole practitioner and small practice.

Michael McLaughlin10. Another “New Kid on the Block” who's actually been around quite a while is Michael McLaughlin. Mike wrote Guerilla Marketing for Consultants, one of the most accessible sources which professionals can simply pick up and use. This year he turned his focus to selling with Winning the Professional Services Sale and set about converting professionals from pressing and pushing sales to helping clients buy in a way that works for them. It's a fun read too!

Richard Chaplin11. Richard Chaplin is a name that many won't have heard of. He's not a famous author or speaker. But over the last two decades as founder and chairman of the Managing Partner's Forum and the PM Forum (for Professional Services Marketing and Business Development) he's done as much as anyone to promote effective management and marketing in the professions. Richard's Linkedin connections list reads like a Who's Who of Professional Services. What Richard doesn't know about networking (and especially about Linkedin) probably isn't worth knowing.

Who will be the 12th guru?12. The identity of the 12th Guru is up to you. Drop your nominations into the comments box for who you think should join the other 11 on the Guru12 list and I'll create a poll to select the final Guru. Or if you're too shy to comment, drop me an email at

PS Thanks to Mary Flaherty of the Raintoday Rainmaker Blog for inspiring this post with her recent excellent posts on the “Best of the Decade” in Professional Services Marketing & Sales.

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  1. Without a doubt, Kim Tasso – previously an in-house marketer myself for organisations including Eversheds, PKF and DJ Freeman over the last 12 years, Kim has her finger well and truly on the button when it comes to professional services and has been both an excellent sounding board and unequalled source of valid advice.

  2. Hi Kye,

    Michael was on my shortlist – along with CJ Hayden. They’re both in the same niche as Robert Middleton I guess, so I picked Middleton as he came first. Michael desrves some sort of award just for having such a fantastic book title as “Book yourself solid”

  3. Hi Claire,

    I’ve always heard great things about Kim. My one question would be about the scale of her influence.


  4. My recommendation is Gerry Riskin, of Edge International, Gerry has a truly global practice, and routinely sees issues before they hit the radar screen of most others. Fantastic thinker, advisor, motivator and presenter–the whole package.

  5. Thanks Patrick,

    Gerry’s definitely on my radar screen – I’ve appreciated his blog over the last few years. Great fedora too on his Twitter picture.


  6. Hey Ian,

    I’m happy our blog post could inspire yours!

    I agree, though, it’s sad to see only one woman on the list. I believe there are several talented, influential women to consider for that 12th spot, and I’ll nominate three for consideration:

    C.J. Hayden (already mentioned above) –
    Jill Konrath –
    Vickie Sullivan –

    Looking forward to seeing the poll for guru #12!


  7. A well chosen list. While I am an avid follower of Alan Weiss, for example, you have given me some names that I am still unfamiliar with- but it won’t remain so for long!

    Let me think…. Who should be the twelfth… hmmm….

  8. Thanks for including me in such illustrious company. Ian, I’ve enjoyed perusing your site, well done! All the best to you.

  9. Ian, I appreciate your “honorable mention” as well as Mary Flaherty’s. You’ve created an allstar lineup here — great work!

  10. Ian

    The most obvious person to have been omitted is Tom Peters; apart from David Maister he is the one, in my opinion, who has written most eloquently about the pervasive nature of PSF. I say pervasive because he sees the PSF as being more than just a conglomerate of law firms etc but rather the constituent parts of a PSF doing WOW projects for external clients; far more illuminting that talking endlessly about the age old chestnuts of PSFs. Check out his book re-imagine! and taste the power of what he is saying. His thinking in controversial and not for the feint hearted but in my view if you were doing a rankings he would be joint 1st with Mr Maister.

    Best wishes

  11. Funny you should mention DMS Julian. It was his writing that prompted my to abandon my “traditional” website (which focused on my services and how great I was) in favour of this blog which focuses instead on providing useful information to potential clients (and anyone else interested).

  12. It’s funny Julian, but I haven’t read any of Tom Peters’ work on PSFs.

    Being a bit old, I came across him with In Search of Excellence and A Passion for Excellence – and since I was doing my MBA at the time, I earmarked him as interesting, a great presenter, but intellectually lightweight (hey, I was full of it in those days).

    I never really came back to check out his more PSF specific writing, although I was aware he was doing some.

    More fool me.


  13. I keep on coming back on this post probably because I’m targeting the same market.

    In my quick research, I can see that most of them serves service professionals in the firm and not really independent. With exception of robert middleton.

    Maybe that’s one of the reason why michael port and c.j hayden didn’t land on the list.

    Thanks Ian for this post.

  14. Yes and no Jon.

    The list is for gurus in the field of professional services sales and marketing generally. Not just big firms – and not just independents.

    If you look at the work Ford Harding has done, for example – particularly his book Rainmaking – that’s fully applicable to independents. And Alan Weiss is completely focused on independent consultants – he’s by far the leader in the field, you really should look up his work.

    In terms of the others – they all bring a different perspective. Suzanne Lowe focuses on integration between sales and marketing, Charlie Green focuses on trust. Richard Chaplin personally facilitates and brings together leaders of professional firms.

    So I tried to bring together people who are quite different from each other.

    Whereas (in my view), Michael Port and CJ Hayden – while I think their work is excellent – are very similar to Robert Middleton in that their main work is a self contained system for marketing and selling for independent professionals.