When I turned my back on two law degrees to become a trainee account executive in a large London advertising agency, I had made a choice between two very different worlds. I softened the blow for my parents by asserting that both careers required well-honed advocacy; I had merely selected the more stimulating, creative option where the solution to a client’s problem would begin with a blank sheet of paper rather than a pile of dusty law books. And I would work in a nicer office.

Clearly the specialist skills practised by professional services firms and marketing services agencies differ dramatically. And, traditionally, the weight ascribed to the advice of lawyers and accountants has been much greater. After all, they have professional qualifications under their belts whereas advertising people, well, haven’t. As a consequence, too, the fees for ‘professional’ advice have been less open to negotiation matched, by and large, by a willingness to pay from the clients served.

But, thanks to what I have heard described as a revolution in the advisory sector – accounting, law, property and consulting – the worlds are converging in one important respect, namely client expectations about quality and consistency of service.

In an ever more complex environment, marketing services people have understood, if not always met, the two key objectives of a successful business – understand your clients (their businesses and their personalities) and adopt relationship behaviour. In other words, get under the skin of your clients and actively manage key relationships; the latter are business levers as critical to the prosperity of your enterprise as the services for which you have been specifically engaged.

Many advisory firms, on the other hand, have felt able to rely upon the perceived impenetrability of their expertise. It’s easier to challenge a design idea than a point of law.

However, a more sophisticated and client-centric approach to business relationships is now as much an imperative in professional services as it has been in marketing services.

This makes sense. They are often the same clients, with roles that have typically become more strategic, engaging a wide range of advisors and, with encouragement from Procurement, much more inclined to benchmark service delivery across previously observed boundaries, challenge on value for money and raise the bar for what they need, how and when.

In my experience, clients are prioritising the following three deliverables from both professional services and marketing services advisers – commercial awareness and savvy in applying specialist advice to an issue, brief or problem (i.e. no recommendation without a realistic commercial framework and having the people with the skills to deliver this); leveraging the firm’s/agency’s learning from across the whole of their business, particularly from outside the sector in which the client operates (i.e. proactively demonstrating that the offer includes more than the knowledge and experience of the team on the business); maintaining contact, building trust, adding value consistently regardless of the rhythm of the workload, recognising that clients’ search for competitive edge is relentless and that change occurs constantly (i.e. don’t let an ad hoc workflow dictate an ad hoc relationship and render you off the pace).

Meeting these client expectations requires understanding and action, and the more enlightened organisations in both service sectors are engaging independent, third party experts to help enhance key client relationships, by investing in programmes to gain objective client feedback, and, where necessary, mentor the relationship owners and their support teams to improve relevant behaviour.

While the specialist advice provided by lawyers, accountants and Madmen remains different, the required client relationship skills are now more similar than ever. In this endeavour, professional services firms are increasingly adopting many of practices of successful marketing services agencies. And their offices are certainly much nicer than they were.