Member Voice: Sean Smith, Schneider Downs

Sean Smith

Sean P. Smith
Director of Marketing
Schneider Downs
1133 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Twitter: SeanSmith_SD

What are your thoughts on marketing planning for your firm? What are you currently doing to prepare the marketing and business development efforts for 2012?
Do not stand still. I believe this is an exciting time to be a marketing director because the status quo simply wonít fly any more. Any firm that continually offers the same old services probably isnít gaining ground. As the economy continues this slow crawl, we marketers are challenged to try new things, suggest innovative solutions and encourage our CPAs to step deeper into the marketing realm. Thereís a premium on being creative and progressive. Frankly, I feel the pressure (in a good way) to deliver new ideas. Weíve been handed the opportunity to lead in new directions, and I find it to be an attractive challenge.

What would you be doing if you hadnít become a marketer?
I think I would truly love being a college professor, sharing ideas with idealistic students who are just starting their careers. I would enjoy the lecturing, mentoring and even the publishing element of teaching. Itís a fascinating field, and I really do enjoy making presentations. On the other hand, I also think Iíd really enjoy working the grill at a great barbeque pit somewhere down South. I make a mean pulled pork sandwich.

What advice can you give a fellow marketer new to the accounting industry?
Earn credibility by learning the industry. Understand the acronyms, ask questions (no matter how basic), demand to sit in meetings and scope sessions, go to lunch with everybody from associates to directors so you can pick their brains, and read the trades and the blogs. I think itís common to worry about having instant credibility as a marketer. Learn the industry, and your strengths as a communicator and marketer will reveal themselves. Your opinion will be much more valued when those around you recognize you know the industry.

What is the biggest benefit you get from your AAM membership?
The online resource library is enormously helpful. Proposals, ads, surveys…itís a great resource for finding new ideas and inspiration. Thereís some great work posted there. It is truly one of the most valuable elements of my membership.

Assuming our competition is the billable hour, how do you overcome that?
Candidly, I donít accept the premise. Itís our job to convey value. Our client satisfaction surveys indicate that the most valued service attributes are access, knowledge and proactivity. Price is further down the list (itís not invisible, but itís not at the top of the list). If those are the attributes our clients most value, then itís our job to communicate those strengths to our prospects. We need to convert those strengths into a tangible asset that can be valued above the fee. Like all firms, we do occasionally lose opportunities due to cost, but I think we do an effective job communicating that weíre not in the commodity business. Clients who recognize and appreciate our core values are more likely to develop into long-term relationships.

What do you do when you are not working?
I love to cook. In 21 years of marriage, my wife has cooked about 10 meals…Iíve cooked the rest. I enjoy it, and itís how I wind down after a long day. Itís great to purge any stress with a glass of wine while whipping up a quick chicken piccata. You should try it.

Words to live by?
ďIt is better to ask some of the questions than know all of the answers.Ē James Thurberís ďThe Scottie Who Knew Too MuchĒ should be required reading for everybody. (P.S. — If anybody reads this as a result of this interview, I hope youíll let me know.)

Civic Organizations
Board member and sponsorship chair for the Pittsburgh Professional Services Marketing Association; committee member for the Allegheny County United Way Marketing Member; former member of the Kiss Army.

Press Releases
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The Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) is a national organization and is the only trade association of its kind that provides resources, education, seminars, workshops, support and a global network to the accounting marketing industry. Our membership includes accounting firm marketers from ďBig FourĒ and other national, regional, local and sole proprietor firms. Others include sales and business development professionals, accounting partners, firm administrators, consultants, vendors, trade press, educators and students. Inherent in this mission is a focus on education and professional skills development to enable our members to add value to their firms and act as a compass for the rapidly changing competitive environment.

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