Marketing's Role in Elevating Consulting and Advisory Services
Angie Grissom, The Rainmaker Companies
It is a thrilling time in the accounting profession. Businesses are seeking more consultative advice, strategic direction and looking for workable solutions to remain competitive, secure, and financially healthy. The world and business climate is changing. Technology is impacting the way we work, communicate and compete. This is true for both our clients and our firms. Accounting and consulting firm professionals have the privilege of stepping up to the challenge of serving business leaders and their companies in this time of change. It also creates a great opportunity for experienced marketing professionals to support the transition in firms and equip partners for success.
Are all accounting professionals jumping for joy at this change in the landscape? Hardly. Many are already working this way, but others are wondering where to start. When the trend of moving from compliance to more of an advisory or consulting approach is mentioned, the truth is that professionals are sometimes overcome with fear and dread, left wondering what this means for them professionally and for their firm's future. Compliance work has been a staple in most firm services for many years and has produced a good living for many partners and professionals. So, are compliance services going away? No, but the way we use data and our clients’ expectations for us as accounting professionals is changing. Our clients’ requirements are evolving. Our profession is perfectly positioned to step up and offer the advice and services clients so urgently need. Marketers can justify their shift-to-advisory initiatives by demonstrating that they are the key to helping their firms "walk the talk" and truly stand out with a distinctive client experience. Following are some ideas for how to do this:
Encouraging Partners and Professionals
Marketing professionals should stay up to speed on industry trends and encourage firm leadership to step up to the challenge to offer more consulting and advisory services. Providing updates on client needs, industry trends and ideas about how to better serve clients is often an overlooked opportunity for marketers. Internal messaging and promotion of ideas is clearly within the skillset of seasoned marketers, and professionals need encouragement and direction. Often, I will ask partners to describe how they have assisted long-term clients with their businesses. These partners do not believe they understand how to go about offering consulting services. When asked, they go on to describe how they have assisted with planning, cost reduction, and ideas for improving margins. Sometimes they have offered services or connected clients with professionals who have helped them secure their data, improved the value of their business, and restructured their debt. All of these are examples of how professionals are acting more as advisors. Chances are that many of these examples exist in your firm, but just need to be uncovered in some cases.
Forming Teams around Pursuits
Marketers can assist professionals by forming teams around pursuits with clients and prospective clients. They can assist in conducting research of the marketplace, industries, organizations, and individuals. In these meetings, marketers can facilitate discussions with professionals to discover consulting services that are being provided or opportunities for services that might be needed. This can be done using tools such as Gap Analysis. The pursuit team should have clear assignments and next steps to ensure progress on the opportunities. Marketers can help keep these teams on track.
Designing Support Materials
Marketers can provide language to support the efforts as professionals work to schedule meetings and introduce consulting tools to use with the client or prospect. Many tools can help position the accountant as an advisor. A fishbone diagram and a force field analysis are fairly easy to use and facilitate a discussion with the client. Tools like these change the conversation from the typical current service-focused conversation to one geared toward helping the client holistically with business challenges. Many times, professionals need a tool to help them bridge this gap. Planning and preparing tools before a meeting gives professionals confidence to introduce them. Once they ask the right questions, clients share their needs and the accounting professional and client begin creating solutions together. Marketers can also assist in creating pre-proposal and proposal documents for the service needs uncovered in the meetings.
Some firms offer an arsenal of advisory and consulting services. In these firms, marketers can help educate the team about what services are available and facilitate connections between service providers and professionals in an effort to increase awareness. This is critical, and takes time, attention, and sometimes, creativity. In firms with limited offerings in advisory and consulting, marketers can make connections with providers outside their firms to help equip professionals with a network of trusted advisor resources. Some firms partner with business valuation organizations, technology and cybersecurity firms, and R&D tax credit firms, to name a few. When you have partnerships like these, you have the ability to offer services to clients that you would not otherwise be able to offer if they are not in-house.
Positioning the Firm's Brand Message
Once an understanding exists of the firm's service capabilities and approach in working with clients and prospects in advisory and consulting, marketers can communicate the firm's brand message and overall value proposition in a way that describes the advisory approach. This includes information about how the depth of resources matches client needs through a service approach and personal interactions.
Marketing professionals can play a big role in the encouragement, organization, education, facilitation, and positioning of a firm in the shift to a more advisory-focused approach to serving clients. The profession will benefit from this focus on helping firms make the leap. Don't be shy; get in there and support the change. You are perfectly equipped to do so. Your firm will be glad you did.