Candis Roussel, Hinge
So, why is it that CPA firms are more tortoise than hare when it comes to growth? One possible explanation is that accountants, by nature, are conservative with their money. In fact, Hinge research shows that CPA firms invest less in marketing than any other major professional services industry. But, there is another – more important – reason: accountants have been glacially slow to adapt to the modern marketing environment. In an increasingly competitive market, it is vital for even the most established firms to evolve and adapt their marketing priorities to achieve maximum return on investment.
In this year’s Association for Accounting Marketing’s Marketing Budget Benchmark Study, we explored how accounting firms spend their marketing budgets. Here are the top seven techniques (as a percentage of marketing budget) used by all firms in the study:
- Charitable giving
- Networking events, tradeshows, & conferences
- Entertainment events
- Memberships & dues
- Marketing materials (brochures, giveaways, gifts, etc.)
It is telling that any firm 40 years ago could have produced exactly the same list! Now, compare that list to the top seven techniques favored by today’s high-growth firms across the spectrum of professional services:
- Email marketing
- Outbound phone marketing
- Downloadable educational content
- Online advertising
- Partnership marketing
See any similarities between the two lists? Neither do I. High-growth, high-value firms are working in a very different universe – one dominated by online tools and content marketing. Is it not time the accounting world joined that universe?
How to Build a Modern Marketing Culture
Building a modern marketing culture will require a mind shift. It means embracing the new marketplace. If the old approach to marketing was built upon “who you know,” the new way is built upon “what you know.” To put it another way, traditional firms invest in building personal relationships, while savvy, forward-looking firms go out of their way to make their expertise more visible. To get from here to there, you need to institute five changes in your culture. These include:
1. Letting go of old habits
Face-to-face business development alone does not cut it in today’s marketplace. You need to foster a powerful online reputation, too, and content marketing holds the keys to that kingdom. Use online tools (such as blogging and social media) and offline techniques (such as speaking and writing books) to leverage your firm’s expertise and attract a loyal following. This transition from personal networking to reputation building may be a challenge, but the potential rewards are great.
2. Researching your target audiences
Firms that conduct frequent research (at least once per quarter) on their audiences are far more likely to be high performers. Even firms that do research less often (say, once per year) tend to grow faster and be more profitable. By research, I do not mean client satisfaction surveys. Those have their own utility, but they do not provide the strategic advantages of focused, in-depth research into your target audience.
3. Making marketing a team sport
More than ever, business development and marketing are intertwined. At the same time, marketing is more complex than ever, so you will need a range of skillsets to broadly and effectively promote your expertise. It takes a skilled, tightly coordinated team to win in today’s marketplace.
4. Committing to on-going education
Modern marketing is always on the move, so it is vital that your team keep abreast of important changes and new technologies.
5. Using incentives & accountability
The new marketplace is full of hidden opportunities to improve performance. To encourage your team to get the most out of your program, set goals, build in incentives to reward them when they meet those goals, and regularly evaluate people’s performance.
Leaders at high-growth firms understand that building relationships the old way (one prospect at a time) limits how fast a firm can grow. After all, you can only acquire as many new clients as your principals have the time to meet and nurture. High-growth firms are committed to establishing a marketing culture that embraces a new marketing paradigm in which visible expertise is equally, if not more, important than existing relationships. This means opportunities are no longer fenced in by available personnel or by how far they can drive to a networking event. When you pivot and begin marketing online, you increase your firm’s visibility and extend its reach across the country and even the globe.