Category: Marketing 101

Hiring a marketing director 0

Hiring a marketing director

Marketing is an essential business function that needs to permeate all aspects of an accounting firm. It is a process: a series of steps and activities, a journey rather than a destination.

An increasing number of firms are hiring a marketing director and recognising the need to commit to and “armour” the marketing function to ensure that there is a total ongoing commitment.

If you are planning to appoint a marketing director you must be prepared to:

  • Make the financial commitment not just by way of salary but also the attributable revenue budget that will go with the appointment.
  • Allow the new marketing director the full control and responsibility for marketing.
  • Celebrate, applaud and recognise the authority of the marketing director – make sure they have your full support.
  • Make sure your marketing director is involved in the budget program and planning processes.

And avoid these common pitfalls:

  • A lack of recognition of the marketing director’s importance and consequently a lack of support for him/her.
  • A lack of adequate authority, knowledge and administrative support. Make sure that the marketing director understands the mindset of those in the accounting industry.
  • Isolation: Make sure the marketing director is not left stranded on his/her own.
  • Impatience: It is essential to make a long term commitment to the marketing director’s role – success will rarely be instant. For this reason the marketing director should be encouraged to engage in self-evaluation.

Creating a marketing culture

It is not enough for just one or two partners to have a marketing mentality while the remainder of a firm remains lukewarm about marketing. The commitment to marketing must be firm-wide. This means creating a marketing culture throughout the organisation. Below are seven elements to creating a dynamic marketing culture:

Willingness to change: Resistance to change is the greatest obstacle to any major new development in a firm. Ingrained prejudices and misconceptions about marketing for professional firms deprive many a firm of the necessary zeal to commit realistically to marketing. A way of overcoming this is a sustained education program explaining the benefits of marketing and the disadvantages of neglecting it.

Desire: A positive desire to engage in marketing is required to drive a dynamic marketing program. This must be firm-wide, and constantly renewed and refreshed. Try introducing rewards for marketing efforts or offer marketing incentives for your desired result.

Commitment: Sometimes accountants lack commitment because they feel they have the wrong personality for marketing. But the truth is to be good at marketing professional services all that is needed is a good understanding of the services being offered, a commitment to delivering quality services, and a desire to use those excellent services to bring in as much business as possible.

A good marketing plan: Take stock of the developments in the marketplace and develop a marketing plan that will enable you to respond appropriately. Developing an aggressive marketing plan involves more than just spending money; it also means changing the way you do things throughout the firm to allow time for developing and communicating goals, strategies, and responsibilities.

Unity of purpose: Partners will be effective at marketing only if there is unity of purpose. This means establishing clear general goals in the firm’s strategic marketing plan and then translating them into specific goals for individual partners in their personal marketing plans.

Prospect-partner pairing: It is important from the start to be clear about which partner is responsible for which prospect and to ensure that all communication with that prospect is initiated by that partner. The only exception to this should be if there are obvious benefits from bringing a second partner into play at some stage.

Follow-up: One of the dangers of launching a successful marketing plan is that it generates so much interest that partners do not have enough time to follow through correctly. It is important to think through the logistics of the follow-up before you launch your program. Nothing can be worse for the morale of your partners and staff or for the reputation of your firm than to generate interest in a prospect and then fail to follow through satisfactorily.


Ten key points to focused marketing

Simply put, marketing accounting services consists of four steps:

  • Informing as many people as possible of your existence
  • Leading them to develop an interest in your services
  • Persuading them to meet with you
  • Move from client enquiry to client engagement

Here is a simple ten-point strategy for achieving these objectives:

Emphasise persuasion: Making people aware of your existence is fairly straightforward. It is largely a matter of advertising revenue. What takes skill is implementing the last three steps. Most firms ignore these and concentrate on the first.

Establish a niche: By establishing a unique marketing sector for your firm you are making your solution to the client’s problem or needs unique. If you are the only firm providing that solution, you will never need to discuss fees. Without a niche, your only option is compete on price.

Develop market credibility: To convince prospective clients to sign with your firm you need credibility in their area. You need to be able to demonstrate familiarity with their sector by showing you have a good track record in it. Inform prospects of other businesses in similar positions for which you already act, and convince them that you have the necessary expertise.

Don’t bore the prospect with detail: Accountants often try to convince prospects by talking in detail about the services they can provide. This is of little interest to the prospect. What they want to hear about are the benefits your firm will bring to them. This is what a good salesperson will emphasise. For your firm to excel in sales, staff sales training is essential.

Develop your prospecting skills: To build up a database of genuine prospects, you need to establish a coherent system for identifying them. You should identify target areas, begin a series of selected mailings to them, carefully monitor the results, and record these results on your database. Your long-term prospecting activity should focus on those who respond positively. As you gradually build up a profile of a prospect, you will be able to target him or her with a precisely focused sales strategy.

Research prospects before making specific proposals: Making a specific proposal is a critical stage in the sales process. It is essential that the solution you propose be tailored to the prospect’s specific needs. Get to know what the prospect has in mind, who is the real decision maker, what are the company goals, what are the individual’s goals, and who the competition is.

Present a flexible, but focused proposal: Once you are sure what the prospect is looking for, present your proposal by beginning with an analysis of the problems and outlining the possible solutions you can offer. Be clear about your fees for each option and discuss the various pros and cons with the prospect. However, from the beginning you should know about which of the options you would like to see implemented, and gradually steer the prospect in that direction in the course of your presentation.

Be sure to close the sale: At the conclusion of the presentation, ask the prospect directly if they agree that this proposal covers the points they wanted addressed. Obtain explicit agreement that he or she will run with your firm, and will engage you to implement a specific solution.

Be prepared to handle objections: Often the prospect will raise objections to your proposal, and you should be prepared with considered responses. For crucial meetings, it is a good idea to rehearse the encounter with a colleague beforehand. Have your colleague play devil’s advocate and throw objections at you. If you cannot give an immediate and convincing response, prepare one before you go to the meeting.

Maintain a positive attitude: A positive attitude is not shallow optimism, but a constructive outlook that enables you spontaneously to transform setbacks into opportunities. To win at sales you have to be doggedly positive in both your thoughts and actions.


Marketing myths

For some reason, the accounting profession is riddled with marketing myths. Below are six common myths that do contain an element of truth, but can be quite damaging if taken too seriously.

The best source of new business is from new clients
This theory involves your new clients being so ecstatic with your service that they will gladly refer you to other clients. In fact, it is easier to sell to your current clients. The referral relationship is more established with current clients and they are more likely to purchase additional services. Sales and marketing expenses are cheapest when cross-selling. It is far more expensive to get a new client than to keep an old client.

You must keep all of your clients
It is unfortunate that many accountants feel that they should keep all of their clients. Many also feel that all fees are equally important. The accountant who feels that he must keep all of his clients is buying market share, and is failing to capitalise on potential fees. Buying market share is a failed marketing strategy and is not advisable.

Your biggest customers are always your best customers
This is a dangerous myth, and probably the one most invisible to accountants. Many accountants are tempted to attract and keep large clients, typically because he or she feels that fewer client relationships are easier to handle and that the clients are more prestigious. On the surface this is true. But it is essential to avoid a situation where clients become the tail that wags the dog. A client whose departure could take away an appreciable part of the practice income is potentially dangerous.

Personal sales calls are the best marketing weapon
Personal sales calls are very expensive, very time consuming and amount to a hidden cost. The best marketing weapon is an ability to develop qualified leads. With qualified leads, you can focus your sales skills and develop more business. It is more important to uncover a good lead than to be a great salesperson, because good leads are more difficult to come by.

An accountant has to match a competitor’s rates
This myth suggests that in essence, an accountant is a victim of the pricing structures of other accountants. This is potentially a very damaging misconception. Accountants are perpetually concerned with their billing rate, wondering whether they are charging enough, or too much. The short answer to fees is that they are worth what your clients think they are worth. The real answer is that your quality and skills exist apart from that of your competitors. If the fee level is too great a component of a client or prospect decision, then that is not a client or prospect that you need.

Price is the consumer’s ‘bottom line’
In a recession, pricing becomes paramount. Pricing takes on additional importance during a recession, but it does not turn a normally value-conscious client into a generic, “commodity-pricing-only” company. Clients who seek a low fee will seek it in good times and bad. Clients who seek value for their fees will seek it in recession and boom times. These clients realise that it is more important during a recession to have a quality accountant. It is not time to look for a cheap advisor when the margins are tight.


Marketing ideas for small firms

Small firms are truly limited. Marketing in a one-partner firm will be done by that one person. However, implementing the following ideas may develop more business.

Your marketing power is in your backyard
Most small firms don’t realise that their marketing power is right in their own backyard; existing client relationships. The more client-oriented you can be the more successful your practice will become. Client-oriented means that you always help your clients satisfy their needs, whatever they may be. This may not always translate into an immediate sale, but the more you help clients the more they will call upon you for advice.

A quick course in selling
People buy benefits. So don’t try to sell features. Features are not the reasons why clients will buy from you and not one of your competitors. A benefit is what someone receives from using your service. If you can’t clearly articulate the benefits for the prospect, you will have a difficult time getting the prospect to say yes.

Niches are everywhere
Accountants need to make sure that there is something that sets their firm apart from the masses. You can’t be everything to everyone, so don’t try. You need to develop a niche, otherwise you will find yourself competing on price and providing what amounts to a generic product. Niches require you to become a real expert in the niche.

Develop your personal franchise
Most accountants don’t develop their own personal franchise. The two key ways of doing this are writing and speaking. Giving talks and presenting seminars are ideal ways to develop your personal franchise.

Take a careful look at your office
Successful practices have offices that say, “Welcome, we are proud of our office and what we do.” The décor is new and clean. The offices are orderly. The staff and partners are proud of their workspace and show it by keeping it clear and litter free. Clear, cheery offices will not only improve your clients’ feelings about the firm but also increase overall firm productivity.

Get a new look
Putting a professional photograph on your business card with a summary of your services turns your business card into a mini marketing brochure. Make sure you add your email address to the card since most clients will have access to email and will want to communicate with you through this vehicle. Changing your business card is an inexpensive way to change your look.


Horizontal and vertical marketing

There are two broadly defined marketing techniques: vertical marketing and horizontal marketing.

Horizontal marketing involves targeting a wide marketplace and vertical marketing concentrates solely on targeting one, specific marketplace.

Accountants can take one of these two approaches, either aiming for sector dominance or trying to cultivate a broad range of clients. One advantage of vertical marketing is that it is far easier to dominate a narrow market sector than to monopolise a broad one. Another advantage is that it allows you to specialise, and specialists can charge higher fees than generalists.

The obvious disadvantages of vertical marketing are those of having too many eggs in one basket and being at the mercy of a single market. For instance, if all of a firm’s clients are in the construction industry and demand for building falls off, the firm could find itself without a single client able to afford its fees. Some industries are seasonal, and a firm might find itself trying to fit an entire year’s work into a short season and then having to wait for the next peak season to be remunerated.

Even though it is easier to sell your services as a specialist in someone’s industry than as a general accountancy practice, for most firms the healthiest outlook has to be a broad base of clients. When one industry is struggling, others will be booming, so there is always a potential client with money to spend.

Vertical marketing is usually a question of seizing an opportunity and taking a decision to pursue a particular market. When the decision is taken, it is best taken in the light of knowledge of the ups and downs of the industry and its history of risk.


A bare bones marketing program

Some small firms may feel that they can’t afford to invest a large sum of money in marketing or that they won’t be able to use marketing in an effective way due to having simpler, less ambitious goals than larger firms.

But while their goals may be smaller and the marketing budget smaller still, a small firm can still develop an inexpensive but effective marketing program. Unlike the large and ambitious goals of the large firm, a small firm’s goals may be simply to make an impact in a new market or establish the expertise of the firm in a particular area.

A bare bones marketing program starts with planning. Firms need to have a clear idea of what they want to accomplish and the action needed to accomplish it. Since you can’t accomplish everything you want with the limited resources available, firms need to eliminate the add-ons found in more elaborate programs.

Firms should pick one specialty in one practice area as their starting point, as they can always expand their marketing efforts to the other practice areas later. Building a reputation for a single skill in a single target market can get results. That’s what bare bones marketing is all about. When choosing the practice area to focus the marketing on, firms should carefully examine the potential market, the commitment of their partners, the firm’s competitive strength, the marketing opportunities, firm resources and expectations.

The firm must be committed and willing to participate in the marketing program. Even if you have the best plan in the world, you won’t get it off the ground if the responsible partner sees the effort as a waste of time or sees marketing as something that somebody else should be doing.

A bare bones marketing also requires spending some money. When you know what you want and what you have to do to get it, figure out how much it will cost. Then work out if you can afford that kind of expenditure.

Even if you have planned the best marketing program in the world, if it is founded on unrealistic expectations, you are bound to be disappointed in the results. Your expectations should be clearly defined at the very beginning, not after the program is started.

Finally, firms need to elect who will lead the marketing program. To be successful, the marketing leader needs three sets of proven skills: marketing, business and people skills. Small firms need to decide if it is something a firm partner can do, or if they will need to contract outside professional help.


Client service opportunities

Cross selling is an important revenue source for accounting firms. The concept of cross selling is simple: convince existing clients to use a firm in more than one practice area. Cross selling can result in additional revenue and help client retention by:

  • Allowing an accountant to establish more points of contact within the client’s organisation.
  • Increasing the accountant’s knowledge of the client’s business and operations.
  • Demonstrating the accountant’s ability to assist with other business challenges.

Despite its advantages, many firms find it difficult to cross sell their services to clients. To be successful, firms need to understand cross selling impediments and what needs to be done to overcome them.

The selling block: Some professionals think selling as unprofessional. The problem with this argument is the belief that an accountant needs to “flog” the firm’s other services to clients. The trick is simply getting clients to talk about the difficulties they face and for accountants to listen for an opportunity to help. If a firm has a good relationship with its clients and they are happy with the existing service, there is a high probability that an accountant will be asked for details on the firm’s other capabilities.

Incentive: If there is no incentive to market a firm’s services, most professionals will simply avoid doing it. But if professionals know that cross-selling activities will be considered in their annual salary review, they will take an active part in the activity. While there are many ways firms can calculate this incentive, a professional’s cross-selling activity must be factored into their level of compensation.

Credit: For cross selling to succeed, the concept of sharing credit for new work must also be part of the program. Cross selling only happens when professionals work in pairs or teams and the shared effort receives recognition.

Recognition: If new business comes from an existing client, this achievement may not be mentioned in any internal newsletter, new business report or memo. The failure to recognise and celebrate this type of new business can hinder a cross-selling program. Recognition is a powerful motivator. A cross-selling success should be headline news in the firm’s internal newsletter or on the Intranet.

Client ownership: Some professionals shun cross selling because they are reluctant to introduce another individual from the firm into their well established client relationship. This mentality can ultimately lead to a competitor getting the client’s other work, which is something that is much worse than having another person in your own firm do the work. Clients must be viewed as assets that belong to the firm and therefore must be shared by all professionals.


Stand out in the crowd

Today’s accounting firms face a substantial multitude of information on how to establish and improve their current marketing programs. But since a firm’s competitors have the same access to the wealth of marketing information, it can be difficult for a firm to establish how they will stand out from the crowd. Accountants are a pretty homogenous group, and the majority of them engage in little or no marketing endeavours. Therefore, engaging in some kind of marketing strategy is better than doing nothing at all.

There are a number of effective ways to market a firm’s professional services, from traditional marketing tools, such as sending out newsletters and direct mail, to the latest online marketing strategies, such as websites and social media.

However, these tools alone are unlikely to win a client. All they do is lead to a contact with the prospect. Only the firm professional can win the client. Below are some suggestions for firms to help ensure their marketing program gets the intended results.

Set objectives
An effective and efficient marketing program is founded on clear objectives. Determine what you want to accomplish, make sure your goals are realistic, and then develop a game plan.

Focus on one service area
Focus your marketing program on one service area at a time and concentrate your efforts solely on that.

Target a mailing program
Build up a mailing list of prospects for sales. Try beginning with a program of periodic mailings of articles and other information of interest to this market segment. This kind of program allows firms to demonstrate their expertise and build brand recognition.

Keep it simple
Don’t make your marketing plans too complicated. It is easy to get caught up in the need to gather large amounts of data to ensure your plan covers every possible scenario. But it is more important that your plan is easy to understand and sets out simple steps for achieving your goals. A simple marketing plan may be missing some things but once it is up and running, it is always better than a highly detailed military-type plan that never leaves your computer’s hard drive.


Promoting marketing in a professional firm

Some firm professionals may find it difficult convincing other colleagues and staff members that setting up a marketing program is a worthwhile exercise. This may be because they do not believe that marketing is a priority. But widespread support within the firm is vital to a marketing program’s success. Below are several strategies designed to help firms energise marketing initiatives while overcoming any resistance within the firm.

  • Talk to the willing

Rather than waste time trying to drag unwilling professionals into marketing projects, spend time with willing participants. Talk to those who will give the topic a friendly reception and ignore the naysayers. With a little bit of luck, these individuals will stay in the background until your marketing program gets off the ground.

  • Broadcast successes

In any new endeavour such as introducing a marketing program, it’s natural for some people to ask, “Why do we need this?” or “What’s in it for me?” People are more likely to tolerate changes when they know that the initiatives are proving successful. Sell your marketing program within the firm by broadcasting your successes. Every professional firm’s internal newsletter or other communication medium should have a section devoted to trumpeting the successes achieved in the areas of marketing, client retention and client service.

These types of successes will help generate interest in the new marketing program. Highlighting the people and efforts behind these achievements may shift the naysayers over to the “yes” side of the ledger. For marketing to succeed, it needs a continual presence within the firm, in communications, on agendas, and underlying systems.

  • Be innovative

Finally, remind the naysayers that marketing is more than just designing new logos or putting your firm’s yellow page advertising in the right spot — it is really about generating new ideas, new initiatives and defining future opportunities and threats. By being innovative, you can help differentiate your firm from the competition. By focusing on identified opportunities and threats, your firm can take meaningful action to promote its long-term interests.