A fellow recently approached me at a conference I was speaking at and asked me about who in their firm should be involved in practice development. It was his opinion that only a handful should participate, whereas I mentioned that everyone should be included. “Of all your ideas that I brought back to the office, that one has raised the most discussion,” he related.
This kind of discussion is good news. Anytime you can get people talking about bringing in business, a bit of the battle is won. Most CPA/consulting firms invest so little time, effort, energy, and heaven forbid, MONEY, in the marketing and practice building process, that little typically is accomplished. And some firms spend so much time discussing marketing that they never get around to taking action.
There are also great disagreements amongst the few other major consultants to our profession about who should be involved in marketing. Some, like my late friend Tim Beauchemin believe that only a portion (the top levels of management) should be sent into the marketing fray. I believe very strongly that everyone, from the MP to the receptionist, must be involved in marketing the firm.
· Everyone has a network
Professionals such as like wedding consultants and funeral directors, who make it their business to know these things, maintain that everyone has a personal network of 250 people or so that they have influence over. Why should your firm miss out on this asset?
I have a client firm where the receptionist created an opportunity that resulted in a twenty thousand dollar a year client, simply by keeping her ears open and then asking the parties if they wanted to talk to her firm. I have another client where the person in the mailroom, once they knew what was wanted and was expected, introduced the audit partner-in-charge to his cousin who happened to own a huge furniture business. That was a forty thousand dollar a year client. You could do public relations and advertising all day long and not get these opportunities.
Of course, if people don't now what you want, it's hard for them to give it to you. My experience as an owner of many businesses over the years is that people live up to your expectations. Raise your expectance and people will live up to it. And when you don’t tell people what you want on a regular basis, don’t complain when they don’t give it to you.
· When you excuse one, you excuse the others
As soon as one person is taken out of the personal marketing loop, you have created the out for others as well. Pretty soon, the only people digging up business will be the handful that always have.
And the excuses they will come up with not to be involved! "I don't have the time," "I don't feel comfortable doing it," "I have a bad hangnail," etc.
After training over two hundred thousand professionals these past twenty plus years in the art of persuasion and building a practice I can say for a fact that people find the time to do the things they want to do. Nobody ever said you had to like personal marketing to do it, in fact we all do things we don't like to, such as shaving. And if you're dumb enough to buy into excuses, bad hangnails are as good as any.
· It's easier and more effective to do marketing
When community and/or trade associations are infected with an army of people, rather than one or two "snipers," you have many more probabilities that people will be in the proverbial right place at the right time.
When everyone is creating referral relationships your chances are a lot more likely to get the referral than if you have to rely on old Joe who's always taken care of you.
I'll always be grateful to my former partner, Mike Cummings, who first came up with this particular rule of successful practice development: "Marketing is a contact sport." The more contact and exposure you and your firm have, the more effective your marketing effort will be.
Take a look at McDonalds. Are they successful? You bet. Then why do they still do so much advertising? Haven't you eaten a billion of the things yourself? Hasn't everyone heard of McDonalds? Of course -- but people have very, very short memories. And McDonalds wants you to remember them when you get hungry.
That's a major reason why everyone must be involved in the marketing effort: the more exposure to people who work for your firm, the more likely it is for them to be in front of the prospective client when they get "hungry" for your services!
· Who's going to pay for your retirement?
Do people all of a sudden learn how to get business once they become a partner or senior manager? Ha!!
And what will happen when those golden referral sources retire or simply get tapped out? Do they grow from trees? Hardly.
Personal marketing and selling are the greatest skills in the business world. These abilities do not come naturally for 90% or more of those attracted to the profession of public accounting and consulting.
Don't fool yourself: Personal marketing and selling should be part of everyone's job from the time they start working for the firm, no matter how "green" they are. The more experience they have in this area the more comfortable and better at it they will be by the time they really need to.
· People like being part of a team effort
Every part of your firm's service to clients can be improved when your people feel they have a purpose and a part of the firm's success, due to improved morale. Gerald Greenwald, former CFO for Chrysler and currently head honcho at United Airlines, said in an interview in USA Today that the most important thing he learned at Chrysler was this very notion.
· You're helping people change and be more successful
When you ask people to do things that expand their comfort zone, you help them grow and change. You leave them better off for having worked for you. Dale Carnegie said that the goal of every manager should be to "Grow people and make them successful."
Everyone, even the shyest person, can change if they want to and someone is giving him or her a little boost now and then.
Why shouldn't you have everyone involved?
· If there will be a bad impression of the firm
Some people cannot be let loose on the public because they will create the wrong impression you want the prospective client or referral source to have. In which case, why are they working for you?
Some firms have people working for them who definitely don't look or act the part. Their personal grooming and dress are not congruent with the impression or image the partners would like to create in the marketplace. And some of these people are partners!
If you have people like this working for or with you, kindly ask yourself what impression are your current clients and referral sources getting from them? Look in the mirror -- it's your fault. You may have hired them or haven't told them what you expect of them or tried to help them in this regard.
And some people simply don't know what to do in a networking situation. They don't know they are supposed to talk to strangers and be friendly instead of standing in the corner or talking to their circle of buddies. Many firms will never invest more than minimally in training their people in these "soft" topics and then they wonder why people don't want to do it or know how to.
Allan S. Boress, CPA, CVA is the author of 12 published books, including "The I-Hate-Selling-Book" available at amazon.com