By Gail Crosley, CPA
The days of building business by doing good work and chatting over lunch, ending with a firm handshake, are the historical legacy of our profession. But what about the future? Don't get me wrong – CPAs like a good meal as much as ever. But these days, lasting growth is a systematic process based on proven methodologies and metrics.
Public accounting has long relied on creating books of business to ensure efficient, predictable success. But things have gotten more complex, as they have throughout corporate America. The good news is that the key to unlocking that complexity is within reach and is the subject of this article.
The process of successful rainmaking has been analyzed, and quantified, including by me. The four stages that, when approached systematically, drive consistent results. They are:
- Segment, target and position yourself and your offerings.
- Generate leads through personal research calls.
- Develop opportunities through solid opportunity development skills.
- Perform outstanding service delivery.
I've worked with many firms that have achieved a certain size and sophistication, but whose growth is straining firm resources. With market conditions so strong, efficient growth is what it's about.
Envision a corporate environment in which a sales force of 50-100 people is busily pursuing independent leads without a vice president of sales to keep them properly aligned. Back in the "book of business" days, rainmakers could create their own little fiefdoms and the aggregate result was good growth. But today that's just not enough for many firms.
Levers – Simple (and Effective)
The boost to firms with sagging efficiency is a set of practice management principles based on four levers for managing the four stages of ground-level activity described above.
Lever 1: Marketing Management - The optimal use of marketing to segment, target and position. The idea is to ensure that we're identifying those particular niches from which we want buyers, rather than, say "anyone doing business within 50 miles of Tucson."
Lever 2: Industry Niche Management - Selected leaders should be in charge of the strategic direction and financial health of their niche, with incentive compensation tied to niche results.
Lever 3: Service Line Management - Service line management, or in corporate speak, product managers" whose job it is to bring the offerings to market. These are the people who drive the strategic direction and financial health of, say, an audit practice. They own the service line and, as such, its success is also tied into their compensation plan.
Lever 4: Large Opportunity Management. This is the discipline involved in developing the right opportunities efficiently and effectively – cohesively driving the entire inventory of opportunities. The opportunities belong to the firm, not to individual partners, and the efforts of multiple partners contribute to their development.
The levers align with the four steps of practice growth outlined above. The marketing lever relates to the first practice-growth step – segmenting, targeting and positioning the firm. Industry niche management is primarily linked with lead generation (step two in practice growth) as leads are driven through buyer behavior and industries are the focal point of buyers. Service line management, number three, touches all four steps by bringing the right services to market. And finally, large opportunity management, the fourth lever, obviously links to opportunity development in the practice growth model.
The Look of Success
Once you get your arms firmly around these levers and their resource deployment, you've got the key to ensuring efficiency. A number of indicators will tell you that you're "there." Among them:
- Your partners and marketing director are working in concert, partnering to drive and position growth.
- The service line and industry leaders are clearly identified and highly motivated. They are responsible for the strategic direction and financial health of specific "chunks" of revenue, which they operate as business units.
- Your offerings remain fresh – you bring new, relevant services to the market and constantly improve existing ones in order to guarantee a solid inventory.
- Pipeline management and reviews routinely occur and best practices are deployed to develop and close large opportunities.
But Why, Gale?!
Perhaps you like my logic but you're still wondering why any of this matters in an environment in which so much new business still seems to be washing up over the bow without much effort.
Yes, that is still the case for many firms, but the question I ask is what's the nature of the catch? If you're fishing for shrimp and inside your net you find lots of sand dollars, coral and rusting tin cans have you really met your goals just because you've filled your net?
I believe the answer is no, and that the nature and quality of our "catch" are as important in times of plenty as in leaner markets.
Continue to perfect your rainmaking execution, but ignore managing your efficiency at your peril.
About the author
Gale Crosley, CPA, is founder and principal of Crosley + Company, and consults with CPA firms on revenue growth issues and opportunities.