This article provided by Allan S. Boress, CPA, CFE of Allan S. Boress & Associates
A fellow recently approached me at a conference I was speaking at and asked me about whom 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 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 know 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 con-tact 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 expo-sure 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 him or her 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. Most firms will never invest one thin dime in training their people in these "soft" topics and then they wonder why people don't want to do it or know how to.
Firmwide marketing can't happen if...
People don't have goals
Everyone must have a goal for the amount of new business they will generate. Even the lowest person on the pole can bump into $1,000 of new business simply by telling people who they are and where they work. It's called word of mouth advertising.
People aren't held accountable
Would you have turned in homework if teacher or sister hadn't collected it? How many hours of CPE would you take every year if it weren't required to keep your license?
So how can you expect people to do personal marketing and selling if nobody is paying attention?
Professionals must be held accountable for their personal marketing actions, just like many firms hold people accountable for the number of hours they bill and collect.
You're still promoting the wrong people to the partnership
Still promoting technicians to the partnership who don't have an interest, successful experience, or a track record in bringing in lots of new business? No wonder your people don't want to do personal marketing.
I recently had a client who leap-frogged the most junior of their senior managers to the partnership ahead of people who had more seniority and were "in line" for the partnership. Why? Because this person made things happen and didn't wait to be told what to do. Although married with young children, she knew that new business was the lifeblood the firm and was important to her future.
The ones she left in the dust were simply good accountants. The managing partner of this firm said it was the best idea he's had in years. The ones that were bypassed are shaking in their boots, he related recently, and everybody is much more involved in bringing in business.
Staff don't know what's in it for them
It hurts morale just to see the partners get richer. People need to know exactly what the benefit is to them, and this message must be hammered home over and over again. Your compensation plan must be generous, and residuals should be paid over the life of the client, just like in the insurance business. People should also be compensated for opportunities they actively discover and sell at existing clients, not luck into.
Firmwide marketing CAN happen if...
After working as a consultant to hundreds of professional firms for the past twenty years in the area of business development, I can state without any doubt, however, that no matter what you pay people to bring in business, most still won't do it unless certain other variables are in place.
The reason for that is because you are asking for a change in behavior based upon a lack of interest, knowledge and desire in the subject, and a general distaste for something most accountants are not told they have to do as part of their job when they are hired. Yes, some staff people (a few if you're lucky) will be awakened by a new compensation arrangement, but you could offer much more compensation and the majority still won't alter their behavior.
Firmwide marketing is more likely to happen if:
People realize their job security is incumbent upon it
In case you haven't noticed, our profession is more competitive than ever. The nineties are over! Clients are doing things for themselves and there are people in our business who never used to be. Therefore, because the game has changed, you have the right to change the rules of employment.
- Staff understand they are making their own way and self-selecting who the next partners will be
This message must be conveyed on a regular basis.
Learn from the geese
I recently received this information about geese from a fax newsletter produced by Rabbi Kalman Packouz. It applies perfectly to the concept of successful firmwide marketing.
Did you know as each bird flaps it wings, it creates an uplift for the bird following. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock adds a 71 percent longer flying range than if each bird flies alone.
Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of teamwork can go where they are going quicker and easier when they travel on the thrust of one another.
Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front.
Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed where we want to go.
When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose takes over the point position.
Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard work and sharing leadership because people, like geese, are interdependent upon each other.
The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
Lesson: We need to make sure our honking from behind is encouraging, not something less helpful.
Wouldn't you say it's time to "goose" your firmwide marketing effort?