How Thought Leadership Marketing Can Solve Many Challenges for Your Firm
The baby boomer exodus is real, and the impacts are many. More than 8,000 baby boomers turn 65 each year, according to AARP. As a result, many companies are scrambling to find experienced talent as skilled as departing senior leaders. While some baby boomers are delaying retirement for financial or personal reasons, employers are still faced with finding better methods to attract the top talent they need.
The Hinge Research Institute recently studied more than 530 professional services firms, including financial and accounting firms, to identify their most pressing challenges and top marketing priorities.
The study found accounting and finance organizations’ top challenges were:
- Attracting and developing new business (71 percent).
- Finding and keeping good people (51 percent).
In fact, the research indicated that the need to find and retain top talent is higher in the accounting and finance marketplace than in other professional services industries. Competition is so fierce to attract the best candidates to fill vacancies that some firms are using acquisitions to help close the gap. However, mergers and acquisitions are not the only way to solve this. Many top firms are leveraging their internal experts to attract both new business and the brightest talent.
The Effect of ‘Visible Experts’ on Professional Services Buyers
Previous research from Inside the Buyer’s Brain found that accounting and financial services buyers seek out providers with a high profile and strong reputation in the marketplace. This insight prompted a closer look at how high-visibility expertise influences these buyers.
The Hinge Research Institute conducted a comprehensive study of 1,028 professional services buyers to uncover what purchasers look for when selecting a firm and how they identify experts.
The study also interviewed 130 prestigious industry professionals, or “Visible Experts,” to discover how these individuals impact their firms and clients. They also drilled down into what tools they use to cultivate their reputations.
How Do Buyers Research Accounting Service Providers?
Online research is the top way buyers check out accounting firms. Most commonly, buyers looked at sellers’ websites, consulted their own friends and colleagues, and searched online.
A provider’s website was the most common source of information for purchasers. This underscores the importance of making sure your firm’s website is clearly communicating the breadth of services offered, areas of expertise, and differentiators that set you apart from the competition. A common place where firms highlight their experts is on their company blog.
Figure 1. How buyers check out potential accounting and financial services providers.
Using Thought Leadership to Demonstrate Excellence
What has become clear across the research is that high-visibility experts are dramatically changing the way accounting firms go to market. Firms with Visible Experts are able to attract and close new business more quickly, are able to command higher fees, and successfully draw the top tier of talent – all due to their elevated reputation.
By posting and promoting educational content online, potential clients and candidates researching firms are able to clearly see the extensiveness of a firm’s knowledge and their specific areas of expertise. In this way, thought leadership is operating as the perfect mechanism to help firms solve their top two challenges: attracting new clients and attracting the most qualified candidates.
Why Buyers Seek Visible Experts
What prompts buyers to look for an expert in the first place? The most common reason given for seeking out an expert was a lack of in-house expertise. Other reasons respondents cited fall into one of the following four categories:
- Solving a critical problem.
- Brand building, tapping new marketing, and winning new business.
- Working with an expert creates confidence for the buyer.
- Engaging an expert to give testimony in a legal proceeding.
How Buyers Find High-Visibility Expertise
The top way that buyers find industry leaders is online. Thirty-one percent of firms surveyed rely on an online search. Other sources include recommendations, publications, conferences, and speaking events. The research revealed buyers continue to favor online methods for efficiency, as well as for the broad range of information available, whether through an online search, LinkedIn, or webinars.
Recommendations are the top offline method, used by 19.4 percent of firms and are a good barometer of the existing strength of an individual brand.
The Impact Industry LeadersHave on Billing Rates
How much Visible Experts can impact the rates their firms charge is correlated directly to their perceived level of expertise. Hinge researchers defined five levels of experts, from Level 1 Resident Experts, who are recognized by clients, staff, and colleagues, but not well-known outside their firm, to Level 5 Superstar Experts, who command premium fees because they are synonymous with an entire area of expertise.
How much are accounting and financial services purchasers willing to pay to engage experts? Using an average professional hourly rate of $100, researchers asked buyers how much more they would be willing to pay for each level of visible expertise relative to this baseline. The chart below presents the averages reported by our respondents:
Figure 2. Hourly rates firms will pay for accounting and financial Visible Experts by level.
Every level of visible expertise commands a premium rate, starting at nearly 250 percent of the baseline for a Level 1 Visible Expert. As an individual’s level of expertise increases, the rate he or she may command rises dramatically. At the top end, a Level 5 Expert is able to potentially command over 14 times the rate of the average professional.
The Most Impactful Tools for Marketing Accounting Thought Leaders
We asked our pool of experts to rate the impact of each tool they used to market their brand, using a 0 to 10 scale, with 10 representing the highest impact.
Figure 3. The most impactful marketing tools for Visible Experts in accounting and financial services.
Resources for Fast-Tracking Visible Experts
As we analyzed the paths taken by our Visible Expert respondents, we were intrigued to uncover a subset of experts that rose to high visibility at a faster pace than the rest. These “Fast Trackers” rose from the status of average expert to Level 5 in about five years, whereas the average Visible Expert took about 20 years to reach the same point.
For a deeper look into Visible Experts, including what sets Fast Trackers apart and what process your firm can use to speed the development of your own experts, check out the Visible Expert Research Study: Accounting and Financial Services Edition.
Lee W. Frederiksen, PhD, is managing partner at Hinge, a marketing firm that specializes in branding and marketing for professional services. Hinge conducts groundbreaking research into high-growth firms and offers a complete suite of services for firms that want to...