In today’s competitive marketplace, it’s more challenging than ever to distinguish your accounting firm from the pack. This is further complicated by the fact that you’re selling services and expertise, which are more difficult to define than tangible products. Luckily, there’s a solution: Develop a differentiation strategy.
Put simply, this is a strategic approach that helps your firm stand apart from similar competitors. Since the intellectual assets that bring value to your firm aren’t visible, a differentiation strategy can help potential clients understand what sets your services apart.
So, how do you develop one? It starts with clearly defined differentiators.
What Makes a Strong Differentiator?
Before we delve into the steps to developing a differentiation strategy, let’s talk differentiators. This is something that is unique to your firm and offers significant value to your prospects. While differentiators can address both broad industry differences and niche expertise, it’s most important that they meet the following three standards:
It Has to Be True: This is one of the most important qualifications of a strong differentiator. If you are going to make a claim about something that sets your firm apart, you better be able to follow through.
It Has to Be Relevant: It doesn’t matter how unique a quality or offering is if your target audience isn’t interested. Instead, focus on claims that are relevant to the process a prospect would go through when selecting an accounting firm.
It Has to Be Provable: As important as it is to tell the truth — as mentioned in our first qualification — you also need to be able to substantiate your differentiators with clear evidence that proves your claim.
Now that we’ve established the key qualities of strong differentiators, let’s discuss strategy.
5 Steps to Develop Your Differentiation Strategy
Step 1: Identify Your Individual Expertise
For any professional services firm, expertise is one of the strongest differentiators you can offer. However, virtually every accounting firm can claim to be experts in their field, so it’s important to think about what makes your unique expertise worth promoting. It should be broad enough to appeal to a wide audience, specific enough to set your firm apart and significant enough to sway a prospective client.
Step 2: Do Your Research
Knowing what your prospects need from you is the best way to figure out how to position your firm effectively. Conducting research that asks the right questions can help you determine the messaging you need to use to speak directly to their pain points.
Step 3: Develop Your Differentiators
Generate a list of possible differentiators, and evaluate each against the three above criteria. Ideally, you’ll finish with a list of at least three really strong differentiators that set your firm apart.
Step 4: Build a Story
Now it’s time to consider how you will communicate this expertise and your differentiators to prospective clients. Creating a narrative or story allows you to engage with prospects and nurture them into clients. While your website makes the most logical starting point, you can also increase your visibility through speaking engagements, published articles and thought leadership, like an eBook or webinar.
Step 5: Adjust
It might take some fine-tuning before your messaging really begins to resonate with prospective clients. Track your results and make adjustments to increase the value you’re receiving in return. If your initial messaging appears to fall flat, do further research to uncover the problems and make the necessary changes.
The Importance of Visible Expertise
Recent research from the Hinge Research Institute identified developing more visible expertise as the top marketing strategy professional services firms plan to address in 2019. This falls in line with what our research revealed the firms growing at the highest rate were already doing. This confirms it’s not enough to be an expert in your field — you need to be actively promoting that expertise to ensure it is visible to your target audience.
If you’re ready to set your firm apart from the competition and increase growth at a faster rate, now is the perfect time to develop a strong differentiation strategy and build your visible expertise.
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...