15 Mistakes Accountants Make in Sales & Marketing
For most accounting professionals, sales and marketing is a foreign language, but it needs to have some attention to spur along your firm's growth.
Even if you relied 100% on referrals, marketing strategy, marketing execution and sales are critical to ensure the best ROI on the time spent fostering and closing the right leads.
Here, I have compiled a list of 15 mistakes that I most commonly see accounting firm owners fall prey to, with advice on how to correct them.
1. "We market to small businesses." In marketing, a lack of focus is akin to lighting a pile of cash on fire. You need to have a narrow focus — an identified niche — plus an ideal client persona. Only with that can you determine the best, most efficient vehicles and channels to market, and ensure the best ROI for your marketing dollars and time.
2. No Unique Selling Proposition (USP) exists. A value proposition is not a unique selling proposition (USP). A value proposition is an internal marketing strategy component while a USP is leveraged for external purposes. A USP differs from a value proposition in that it highlights your competitive advantage to win the clients you want, where your strengths meet their needs and wants.
3. Protecting your firm's secret sauce. Live by the mantra: "Give to get." If you walk your prospects and clients through what and how you do what you do, they'll realize they don't want to do it and appreciate your firm all the more. In fact, they'll be willing to pay more too. Always be giving and always be training.
Marketing Execution & Channel Marketing
4. A random act of marketing. Every marketing act costs time and money. A random act of marketing has no purpose, no intent, no success metrics, no tracking, no reporting, no accountability, no campaign associated, and ultimately will be of no success. Have a plan, set a goal, continuously measure and make it part of a concerted effort to win.
5. Marketing through wide-aiming newsletters, office events, and email. Marketing like everyone else will get you the same return as everyone else — little to no growth. If you know your niche and your ideal client, you can understand what they want to hear, where they want to hear it, and how they want to be sold. Maybe email marketing or a newsletter is the right thing to do, but you need to understand your ideal client first and then determine if that is the best vehicle to approach them with.
6. Relying only on referrals. Not all referrals are created equal. A referral to a prospective restaurant client when you only deal with eCommerce clients isn't helpful. In fact, it wastes valuable time and money. You want to drive the right referrals and then expand the pie with the right, focused marketing efforts. Depending on your target audience, spending a little might equal explosive growth.
7. Expecting clients to provide reviews. Unfortunately, human behavior is such that when a person feels wronged, they are quick to post their grievances on social media. However, when things go right, they drag their feet. If you want ratings and reviews (and you want a steady flow of them), you need to approach clients directly, make it easy to submit it, and help them along to ensure they spend the few moments to help improve your social proof.
Digital and Social marketing
8. Safety in the herd. Accountants, as the stereotype goes, are risk adverse. Look at a handful of accountant websites and they will all look the same. If you want to be noticed by your ideal client, you need to stand out. Speak to your client through the visuals, layout and text on your accounting firm's website. Going narrow doesn't exclude others from taking interest, instead it allows you to get noticed and greatly increases your likelihood to close a prospective client.
9. Providing multiple calls-to-action. Nothing pains me more than to see a beautiful webpage with five links in the main body of the page. As a prospective client, which do I click? Each and every webpage should drive to one call-to-action. It should stand out, be clear, and be in sync with the purpose of the page. Give two or more options and you create indecision which leads to no activity at all.
10. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as an after-thought. Have you tuned your accounting website for SEO to target the five keywords you must own, that your prospective clients will find you with when they search Google? You need to weave these within your site in the metadata, the titles, and the content. If you have no targeted SEO, you are looking for a miracle to have your firm come up high enough in the search results to be found by prospective clients.
11. Using every single social media platform. What does your ideal client use? Only participate on the social media platforms that make sense to your clients. If they are on Facebook, then go on Facebook. If they are on Twitter, then go on Twitter. Having a social media presence on all platforms doesn't help you. You need to monitor, maintain and cultivate each one so where are you going to focus your efforts.
12. Sales & marketing as a part-time job. Sales and marketing take work in smaller firms is often placed on the partner (and subsequently, on the backburner). Your firm's future growth is tied to the efforts applied here. Hire or contract someone that has marketing as their focus and their expertise. If you are serious about growth, you need to make sure someone is there to make it happen.
13. Dreading the pursuit of the sale. For some, sales is fun. For others, they dread it. However, you need to drive each prospect to a close. You can't drag your feet in following up and pursuing the sale. Great salespeople follow-up immediately and either pursue them to a close or kick them out of the sales funnel. Leave a prospect to find their own path, and that path will lead to someone else's doorstep.
14. Saying "yes" to every client that walks through the door. You only have so much capacity and each person you say yes to increases the likelihood of one that really matters being neglected or turned away. Be smart about who you work with. If they aren't a fit, guide them to someone that is better to serve them. Ask the tough questions—what is their expectation to pay for your services? If they are speaking pennies and you are speaking “Benjamins,” cut your losses and move on.
15. Speaking more than listening. For small business owners, their business is their life, livelihood and pride. They want to talk about it, so when meeting them, let them speak and probe them on their business. This will let you move beyond the tip of the iceberg and understand the root problems they have. With that knowledge, you can take the lead in the value conversation, expand the pie of services, and create a more meaningful business and personal relationship with your prospective client.
To grow your accounting practice, you don't necessarily need to spend more money or dedicate more time than what you already are. If your firm can avoid each of these 15 mistakes in your sales and marketing activities, your growth will be efficient and every dollar you invest will have a high likelihood of return.
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Ian Vacin is vice president of product marketing at Karbon. He has 15 years of leadership experience in the accounting industry at Karbon, Xero, and Intuit, and is passionate about helping accounting professionals be as successful as possible.