Can Your Business Adapt to Buyer Behavior?
Buying accounting services has fundamentally changed, thanks to the digitalization of just about everything, particularly when it comes to how customers discover, research and evaluate them.
Small accounting firms can now look and act just as sophisticated as some of the largest national and international corporate players, due to the Web and its myriad digital channels. Moreover, the traditional approaches long used by professional services providers are no longer sufficient for developing leads, turning them into prospects and converting them to clients.
So what’s an accounting firm with limited resources to do? Fortunately, you can do a lot.
Recently the Hinge Research Institute undertook an extensive study that has provided the first comprehensive look at the differing perspectives of buyers and sellers of accounting and financial services. The resulting report has provided valuable insights into the challenges buyers face in their respective industries as well as the new tools and techniques they use to research potential service providers to help them address those challenges.
We took an equally close look at accounting firms as sellers, where they might be falling down in their current sales and marketing strategies and what they can do to successfully develop and engage with prospects in this brave, new digital world. Let’s first take a look at buyers of accounting and financial services.
What are Buyers Doing to Find and Engage With Accountants?
Over the past two years, buyers' use of digital platforms to find answers to their business problems has soared and shows no sign of receding. Buyers are just as likely to do a Web search as they are to ask peers and colleagues for recommendations.
They consume insights from online articles and blogposts, they participate in webinars as much as they attend conferences and events. And, their use of social media has surged to sixth place among their top channels for learning about issues. All this signals a dramatic shift in buyer behavior that will likely continue long after the pandemic.
What does this mean for accounting practices? That they need to ensure they’re equally visible through traditional channels and web-based ones, such as LinkedIn and Facebook.
What buyers value in an accounting firm is changing as well. Existing relationships and shared values are less important these days than the talent and skills an accounting firm has to help their clients deal with increasingly complex and risky business environments.
The importance of subject matter expertise and industry knowledge has also shot up significantly. The study revealed that the importance of expertise has grown more than fifty percent over the past two years.
How Do Clients Feel About Their Current Accounting Firm?
Pretty good it seems, according to the study findings. Most accounting services buyers would gladly recommend their current accounting firm to a friend or colleague. The trouble, though, is that fewer professionals are asking for recommendations these days. They prefer to find their own service provider options online, through a web search, or by checking social media.
Even more troubling is the erosion of clients’ willingness to recommend a firm, down by an alarming 15 percent in just two years – if they’re not asked, they’re not offering. However, if your firm is viewed as “highly-relevant” to clients -- that you’re in touch with their needs and provide expert, relevant services to need those needs -- then they’d be over 80 percent more likely to recommend you.
Here’s what your firm should be doing…
If you feel your firm is not doing enough to address the changes in buyers’ behavior, you’re probably right. So what should your firm be doing? Here are some recommendations:
1. Fix your misconceptions about prospects. Our research data shows that many accounting firms think they understand what clients want and the challenges they face, but they actually don’t. In fact, your firm is probably lacking key insights that can cost you new business, unless you have accurate information. That means doing regular market research on your target audience to more accurately gauge and stay current with its issues and needs.
2. Embrace digital. You may not realize this, but chances are good your clients have been migrating to a digital environment for some time now – many industries and markets demand it if companies want to succeed and grow. More organizations are supporting remote workforces, processes are going wireless, and companies are moving to the cloud. It’s time you did much of the same. These are not temporary trends and things are not going to “get back to normal” after the pandemic, this is the new reality.
3. Offer only what is relevant. Clients don’t care that you might offer lots of different services to lots of different organizations. They want to work with an accounting firm that offers exactly what they need, nothing more and nothing less. Focus on the current and potential clients who provide the most value, thoroughly understand what expertise services they’re looking for, and then provide them. Be sure that expertise is visible in the marketplace and use it to set your firm apart from the competition.
4. Reconsider traditional approaches. Inertia is a tough thing to overcome. It’s easier to do what you’ve always done, but, as we’ve learned, tradition is going out the window. It’s a digital world now and clients are much more receptive to new ways of doing business and working with service providers. Carefully consider traditional methods to determine what still works, but quickly jettison what doesn’t and find better ways to connect with clients and meet their changing needs.
5. The right people are your most valuable asset. Make the extra effort to attract, hire and retain the best talent possible. Professional services buyers in every industry want to work with an expert, not a “wanna-be.” Visible expertise attracts clients and closes deals.
Yes, we live in an increasingly digital world, where recently personal touch and face-to-face interaction have been sadly lacking. And while digital tools matter, human connection and trust matter more. Encourage and support both and watch your firm’s business grow.
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...