Despite consistent recognition of the problem, many CPA and other professional service firms continue to struggle with finding efficient and effective ways to develop new business.
Many firms continue to make the same mistakes and missteps over and over again. If your firm struggles with new business development, there’s a good chance your marketing efforts simply aren’t up to the task.
Here are five basic marketing mistakes CPA firms often make that can undermine their ability to successfully find and land new business:
1. Lack of critical skills
While it may surprise some, many accounting firms simple have the wrong people in charge of marketing. Senior management status or industry expertise doesn’t necessarily make someone a good choice for handling marketing chores. In today’s highly digitized, online world, effective marketing requires a broader skill set than was necessary just a few years ago.
In addition to traditional skills such as copywriting and media management, there are newer, web-based skills such as web analytics, social media usage, and search engine optimization (SEO) that have become key marketing tools. Even when some firms hire the right people with the right skill set, they overburden them with tasks and responsibilities that make it difficult for even the best talent to perform well.
2. Strategy stumbling blocks
Even with the right talent in place strategy can take a wrong turn, often because it suffers from “death by committee.” That’s a malady caused when firms assemble a sizable committee, largely composed of partners and senior executives, to oversee marketing efforts.
Committees, however, typically “go with the flow” to achieve consensus. They avoid change because it is unsettling and it’s easier to rubberstamp the same plan that’s been in effect since time immemorial.
It doesn’t help that since most accounting firms are run by accountants, it can be difficult to get approval on new marketing investments that may be seen as risky. As a result, a tepid marketing strategy is put in place that produces an equally tepid outcome.
3. Dead-on-arrival implementation
Sometimes a solid, workable strategy escapes the clutches of a committee, only to fail to fully see the light of day. This can happen for a variety of reasons.
Enthusiasm can wane as the reality of actually implementing the plan sinks in. People who already have a full plate balk at the idea of having to take on yet another task. Interest fades after producing the first webinar or blog post.
To make matters worse, even the best marketing plan doesn’t necessarily produce immediate results. Employees lose heart and management loses faith in what they might now see as a flawed plan. Everyone would rather spend their time and effort working for existing, paying clients.
4. Non-functioning sales funnels
Every marketers knows about the sales funnel – in theory. The problem is, some funnels are non-functional, making it difficult for prospects to journey smoothly through the funnel and turn from a lead to a client.
In practice, leads enter into the funnel guided by advertising, face-to-face interactions with firm personnel or attracted by compelling online content. Once in the funnel, leads become prospects as they learn more about your firm and how it can help them.
As you earn prospects’ trust and deepen the relationship, they become opportunities for sales, and with the right call-to-action and offer, they’re turned into clients. Unfortunately, the three stages of transformation from lead to client offer equal opportunity for the prospect to become stuck in the funnel or lose interest and leave. A firm might even be great at attracting new prospects, but then fail to provide offers or other incentives to deepen the engagement and extend the relationship.
5. Flying blind
No pilot in their right mind would take off in bad weather without instruments to tell them where they’re going. However, many accounting firms willingly adopt marketing strategies with no idea of where they might take their business and how they’re performing. They’re happy to fly blind, trusting their gut-instincts and best-guesses as to what might work.
Studies we’ve conducted at the Hinge Research Institute have shown that high-growth professional services firms use more data and analytics to optimize their marketing programs than their low-growth peers. High-growth firms establish metrics with which to monitor and measure their marketing efforts, enabling them to quickly change gears as needed to support or improve program results.
How to Chart a Clear Course
As you can see from the marketing mistakes outlined here, it’s critical to have the skill set and appropriate marketing plan to ensure success.
Start by determining the skills your firm needs to acquire to develop and implement the right marketing strategy. That might require more training for current employees, hiring new ones, or turning to outside experts for help.
Delegate the creation of your marketing strategy to a small team with the skills and authority to make decisions. Research the current needs and preferences of your target audience and update them as the market and your goals change.
Create a differentiated brand by determining what makes your firm unique and different from your competitors to make sure your buyers remember you. Then implement marketing tactics with a proven ability to generate results.
Establish a small set of reasonable metrics to monitor and measure your marketing program’s progress and results. Adjust as needed.
Today’s digital marketing solutions are supported by a variety of tools that enable you to track activities and measure results in real time. It’s now relatively easy to gain insight into what’s working and what’s not.
By taking advantage of these available insights, you can ensure that your firm charts a successful course and stays on it.
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...