AAM Session Overview: Measuring Marketing Results

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This is the third of a series of articles on sessions presented at the 2002 Association for Accounting Marketing Conference.

In Measuring Marketing Results, The First Success is the Commitment To Try!

By Renée M. Amellio (Director of Marketing/Public Relations at New-York based Eisner LLP) for the Association for Accounting Marketing

In an accounting firm environment, there is a very apparent cultural difference among marketers and accountants. After all, marketing is highly creative with an emphasis on generation, while accounting is highly technical with an emphasis on delivery. Good communication is at the forefront of achievement for any organization's success. So marketers and accountants have to constantly work at it, and despite their cultural differences, they are working together on a top priority– business development.

The Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) held its annual Marketing Conference in June 2002 in the Lone Star State of Texas. More than 300 members joined forces in San Antonio to discuss the challenges and developments they face in marketing the services and products of Accounting and Business Advisory firms. The sentiment echoed by many was that measuring up in marketing doesn't come easy. The frustration level is high among marketers in the accounting profession – a profession that relies ultimately on personal “selling,” where measuring business development outcome at the individual level holds promise for enhancing return on investment. It requires cooperation among accounting and marketing professionals alike and a shared understanding in their interaction and the role each plays. Success is most apparent when each party is able to close the gap, communicate and share information on a timely basis.

With the cultural gap that exists between accountants and marketers, choosing and measuring marketing programs must align with overall firm objectives. Most importantly, as conference speaker and AAM member Kayte Steinhert-Threlkeld pointed out, “is the need for tracking the results of marketing initiatives -- both quantitatively and qualitatively -- and sharing those results.” From a more parochial marketing perspective, many of the AAM members know and understand the benefits that measuring marketing efforts can deliver. However, they are faced with the challenge of getting their arms around it and implementing it successfully, given the many players and processes that facilitate business development. The key to this is a “closed loop” information system. Ms. Steinert-Threlkeld, who divides her time as Director of Marketing between Connecticut-based firms Whittlesey & Hadley, P.C. and Weinstein & Anastasio, P.C., hosted the AAM Conference session “Measuring Up in Marketing,” bringing to light the benefits and challenges marketers in accounting firms face when tracking and measuring the impact of marketing initiatives.

“Partners hold on to client and prospect information like it is their job security” and “we do not have any leverage with partners to force them to share client/prospect information,” were commonly expressed barriers that AAM members face when trying to close the information gap. So, is measurement doable? Yes, according to Steinert-Threlkeld. In fact, as was pointed out repeatedly at the June 2002 AAM Conference, organizations are starting to make some headway. Keeping the focus limited to business development initiatives, here is what Steinert-Threlkeld and AAM had to say on “measuring up in marketing.”

Consider what can be measured…

Business development is by far one of the most important efforts to track, given that marketing drives this very process. In words to live by, according to Steinert-Threlkeld, “if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.” And chances are if the program requires commitment of time and financial resources, then you might be asked to measure the results of marketing efforts.

The business development process is one of the easiest marketing efforts to measure. So, if you do not have a tracking system in place, this might be a good place to start. The first step is to seek out the cooperation and buy-in of partners in maintaining a “control log” of the respective firm's business development initiatives. After all, they are out there day in and day out nurturing relationships. The control log provides a platform from which to track many of the firm's practice development initiatives – business referrals, subsequent proposals and responses to RFPs – and effectively communicate the status of a firm's overall business development efforts.

One cannot stop at measuring successes, it is equally important to track all wins, losses, and revenues that result from lead generation initiatives. Consider tracking the business development initiatives by partner and/or teams, referrals, industry and niche practice areas, offices and year-over-year/year-to-date performance. The idea is to get as detailed as possible, as tracking the business development process will not only deliver quantitative and qualitative results, but it will help identify the firm's strengths and challenges. Most importantly, it will allow for a managed follow-up program to ensure that there are no missed opportunities.

(The same emphasis can be placed on the sales call process. By monitoring the sales process, one can determine the average sales cycle for the firm – from the results of each call to the number of face-to-face meetings generated from the calls. Keep in mind that a CRM system can ease the burden of tracking the sales call process.)

So much can be learned from tracking business development efforts. In maintaining a control log, the marketing professional is better able to identify the rainmakers, and assess such things as industry strongholds, average size of new clients, seasonal activity of specific targeted industry groups and successful fee levels. The process also provides the impetus for annual benchmarking – an important factor to determining the success of an accounting firm's future marketing initiatives. Chances are patterns will emerge.

(Do not underestimate the influencer. By tracking the business referral process in the control log, the firm can easily identify the strongest referral sources, track revenues generated from those referrals, and judge the quality of the leads generated.)

However, perhaps one of the most meaningful activities to measure is the individual marketing effort of the accounting firm's partners and staff. The key is the use of individual marketing plans, which help professional staff set realistic goals that they can achieve. The message this delivers is that everyone is integral to the firm's success. Steinert-Threlkeld believes that the best way to capture such efforts is to develop detailed marketing codes to capture the time and commitment made to marketing.

To further support individual marketing efforts, Steinert-Threlkeld recommends implementing a Marketing Incentive Program. She considers marketing incentive programs key to the development of a marketing culture within a firm. She cites two examples: a lead generation program that recognizes the efforts of staff (with a set monetary fee) that result in an appointment between a qualified business prospect and partner, and a business development program that rewards the sign on of a new client with a % of first-year's revenues. (The difference between the two programs is that with a business development incentive, the professional staff member typically owns and manages the relationship.)

The marketing efforts that can be measured are numerous. Some of the other efforts Steinert-Threlkeld mentions are publicity, advertising, seminars, marketing and sales training, among others. But, buy-in to marketing and the measurement of it is not the issue, as we can concede that marketing is as much a process as an inspiration. The overall purpose of this process is to effect change. Measuring marketing ROI is difficult to accomplish, but its contributions are overwhelmingly positive. Overall, it helps us understand which parts of the marketing program are “moving the needles” more than others. Accounting firms that tackle the process of measuring marketing initiatives and seeing them through to a successful conclusion will realize a much greater return on investment.

Visit the AAM Web site for more information.This is the third of a series of articles on sessions presented at the 2002 AAM Conference.

The Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM), headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, is the leading trade/educational organization for individuals working in marketing, sales, and communication for accounting firms. Since 1989, AAM has provided members with the information, resources, and market intelligence needed to excel and grow in their careers.

For more information about joining AAM or to be placed on a mailing list for next year's Marketing Summit in Boston, MA in June 2003, contact Lisa Daniels at 816.221.1296, or [email protected].

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