Anybody who’s been within shouting distance of business management knows that business development runs on sales and marketing. Put simply, if you want new business, you have to go out and drum it up.
For accounting firms, there are four common approaches to sales and marketing that should be considered based on your business model and resources. In this article, we’ll look at each model and discuss its benefits and drawbacks to help you make the choice that is right for your firm.
1. Seller-doer. Perhaps the most common small firm strategy, in the seller-doer model the person making the sale is also the person doing the client work. It has the distinct advantage of enabling the client to have full knowledge of the person he or she will be working with so they can more quickly assess expertise. This simple structure also can help quickly build familiarity and trust between client and accountant.
However, a word of caution: Depending on your personality, drive, and other factors, you run the risk of jeopardizing the quality of one effort for the sake of the other. In other words, when you’re selling, you feel guilty that you’re not doing client work. And when you’re doing client work, you have the nagging feeling that you really ought to be out selling. It’s important to be aware of this potential guilt trap and strive to avoid it.
2. Traditional seller. In the traditional seller model, a salesperson is responsible for generating and closing the sale. When the sale is closed, the doer then enters the picture to perform the work. The seller often maintains an ongoing relationship with the client to uncover and close other opportunities.
The big advantage is that you have dedicated roles that assure focused and uninterrupted effort. Doing the work does not interfere with ongoing business development.
This model is not typically used by accounting firms because the potential client does not have an opportunity to assess expertise and establish an early rapport that builds trust. However, the upside is that it delegates two distinctly different tasks to different people – one person does the selling, the other person does the client work.
3. Seller and expert. There are some situations where the nature of an engagement requires an extensive proposal and contract negotiation phase. Large multibusiness-entity or unique, industry-based accounting situations are two examples that come to mind. In these situations, it is often desirable to have a dedicated specialist working the sale.
While there is also a need for the expert who will be doing the work to be an active participant, there is recognition by all parties that another role is required due to the complexity of the potential relationship.
This model has the advantage of allowing prospects to experience a firm’s expertise while also having a dedicated sales professional; however, it’s not widely used by accounting firms because it requires additional highly-trained, highly-compensated staff. So unless opportunities are large enough to warrant the added expense, this strategy can be unsustainable for CPA firms.
4. Business developer and closer-doer. In this model a sales-oriented professional is involved in generating, qualifying, and nurturing leads. However, this person does not provide a technical perspective or close the sale. To distinguish this role from a traditional salesperson, we’ll call this individual a “business developer.”
Similar to the seller-doer arrangement, this strategy involves a subject-matter expert who will close the sale and do the work. We call this role the “closer-doer” because part of the seller role is performed by the business developer.
And like the seller and expert strategy, this configuration has the advantage of specialization. Also, because the business developer is not closing the sale, he or she may need fewer advanced skills.
There is a third advantage: Because the professional closing the sale is also the one doing the work, the client can establish a working relationship during the sales process, and there is no information lost in the transition from prospect to client.
Bringing in new clients is essential to the health of every accounting firm. And nothing is more central to the success of that endeavor than an effective sales and marketing strategy. By choosing one that enables your firm to let its expertise shine through and build trust quickly with prospects, you’ll be better able to demonstrate your value and create a competitive edge to win more business.
About Lee Frederiksen
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 become more visible and grow.