Personal Coaching an Asset for Accounting Firms

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Many public accounting firms push their partners to prepare individual marketing plans that support the firm's goals. Why are so many of these plans ineffective?

As Yogi Berra once said, “If you don't know where you're going, you'll likely end up someplace else.” Partners too often don't clearly define where their plans will take them. Instead, they leave planning to a committee, service team or niche group, and they don't bring personal coaching into the process. As a result, the plan is impersonal. Enthusiasm tapers off after a few months since partners do not see the process as relevant.

Personal marketing plans should be developed one-on-one in a confidential setting. That way, the participating partner or manager will feel more free to speak about specific barriers and fears regarding business development. Coaching provides the opportunity to probe those anxieties and deal with the root issues.

For example, perhaps one partner offered work to another partner, but the client wasn't serviced well. That problem probably won't be raised in a group situation. When a firm involves a professional coach in the planning process, these issues are addressed and business development barriers are removed. The sessions are conducted one-on-one, but the result is a more cohesive firmwide marketing unit.

Good Plans Require Buy-In

Another reason personal marketing plans fail is because partners don't buy into them. Instead, they view plans as additional work. In our experience, fewer than 15% of participants who don't buy into their plans execute them.

You can eliminate many of the buy-in problems simply by offering a personal coach. Personal coaching helps partners tailor their plans to their own needs and considers their individual strengths, weaknesses and personality types. For example, a reserved individual could develop business playing golf but would be miserably uncomfortable at a crowded industry function. Too often, personal plans are one-size-fits-all.

Personal coaching also helps increase motivation by identifying each participant's individual goals. The coach can show participants what's in it for them.

Another common problem with personal marketing plans is that they're too vague, broad-based and lack direction. As a result, participants still think of their markets in terms such as “medium-sized privately-held businesses,” for which they provide a variety of services.

Instead, the plan should be clear and concise -- something individuals can execute immediately. An effective plan must combine business and strategic planning, marketing, and client relationship management. To maximize participants' time, the plan should identify emerging growth sectors or subcategories which will become the active target market. This process streamlines time invested in marketing. The effective plan includes a targeted market focus, financial goals articulated by the participant, the number of new clients needed to achieve the goals, the strategy for achieving measurable results, and specific action items which can begin on Day One. This is the fast track that brings results.

Sales Training Boosts Results

Another obstacle to effective personal marketing plans is that in most cases, participants are not trained to sell. The coach must offer a sales methodology during the one-on-one session and reinforce it until the participant adopts the new skills. Without sales training, the participant's inability to convert contacts into clients is continually reinforced, and marketing continues to be frustrating.

Few CPAs are taught the questions to ask to win an engagement. As a result, selling falls to a few natural rainmakers. During the one-on-one planning session, however, the coach helps partners to identify viable opportunities. Then a sales methodology is applied to each that is non-threatening to both the participant and the prospect. As the participants' confidence increases, motivation increases too.

All personal marketing plans should address accountability. Most don't, which breeds the misguided notion that sales are the sole responsibility of marketing or sales professionals. By offering the means for partners to control their own financial destinies, firms can minimize buck-passing and finger-pointing.

Keep your marketing director in the loop, but have reasonable expectations. Few can continually follow up with partners and managers on every lead. They can, however, help encourage regular time spent on implementing the personal marketing plans. That way, marketers become part of the sales process, but the sales efforts expand firmwide.

In 95% of opportunities, the prospect wants a relationship with the partner, not the marketing director. The marketing director's task is to create opportunities and open doors. Hold the partner responsible for following through. With coaching, that responsibility is less painful.

Measure Results And Client Satisfaction

Often, personal marketing plans don't address client satisfaction, but they should. Base plans on current client relationships that can be leveraged to create new business. Emphasize a mutual education process rather than “buy more from me” to increase cross sales and client satisfaction.

One common mistake in personal marketing plans is that success metrics and tracking procedures aren't established on the front end. Identify the figure which will be the barometer of the program's and participant's success, and measure the results of a personal marketing program. Using a benchmark of 12 partner-level participants, the additional firm revenue can be staggering.

Effective personal marketing plans rigorously assess and streamline marketing activities, creating efficiency rather than additional marketing hours logged on the timesheet. Working with a coach increases the plan's effectiveness and the participants' results. The coach helps show partners where they are going, how to get there and what to expect on arrival by providing the knowledge, tools and encouragement to help them shape their own financial futures.

Article written by Terri M. Sommella, president
Sommella Market Strategies/Baltimore, Md.

Terri M. Sommella, President, Sommella Market Strategies (SMS) specializes in business development strategies and sales training for CPA firms. Terri is the former in-house marketing director of Coyne & McClean, Chartered, a regional multi-office firm in Maryland. She held this position for over five years before forming SMS in 1999. Terri has received several awards for marketing excellence from the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) as well as the American Marketing Association. She currently holds many leadership positions within AAM and is responsible for launching AAM's on-line Discussion List, which links marketers and partners around the country to share ideas and resources. For additional information, call (410) 252-6989 or e-mail [email protected].

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