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Using Practice Management Systems to Focus on Business Development


Business development in a professional accounting firm should be a coordinated effort for the maximum results. Unfortunately, not all practitioners are rainmakers for their firms.

Jun 15th 2020
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Many practitioners, perhaps even you, like to do the work but are not so interested in finding the work. After all, “sale” is a four-letter word to many professionals.

However, if you consider that most accounting professionals want to help businesses and individuals alike, business development winds up being the source of helping more people. You and your firm stand to profit from these efforts, particularly when they are done right.

You may be lucky enough to have multiple partners to help with business development or to have the skills of a marketing person. However, most small firms are fortunate to have administrative assistants to enter contact information into a system and to help set appointments for the rainmaker(s) in the firm. If the systems are simple enough to use, you can manage business development as part of your day to day workflow.

Fine Tuning or Expanding Your Practice Offerings

A myriad of articles and books have been written about sales techniques and product development, but the process is straightforward. Your firm should have a mix of services that clients want to buy.

Most firms have built their practices based on providing compliance services that clients have to buy, like tax and audit. And of course, if you have been in the profession for long, you will remember that accepting commissions and marketing were not acceptable behaviors in the past.

But much of the professional accounting world has moved beyond compliance with Client Accounting Services (CAS), advisory services, wealth management and more. Bloomberg suggests that there may be as many as 30 services provided by accounting firms. It is easier to manage growth beyond compliance if you specialize in an industry or specific offering. To develop an innovative offering, consider the following steps:

  • Discuss client needs with peers
  • Proactively schedule client discovery meetings to ask about their needs
  • Determine how many other clients have similar needs
  • Create a menu of services and a fee schedule
  • Approach some of the clients with the new offering
  • Refine the offering after completing 3-5 engagements
  • Market the offering inside your client base and then externally

To manage these steps, you need a methodology for tracking success. A business development system helps organize your actions and ensure the next steps are completed on a timely basis.

Business Development in Practice Management or CRM?

If you are a smaller firm, we believe there is a distinct advantage of having business development features included in your practice management system. While you are running a small practice, there is frequently more than you can easily get done in a typical workday.

Finding the work, doing the work and managing the practice, including the team members as well as administrative tasks, can be challenging. The same problem exists in larger practices, but at a larger scale. Some practice management systems, such as STAR Practice Management, APS Practice Management, or Templeton PracticePro 365, have business development features included.

Some large firms, such as Eide Bailey, for example have used NetSuite and Salesforce CRM as tools to transform their practices. On the other hand, some firms have tried to manage business development and client interactions inside practice management systems that are too restrictive to complete all the needed tasks effectively.

Consider that business development software should handle these items:

  • Tracks all contact information including business name, email, phone numbers, web sites and referring relationships
  • Assists in managing calls, appointments, meetings, tasks
  • Provides a place for documentation on all client interactions from all channels including email, text, and phone
  • Manages security so that all team members can see what they have the right to see and not have visibility into confidential information – this feature is more critical in a family office or high-net-wealth practice where information should only be available on a “need to know” basis
  • Manages email and social marketing campaigns
  • Integrates with your website
  • Integrates with your phone or Voice over IP (VOIP) system including SMS (text) messages
  • Integrates with your operational systems, which could include time and billing or another invoicing system as well as accounting
  • Assists in delivering proposals, engagements and marketing materials
  • Integrates with your workflow, document management, portal and other operational systems
  • Captures lead sources from multiple sources including your website, face to face events such as personal interactions, community events, as well as the marketing events and activities of your firm

While this list is not complete, it provides guidance on features to consider in any business development system for your firm. Consider that some practice management products include business development features.

They become an integrated part of the system, and the culture of business development is included throughout the product. The following diagram represents this:


Your decision revolves around several issues:

  • How proactive is your firm in business development?
  • Do you want fewer systems to manage?
  • How much volume does your firm handle in suspects and prospects?
  • Do you have a well-defined target market?
  • Do you want the system simple enough that partners and rainmakers can use it?
  • Will you have much clerical or marketing support?
  • How much marketing automation does your firm need?

Let us look at a few options…

Which Practice Management Products Have Strong Business Development?

During the analysis for The Realities of Practice Management, we considered the business development features of all practice management products. It became clear that a few products had focused on business development.

Practice management tools including ATOM, OfficeTools, Aero Workflow, Avii and Karbon had features that promoted non-client and client interactions. Consider the list of business development items above. Each of these products covered many, but not all, of these areas.

ATOM was impressive with the integration of SMS text messaging, and the support of client referral programs inside of their product. Further, these features were also integrated into their portal.

The systems were designed to support a high-volume, multi-location, referral practice. The business development tools could assist in growing from a small practice to a larger one.

OfficeTools has had business development in mind from the original design up through today. The visibility of prospects, integration of email communications, and referral tracking have been in this system for well over a decade.

Aero Workflow is of note because it originally evolved from Method CRM. While the interactions were far more Client Account Services and deadline focused, it was clear that prospect conversion into the system is cleanly handled.

Avii has been structured to have a suite of features in the product. There are also strong connections to outside products. The design supports interactions that are highly automated and attractive to new generation clients that want mobile and web ease of use.

Karbon was developed as a highly interactive and social networking style of product. While the product has matured to become more robust on practice management features, it was clear that this vendor believes that collaboration with clients was a way to win referral business.

What About CRM and Marketing Automation Products?

Alternatively, firms have purchased Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or bulk marketing products to accomplish business development. Examples of CRM products include Salesforce, Dynamics CRM, Results CRM, Method CRM, and more. When I perform paid consulting work in mid- and large-size CPA firms, these products often make my recommendation list:

  • Zoho CRM
  • Results CRM
  • Levitate
  • Dynamics CRM
  • Salesforce
  • Sage CRM
  • Highrise
  • Infusionsoft
  • SugarCRM
  • HubSpot

Please note that these products tend to work better in larger firms, and many of these products do not fit the culture of professional accounting firms. The exception on this list might be Levitate, which has been created by the founder of ShareFile.

We have been a fan of integrated CRM in accounting software at all levels. Integrated CRM has been included in mid-market products like NetSuite or Acumatica, as well as in entry products like Zoho One or DoMoreCRM. We believe you are wise to advise your small business clients to capture prospect and customer information in a CRM system that is integrated with their accounting.

Bulk marketing products have included email marketing products like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp. More sophisticated and expensive examples of marketing automation include AgileCRM, HubSpot, and Infusionsoft. Zapier has produced an eBook The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Apps by Matthew Guay, which provides guidance on these tools and more.

Unfortunately, these CRM systems or marketing automation systems rarely have integration into practice management. We wind up managing multiple systems that may not even be connected instead of being able to convert a suspect to a prospect to a client in a single system. Both team members and clients have inconsistent experiences when disparate systems are used, particularly when they are not integrated properly.

Are You Doing it Right, or Getting By?

The best professional firms have a proactive business development system that enables their strategic marketing plan. The strategies and tactics can be managed on paper or in Outlook, but you can also drive a nail with a wrench.

We want you to choose the right hammer to drive the type and quantity of nails you find in your practice. While you can buy a sledgehammer to do the job, you might be better served with a regular claw hammer.

The system you choose should help you conveniently manage pools of suspects, capture interactions from a wide variety of events, and help you execute your sales cycle until you have added the right type of new client to your firm. Then you can prove to the client why your firm provides the best client service available!

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