Investing in an Accounting Firm Marketing System
Accounting firms can no longer be content with doing business on the golf course. In order to retain clients, recruit prospects and capture as many referrals as possible, firms must invest in a solid marketing system.
Easier said than done, but thanks to increased optimism over the last six to 12 months, accounting firms are becoming more interested in business development and new client acquisition. In fact, given the duration of the economic downturn, combined with the severity in certain industries and regions of the country, we have seen a dramatic increase in accounting firms learning how to use marketing for lead generation, how to capitalize on businesses using QuickBooks, more demand for IRS Problem Resolution-type work and a genuine interest in learning how to sell accounting services.
This economy has severely damaged certain industries far more than others. For example, the real estate and construction industry experienced a downturn more dramatic than healthcare, professional services and information technology. Logic says, therefore, accounting firms should still steer clear of the real estate and construction sectors and use targeted marketing techniques to target stronger industry sectors that are in better economic shape.
Over the past 10 years, marketing shifted from "outbound" to "inbound," as the effectiveness of certain techniques gradually declined over time and more efficient technologies enabled greater reach.
For example, outbound marketing, including telemarketing, e-mail blasts, trade shows, and radio and newspaper advertising, are less effective because prospects have become immune to these techniques. Some even block them out with screening on Caller ID, listing on the Do Not Call Registry and acquiring email spam filtering programs.
Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is much more efficient and effective because it initiates a response from the prospect instead of asking the prospect to react. Inbound marketing refers electronic marketing efforts using e-mail newsletters and website marketing on Google, Yahoo and Bing, all in conjunction with social media marketing on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
To reinforce the strength of inbound marketing, there's a natural correlation between the way business owners shop and learn about things on the Internet and the way in which accountants can educate their prospects and clients about their services. Electronic marketing methods, combined with referral marketing, yields a higher return on investment (ROI).
For example, an accountant's website needs to be easy to find using Google, along with other supporting information about the accounting firm owners. If a business owner in a local community uses LinkedIn or Facebook to ask his or her network of friends who they recommend as an accountant, will any of those local business owners recommend you?
In other words, what is the brand awareness of the firm within the local business community?
Inbound marketing is important because of "trust." People trust the information they find and read on the Internet, whether it's a recommendation from a LinkedIn friend, a negative review in Yelp or Angie's list, a past lawsuit, or industry honors for a job well done. The accumulation of positive press posted on the Internet establishes trusts with prospects, and helps them overcome their fear and skepticism of working with a new firm.
We highly recommend accountants capitalize on the opportunity to market on the Internet using e-mail newsletters, having a search engine-optimized website that is easy to locate on Google and Yahoo, and proactively using social media marketing.
We do not recommend cold call telemarketing, yellow page advertising and other advertising that is not very targeted. Yellow page advertising has become too fragmented and seldom provides leads from business clients. Similarly, overused cold call telemarketing has made it less effective than it used to be. The trust established from this process is very low; client retention rates are significantly below industry average and the selling process is much more "price focused."
Where Should They Invest? What has the Best ROI?
Accountants should invest their money in venues where they are spending their time, on the Internet and electronically:
- Search engine-optimized website.
- Pay-per-click advertising.
- E-mail newsletters - educate clients by writing with a strong voice.
- Social media - write frequently and post weekly to Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn using an educational tone, similar to a well-known journalist.
The cost for these methods is not significant; instead, it takes time, knowledge and effort.
Learning How to Sell
Inbound marketing works, but really soars when accountants understand know how to "sell." Most accountants do not know how to sell accounting services. They struggle with the pricing, positioning, what to present and how to overcome objections. Spending lots of money on marketing and lead generation makes little sense if the accountant does not know how to close the deal.
To avoid this pitfall, we recommend all accountants attend one accounting marketing workshop each year. This is an investment accountants must make to survive for the long term.
By Hugh Duffy
About the Author
Hugh Duffy is co-founder and chief marketing officer of Build Your Firm, a practice development and marketing company that focuses on small accounting firms. Hugh teaches an online Marketing Program for Accounants; writes an e-mail newsletter reaching thousands of accountants; and is frequently published in various publications, including The CPA Technology Advisor, Progressive Accountant and state CPA society newsletters and magazines.He can be reached at 888-999-9800 x151, or at [email protected].