Trust Marketing for CPA Accountants
Traditional approaches to marketing and lead generation are becoming less, and less effective. That's because the traditional approaches have been overused across all industries. For example, it used to be easy for an accounting firm to generate leads from telemarketing, yellow page advertising and even fax marketing. Those days are long gone as fax marketing and consumer telemarketing are prohibited by law, and yellow pages advertising has been declining steadily with deregulation and the decline of old fashioned print technologies.
Over the past twenty years, there has been an evolutionary shift in power from sellers to buyers. Today's buyer is much better informed and has many more options to consider. As a result, the marketing tactics of yesteryear gradually evolve into dinosaurs as the returns become marginal, at best.
The fundamental dilemma in traditional direct response marketing is that it "pushes" your services onto the prospect. By "pushing" your services onto prospects, you spend too much time on price and the dialogue is a sales pitch. Ultimately, the accountant feels frustrated because time is wasted and prospects start avoiding you because they reject the transactional approach to traditional direct response marketing.
Like anything in marketing, if you overuse a particular approach, the effectiveness will gradually decline. With cold call telemarketing, the productivity has been declining for twenty years. As evidence, there have been several outsourced telemarketing services that have gone out of business because cold call telemarketing has become less effective and the marginal players can no longer make it work. Don't get me wrong, telemarketing for lead generation is still a huge business but it's very challenging to make it work effectively.
To combat this phenomenon, many savvy marketers have evolved towards trust marketing approaches. And rather than "push" your services onto a prospect, savvy marketers "pull" prospects to their services in a consultative fashion that is information based. The goals of trust marketing are:
Trust Marketing Goals
- Attract leads that are motivated and searching for your type of accounting services
- Convert a higher percentage of leads
- Generate more referrals from your clients and non-clients
- Retain the average client longer, years longer
Put Yourself in the Prospects Shoes and Understand their Pain
Just like any marketing challenge, whether it's developing a new product or a new television commercial, you have to put yourself in the prospects shoes and walk a mile in their shoes. The solution is to understand their world, feel their pain and then alleviate it with your new, and improved, service.
In today's soft economic marketplace, let's assume that you are a small business owner considering hiring an accounting firm. Here are a series of concerns you will most likely have about hiring a new accounting firm:
1. How am I going to survive this recession if things continue getting worse?
2. I have no way of knowing if this accountant is any good. There is no way for me to evaluate them and third-party validation services like Consumer Reports, J.D. Power, and Zagat don't exist for small accounting firms.
3. I hear stories about all these Ponzi schemes. How do I know if I can trust my accounting and financial needs to this accounting firm?
4. Will this accountant speak to me in language that I can understand?
5. Does this accountant understand my industry? I don't want to train another accountant on why this industry is so unique...
6. I don't care about accounting. I just want to minimize my taxes and stay out of jail. The last accountant I met with refused to give me advice and guidance on how to lower my taxes.
7. This is going to be expensive. How will I ever get a return on my investment?
8. With the economic stimulus package, can this accounting firm help me tap into the funds that the government has set aside for small businesses?
More than likely, your prospect knows they need help but is struggling to get by in the current economy and is vastly under-capitalized. In a nutshell, they want to hire an accountant they can trust holistically. Someone who understands their business, can alleviate the pain and provide them with guidance to weather the storm.
Trust-based marketing is very different than most types of marketing in that it is very subtle and information based at the onset. Under this approach, the new client acquisition dance is focused on educating your client so you are positioned as the industry expert. In other words, the initial interactions are geared around demonstrating that you understand their issues and fears, educate them on the options that exist, and recommend steps to help them during the information gathering process. And as the prospect gradually starts to put more trust into your suggestions, they become more likely to either use your services and/or recommend your services.
The foundations of trust marketing are:
- The more value and confidence that you provide to the prospect in their search, the more trust you create. This approach may involve a book written by the expert, speaking events and published articles. In other words, the expert provides the prospect with information at a very low price to educate them in the information gathering stage. And, the environment is not sales focused, as this will alienate the prospect and detract from building trust.
In some industries, an expert will write a book to raise awareness, create a speaking tour to industry events expanding on the book, and provide prospects with a free website trial. While each of these steps helps the prospect understand the options and make a more informed decision, it is also establishing the speaker as the expert on the topic.
- Trust develops slowly and involves a series of small steps to overcome skepticism. During this period, the prospect is seeking validation and the expert is seeking to increase confidence. In other words, the relationship is formative like the early stages of dating and small missteps can derail the process.
- Seek to influence, not control. In this phase, the expert operates like a business coach guiding the prospect on how to formulate a more informed decision. This process is not pushy and the prospect reaches conclusions on their own. The prospect controls the pace and the expert must avoid attempts to be pushy and speed up the process.
- While some forms of dialogue build more trust than others, your goal is to build frequency and use a variety of outreach tactics. In this phase, the expert uses a series of newsletters, published articles, white papers, speaking engagements, and testimonials to build momentum. The goal here is to build credibility by using a series of inexpensive tactics.
- Demonstrate passion, show empathy and be honest to build trust. In this phase, you can earn many dividends by being honest and showing empathy for the prospect. This is the phase gate where the rubber meets the road.
Why Most Accountants Avoid Trust Marketing
Accountants avoid trust marketing for a variety of reasons. First, it requires an upfront investment of time and the process is more art than science. In other words, the steps for trust marketing require some faith and patience. And since accountants are born skeptical, and then trained to be even more skeptical, this approach can be difficult for most.
Second, many accountants will say that they hate writing and public speaking. While I understand the trepidation associated with writing a column in the local newspaper (weekly or daily), the opportunities to reach thousands of business minded professionals on a regular basis is huge.
Third, many accountants lack the discipline to become a recognized expert and continuously market themselves. In other words, they view marketing as a temporary phenomena to acquire new business and then hope small business owners will beat a path to their door. Unfortunately, marketing operates like a diet, as it takes a continuous approach and the results are accrue slowly.
Becoming a Trusted Advisor
Becoming a trusted advisor that is respected locally does not happen by itself, particularly in our overcrowded marketplace. It's about telling a compelling story that engages people to drink your version of Kool-Aid, and encouraging them to come back and drink more. When done right, this process will reward you handsomely for years to come.
By Hugh Duffy, Build Your Firm
About the Author
Hugh Duffy is co-founder and chief marketing officer of Build Your Firm, a practice development and marketing company with services small CPA firms. Hugh teaches an online course called the Accounting Marketing Program; 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 [email protected].