Marketing Stars

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By Robert W. Scott

About two years ago, a banker referred a client to Brian Price, who immediately placed the prospect on his CPA firm’s newsletter mailing list. At that time, the prospect showed no interest in switching accounting firms. But Price kept sending the printed material, the AICPA’s newsletter with an insert about his firm.

Recently, the banker called Price. "That guy I introduced you to two years ago? He asked if you were still in the business. Something his CPA did made him really mad," says Price, a partner in Dallas-based PriceKubecka, which offers both traditional CPA services and performs technology consulting as well as reselling accounting software. Patience paid off and that prospect became a client.

Partner Insights

It’s good to have patience in the marketing game. And good to have both kinds of services. "Some clients come in only for the CPA pieces," says Price. "Some will come in only for software. Some will come in for both."

More come when firms show the persistent and consistent marketing efforts that Price and other practitioners and resellers say are necessary for success, especially in a tough economy. The results look good. Founded seven years ago, PriceKubecka, now with a staff of eight, has grown from serving one client to serving about 300.

Price actively positions his operation to sell both traditional and technology services—"I’d rather do marketing than I would a tax return, but I’ve got to do a tax return to make a living."—although the fact that visitors to the CPA Web site at www.pricekubecka.com are immediately redirected to www.accountingsoftwaresolutions.com suggests more than a slight fondness for the software business.

But true to his CPA roots, Price relies more on networking and referrals than on such marketing tools as direct mail, which he has not done, and telemarketing, which he abandoned after it lost effectiveness two years ago.

One of the most successful endeavors has been his membership in a networking club, that’s an association in which a group of professionals share their business contacts. The club is limited to one person from each profession, such as one per industry, one CPA, one banker. "They are hard to do," says Price. "You want to get into one that is not full of multi-level sales people, but is full of people who sell to the same people you sell to."

Networking involves a lot of joining. "We join every association we think we can have a niche with," he says. Besides joining broad groups like the Rotary Club, the firm also is a member of the local Homebuilders Association, and has written articles on how to do accounting for contractors. Within the Dallas market, Price Kubecka is one of four CPA firms that have joined.

Unlike many CPA firms, Price is not afraid to refer clients to other professionals. It is common for him to query a client about non-CPA needs. "You need a corporate transaction attorney for this," he will tell a client. Or he will suggest, "You need a good banking relationship for this loan. Do you have one?" Both the attorney and bankers who get these referrals are indebted to the CPA firm and return the favor.

The firm actively sells two software packages, BusinessVision and Intuit’s Master Builder construction package, and also supports Great Plains, Peachtree, and QuickBooks.

Vendor certifications rank as one of the most important elements in software, since they not only meet vendor requirements, but also in many cases qualify the firm to be listed on vendor Web sites and to participate in software company marketing programs. Most recently, the firm hired a full-time sales person to "pound the pavement for leads." Despite all that activity, Price has a modest view of his own talents. "I never viewed myself as being a marketing genius," says Price. "I guess compared to other CPA firms, I’m on the cutting edge."

No Secrets

Sheridan’s Marketing by the Numbers: Six Scientific Steps to Success

Marketing isn’t art —it’s science, according to Susan Sheridan, senior vice president of marketing for Accpac International.

"That means it’s not about talent and creativity, it’s about process, consistency, and technique," says Sheridan. She offers these six steps to produce a marketing program, which she believes can be completed in less than six hours. The broad outline follows.

1. Define your marketing budget for the next 12 months.

Base the marketing budget on past spending, past results, coop maximums, or any other rational metric. Decrease budgets depending on whether a firm spends more than 10 percent of revenue over three years, maintains a database of more than 2,000 prospect names, sells to Fortune 500 accounts or niches, or has sales people with smaller-than-average quotes. She recommends increasing spending for those who want to beat industry growth averages, sell self-developed products, or have large sales quotes.

Step 2. Divide your marketing budget into key focus areas.

Start by dividing the marketing budget into new customer acquisition (80 percent) and installed base marketing (20 percent). If you have a small budget, carry a single product line, or don’t specialize in a vertical, you’re done! Otherwise, spend 80 percent on your most important activities.

Step 3. Prioritize activities based on what you prefer to do or have been successful with.

Why work on marketing projects you don’t enjoy or don’t believe in? It’s great to try new things, but trust your experience and choose the two or three activities you most prefer from the standard marketing activity checklist, such as trade shows, seminars, telemarketing, advertising, direct mail, or newsletters.

Step 4. Find out what programs your manufacturer offers.

Your marketing budget will go a lot further if you piggyback on programs your manufacturer is already supporting. Compare your list of preferred activities to the ones you can join in with. Wherever reasonable, choose the pre-packaged programs for ease and convenience.

Step 5. Make a written plan that lists activities, costs, and time.

Start with the list of activities your manufacturer offers and apply them against your budget by categories. Fill out your shopping list of activities with the ones you’ll handle yourself from your preferred list in Step 3. Now, plot them out against a twelve-month calendar, taking into account how busy you are and your ideal times for each activity. Don’t hesitate to ask a senior marketing exec to take a look at your plan and offer additional ideas. You’ll be one of the few people they talk to.

Step 6. Don’t get discouraged.

Spend just one minute each Friday evening to create a short list of the marketing tasks you need to complete the next week. That way, you start each week ready to tackle marketing with determination. Don’t give up! Every marketer runs into challenges, but perseverance is the key to success.

As owner of a three-person firm, Wayne Schulz, of Schulz Consulting of Glastonbury, Conn., cannot afford wasted motion or effort. "I feel I have to be efficient," says Schulz, a CPA and reseller of Best Software’s MAS 90 software." I cannot do things that don’t bring in leads." Schulz found public speaking has been his most effective lead generator, especially for state CPA societies, which are always looking for someone to appear, even people like Schulz, who terms himself, "one of the most awful, terrible speakers." Schulz has not spoken for three years, but those public sessions still bring in customers. "I still get people three years down the road that call me with a $30,000 or $40,000 project," he says.

Now, Schulz puts most of his efforts into his print and email newsletters. He does not appear at trade shows or advertise in business journals or the yellow pages, and still "our sales have doubled in the last year."

There’s nothing dramatic about Schulz’s newsletter. "It’s basically a guy typing it out in Word and printing it," he says. But he often sees copies hanging from pegboards in clients’ offices simply because competitors are not doing the same thing. Schulz feels it’s far more important to get a newsletter in clients’ hands, than worry about producing a fancy publication. He has about 300 clients on the monthly newsletter. He also has an email letter, which goes out to 800 addresses collected through visitors to his firm’s Web site.

He has found NetPost, from the United States Postal Service, to be a highly effective way to deliver the newsletter. He buys the service, which entitles him to upload his newsletter to the USPS in a PDF format. The postal service prints, folds, applies postage, and mails the newsletter for about $1,000. "I can’t think of a cheaper way to do it," he says. Schulz also believes that mailing list addresses should not be purged, a lesson he learned from Taylor Macdonald, Best Software’s senior vice president of partner development.

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