[IMGCAP(1)]Industry leaders agree a successful business development program must be part of the firm’s strategic plan and be followed with vigilance by all members of the firm.

One of the most challenging aspects of this proven strategy is maintaining activity during peak periods. Some firms have made the decision to employ dedicated business development professionals to focus on driving sales efforts. However, most firms expect a drop in sales activity during tax season, as the office completes work earned during past efforts.

Ironically, it is during this busy time that clients and prospects are most highly engaged and interested in discussing solutions to help them, their families and their business. Therefore, most firms are tasked with the question: How can we keep the firm focused on business development during tax season?

These are some of the tactics utilized by successful accounting firms of all sizes across the U.S. to maintain momentum:

Kick-off meeting: Create excitement and interest for the New Year by organizing a retreat to share new ideas and expectations. Review specific and measurable goals that the firm intends to achieve during the year and discuss how everyone can play a role in the firm’s success. Including all members of the firm will create personal accountability for the organization’s success to naturally foster an environment where colleagues will exceed expectations.

Mentor program: Your firm comprises diverse individuals. Some are comfortable with the idea of engaging new clients and there are those who would rather put their heads down and work. Couple those individuals and challenge them to develop a plan of attack for a territory or industry. Review the plan, set expectations, and hold them accountable for results.

Pre-season audits: Your firm spends a lot of money on its software programs. Use the system to generate audits that identify new opportunities and talking points when meeting with clients. Most systems can generate audits to identify opportunities in real estate, estate planning, state credits, specialty tax areas and retirement planning, to name a few.

Forced activity: The personality of your team requires diversified business development techniques to keep them engaged and focused. Some firms set attendance quotas for networking events, meetings, and lunch appointments leading up to and through tax season. Some leaders believe “what gets measured gets done.” Teach them the value of each client interaction and share the characteristics of a successful meeting. Keep track of their progress and stay involved.

Reward and recognition: Have fun and appreciate the effort as well as success stories along the way. Encourage the team to recognize each other’s work instead of solely relying on the partners to communicate approval and positive feedback to the group. There are hundreds of ways to support your employees as they endeavor to try new ideas and techniques. Ask your team how they prefer to be rewarded or recognized, as not everyone is motivated by money or public displays.

CPE and seminars: Investigate where gaps may exist and make CPE during this time of year as relevant as possible. Many firms host consultants who offer refresher courses on customer-focused selling techniques as well as specialty tax solutions that may be outside the scope of the practice’s expertise.

Client checklists: Checklists comprising the standard items that are usually found in personal finance, business-related activities and changes to the Tax Code create an opportunity to engage clients before meeting with them. This exercise encourages your clients to review areas of interest prior to a meeting so both parties are prepared and invested in the meeting.

Referral programs: The fact that your firm delivers excellent results does not automatically mean your client is going to refer business to you. Insist that every client-facing employee ask about friends, family and business partners that can benefit from your expertise. The answer to every question not asked is “no.” Everyone can use more business and your clients understand that—they just need to be reminded. Undoubtedly, referrals are the most untapped resource of most businesses.  Don’t be afraid to ask.

The accounting industry is experiencing significant changes. Mergers, acquisitions, growth and survival strategies have forced firms to change the way they approach business. Growing revenue is no longer the sole responsibility of a few connected, charismatic partners. Staff members are encouraged to do their share by prospecting, cultivating relationships and helping close new business. Accounting firms depend heavily on every employee assuming a more aggressive, client-facing role to drive revenue and implementing a robust, year-round approach to business development.

Brian Gilboy is a director with Engineered Tax Services who loves to help accounting firms drive business through strategic relationships. He can be reached at bgilboy@engineeredtaxservices.com.