[IMGCAP(1)]Last November, marketing professionals at BKR International demonstrated the challenge that surrounds creating a culture.

In an overwhelming response to the question “What is the biggest challenge facing your firm that should be addressed in the next 12 months?” they cited the top concerns that clearly fell into the category of “creating a marketing culture.” BKR surveyed approximately 100 member CPA firms asking them to identify the most pressing issue that they wanted to address over the next year.

Nearly one-third cited the term, “creating a marketing culture,” and a majority named specific components that would fall under that category:

Client relationship management and client turnover: Current clients are clearly the lowest hanging fruit, so consistent communication is critical. A firm embracing a marketing culture checks in with clients regularly to identify additional services or needs and asks for meaningful introductions.

Generating referrals: Accountants don’t want to be perceived as “salesy” or begging for business. Sometimes the issue is being unaware of the best approach to get more referrals. While simply doing a good job for your current client could result in a few referrals, the best approach is to simply ask. Put yourself in the shoes of the current client, and then the ideal client. Would you want your firm as your accounting firm? What would you want to hear from your accounting firm?

Marketing education: The importance of internal communication and marketing education is paramount in developing a marketing culture. Internal communication is marketing in and of itself, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that employees will know that. Again, the key is consistency. New opportunities and business won should be communicated on a regular basis so that team members have an understanding of how the firm promotes itself and wins business. An informed, happy team member is the greatest brand ambassador.

Learning to be a leader: Effective leadership requires buy-in from those who are being led. An agreement must be reached among all involved on the importance of the matter so that they are incited and excited to do something. The leader must then empower those within the group to take some form of action in order to strive toward that very important, agreed-upon matter as a priority, with enough encouragement to keep it going until the matter is settled.

Personal marketing plans: As clichéd as it sounds; a good marketing plan is your road map to success. A personal marketing plan should be customized to meet your goals in a way that makes you feel comfortable and allows you to shine. The right marketing plan for you starts with a compelling message geared to the right person—those who will benefit most from your product or service—that demonstrates the value of what you have for them.

Creating strategic alliances: As a service provider, the sooner you start thinking about the needs of your clients, the better. Clients will have more needs than just what you can provide, so it makes sense to know others who can provide those services to them. After all, this is how CPA firms were formed in the first place. For example: Steve was a tax provider who met Jeff who performed audits. They kept running into each other at during client meetings. Then voila! They decided to join forces, and the rest is history.

Thought leadership: More accountants value creative thinking and new approaches toward problem-solving in today’s economy. The recent recession, market globalization, technology innovation and a large generation of baby boomers exiting the workforce have all required it. It seems that the accounting profession is more open to external ideas and other scrutiny as to how it will adapt to the ever-changing landscape.

Strategic planning: Many accountants pride themselves on saying yes when being asked to deliver presentations, attend networking events or sponsor conferences. Being courteous and responsive when asked to participate in marketing and business development activities should be appreciated, right? Well, yes—as long as the decision to participate makes sense for you and your practice. A strategic plan is more about asking others if you can speak to their members, commit to a monthly meeting of a target organization or plan ahead to sponsor an event because your specific target audience will be present there. Responding to other marketing requests is great—but strategically asking for them is even better!

Get partners on board: Internally sharing best practices is the most effective way to get partners on board. Start with getting the buy-in to try something new from just one professional. Monitor the activity around the desired goal, track the progress and then start sharing the progress. Connections can be made through LinkedIn, where you can keep tabs on how many contacts and commitments are made in six months. You can also tally referrals from attorneys over the last six months through emails, lunches, etc. Track whatever you can and spread the word. Sharing successes is the best way to garner buy-in because it communicates what marketing practices are valued by the firm, provides education on how to go about it and motivates others who have a competitive spirit. It has been statistically proven that peer recognition is one of the highest motivators in the workplace.

Plot Your Own Course around a Culture that Feels Right at Your Firm
There are many building blocks of a marketing culture, including:

• Management style: Is there a true open door policy? Are partners aloof? How are employees treated? How are clients treated?

• Employee morale: Are employees empowered? Is there a chain of command to make all types of decisions? Does the firm have events just because-BBQ’s, ice-cream socials, half-day Fridays in the summer?

• Adoption of technology: Does everyone use email? Does the firm pay for CE? Do all team members have LinkedIn profiles?

• Communication: Does the firm communicate the latest standards and/or pronouncements? Is commentary included in the communication so readers are aware of how they are affected? Is the information just forwarded to clients or just to employees?

• Community involvement: Does the firm participate in community service or charity events?
Establishing a marketing culture will not happen overnight. CPA leaders should start by examining the firm’s existing culture and determine areas for improvement, perhaps starting with a particular area for growth.

Lisa Tierney, founder and owner of Tierney Coaching & Consulting, is a seasoned marketing professional who has worked with CPA professionals for more than 15 years. A certified life coach, Tierney provides consulting services to multi-partner CPA firms throughout the U.S.