How relevant is the classic line from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore," in today's world of marketing and business development for accounting firms?
Just as Dorothy was looking at a changed landscape in the Land of Oz, many accountants are viewing their competitive landscape with as much shock and awe as little Dorothy.
Dorothy and CPAs have one thing in common. They both want to get to the Yellow Brick Road. But before accountants can get to their Yellow Brick Road or new revenues, they are going to have to hit the road hard in 2011 to get there. While some partners may still want to stay behind a curtain and move levers and handles to make revenue, it will take more than just clicking their heels together to create new business opportunities and revenues.
Take a look at some of the new friends you'll meet along the road to get to your green or Emerald City:
IT: You will not go forward unless you embrace information technology. With the technology that is out there, there is no reason for an IT budget so small that you can't upgrade what you have. One word of advice: Bring in an independent computer systems consultant, one who is not pushing a particular service, program or system, and have them look at what you have without being biased.
Customer relationship management is a must to keep track of your clients, prospects and referral sources. It becomes the foundation for your sales. Until the Tin Man gets his heart, don't bother looking to find the ideal combination of time & billing and CRM systems, if there even is one.
Communications: Given the competitive landscape we all face and the need to stay in regular contact with clients, prospects and referral sources, we should look for ways to improve our communications avenues to our targets. Here is where IT rears its ugly head again. At a basic level, your communication systems need to meet the need for you to return phone calls, e-mails and text messages quickly. What may not appear to be a big deal to you could be a huge big deal to the person trying to communicate with you. Be responsive and not a select responder. Don't make a judgment call by assuming.
Internal communications with your brothers and sisters within the firm should be handled quickly as well. You are all on the same team, so by helping them you are helping yourself and the firm. Don't become that Wicked Accountant of the West. We are not in Kansas anymore, as we need to work better together for the good of the firm.
Prospecting/cold calls: I'm not sure if the Wizard himself could help Dorothy with this one, but it has to go on the table. For firms that are already focusing efforts on this area, congratulations. For those firms that are not, welcome to 2011. As difficult and misunderstood as prospecting is, it is one key prong of the three-prong fork for revenues. New business from current clients and referrals from referral sources make up the other tines on the fork of revenues.
Sales meetings: Even if you only allot 15 minutes during staff meetings to discussing what's in the pipeline of potential new business, that's a start. When your marketing or business director sorts out the pipeline and the reality is that there are some significant potential revenues in these prospects, the time allotment may increase in future meetings, only underscoring the importance of filling the prospect pipeline.
Selling year-round: Ask any business selling a tangible product about a stop-and-go, stop-and-go sales approach. It's not healthy for survival. Yes, January through mid-April is a killer time for accountants. CPAs go out from May through the end of June. July, August and half of September are set aside for vacations and getting the kids ready for school. Go out mid-September to mid-November and forget about selling from Thanksgiving to the end of the year. Totals, please: Outside selling time, four months; not outside selling, eight months. Or four off, two on, two-and-a-half off, two on, one-and-a-half off. I'm not an accountant, but it adds up to 12 months. While Dorothy will tell you, "There is no place like home," you won't be able to pay for the home if you don't get out of the home to get new business.
Your marketing/business development group: If you don't have a group, think about getting one. Take away the curtain and let them work their own levers and handles based on their experience and knowledge in marketing and development. In many cases, they are marketers, not accountants, and that's OK. They can see the rainbow and make a huge difference in a black-and-white world.
So as you go on your journey down the Yellow Brick Road to new revenues, be mindful of all the obstacles before you, both seen and unseen. And whatever you do, don't overlook those characters you meet along the way who have the heart, brains and kindness that will help you reach your destination.
Continued success to you and your colleagues in 2011.
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