Much of the Association of Accounting Marketing Summit 2006, held June 14-16 in Denver, focused on business development.

In one session, the president of practice growth firm Crosley + Co, Gale Crosley, pointed out that there are four steps in developing new business - the first step is segmenting, targeting and positioning within the marketplace; step two is lead generation; followed by the third step, opportunity development. The final step of the process is service delivery.

Crosley said that too often firms skip the first step, or don't give it sufficient attention, which likely leads to poor results. Talking specifically about opportunity management, she advocated for a formal pipeline process, suggesting that if there aren't enough rainmakers in a firm, it should consider hiring a business developer.

Greenfield/Belser Ltd.'s Joe Walsh, a principal and creative director at the service marketing communications company, told summit attendees that he believes the process of d ifferentiating service firms is hard work that demands creative thinking.

In his experience, Walsh said that firms need to make an emotional connection. He said that can be done through client stories and humanizing offerings. Walsh also believes that branding occurs in many ways, so he encourages professionals to master conversational branding, such as the so-called 30-second elevator pitch in which they describe themselves and their firm.

Walsh favors showcasing indispensability by teaching, rather than selling, and marketing with market research. "Remember, the more things are alike, the more creative you need to be with differentiation," he said. "Find your own creative way to win." Walsh mentioned one law firm in particular that had given a booklet to potential new staffers when they were interviewed. The booklet contained 15 questions to ask a firm when they are being interviewed, along with the particular firm's answers -- many interviewees actually took that booklet along on interviews with other firms.

Tamera Loerzel, a member of national leadership and marketing consulting firm CovergenceCoaching LLC, recommended that firms regularly analyze their own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to fine-tune what differentiates them from competitors.

Loerzel said the same methodology can be applied to a practice's key leaders, as well as to each initiative or department in a firm. But, she cautioned, "Competitive differentiators are only sustainable when: One, you make them a part of your company's core mission, vision and values. Two, you develop strategies and tactics to sustain and grow them. And three, you measure and pay people on them."

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