Sure, price is a factor in marketing.

We drive an extra mile to save a few pennies on gas; we buy generic pain medicine, and who hasn't gone for the BOGO (buy one, get one free) shoe deal now and again? However, these are examples of standard commodities. What is there to really know? My car needs gas; I put it in and it runs. My headache requires an extra-strength aspirin. My feet need flip-flops. Price-based marketing works well for these products because there is little that needs to be explained to the consumer.

The tax and accounting profession is a services-based profession, and that's not as straightforward as aspirin. Prospects have questions and clarification is required. Unlike basic commodities, prospects rarely purchase accounting services blindly. They need to be educated. They need to understand what it is they are getting, why they need it, and why your firm is their best choice. That's where marketing comes in and why it is so important to the accounting profession. We're not selling widgets here, people.

 

ONE ON ONE WITH AN EXPERT

There is a lot to know about the art of marketing, but perhaps the most important aspect to understand is that great marketers are educators first.

Marketing 101 tells us that, on average, it takes approximately seven interactions to trigger recall. In other words, to move a prospect through the sales funnel, it takes time and consistent communication. It takes even more time when you are selling services that require explanation.

An entrepreneur knows why she needs an aspirin, but demands more information on why she needs your remote bookkeeping service and why your firm is better equipped to provide it. In the services-based industry, prospects are driven by a need to understand the services offered. They also need to feel confident that you are an expert at your craft.

There are many ways to educate prospects. Ed Jennings, chief executive of automated tax workflow provider Copanion (and the company's former vice president of sales and marketing), understands the necessity of educating an audience. He has spent years crafting campaigns, white papers and other forms of communication to generate leads and make sales.

"It's about making yourself an expert and building a prospect's confidence," Jennings said. "Our job as marketers is to effectively educate our audience about our services. If we don't, who will?"

Jennings went on to explain the various ways that he and his team at Copanion work to educate prospects: "We write an informational blog dedicated to useful, timely information, and we post with regular frequency. We produce white papers, surveys, webcasts and clear marketing communications. We strive to become a voice in our space ... the expert. That gives us credibility, and with credibility comes confidence in your service in the eyes of prospects."

It's no different for firms. Prospects want to know what they are purchasing and that they are aligning with an expert.

Here are five strategies:

1. Position yourself as the expert. Develop content that promotes understanding. Dedicate blog posts to explaining new tax laws, state mandates, etc. Develop articles and white papers, and write in a way that makes a hard-to-understand topic easy.

2. Commit to frequent communication. If recall takes at least seven interactions, frequent communication is necessary. For example, write a weekly blog or schedule a monthly newsletter.

3. Get published. Write bylined articles and get them published. It's one thing to distribute articles in your firm's newsletter; it's quite another to have an editor publish them. Published work elevates your credibility.

4. Develop partnerships to cross-promote educational materials. Reach out to potential partners to post your work on their Web sites, like local chambers of commerce, business networking entities and online education-based sites. Accurate, well-written white papers and articles are relevant to those outside your prospect circle. It's also another credibility boost.

5. Don't discount the power of educating. An educated consumer is more apt to provide you with their personal information. The best online marketers know this. Give prospects something of value (e.g., a free white paper) and you are far more likely to get their contact data.

 

GETTING AN EDUCATION

Prospects require an education before buying professional services. So give it to them. Communicate your expertise via white papers, articles, blog posts, e-mail campaigns, webcasts and other channels. Let the consumer know what it is you are selling, why it's important to them, and the value you bring to the table. There's work in bringing in new clients, and educating is a big part of the process.

 

Kristy Short, Ed.D, is president of SAS Communications 360 LLC (www.sascommunications360.com), and a professor of English and marketing at University of Phoenix and Cleary University. Reach her at kristy@sascommunications360.com.

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