While accounting firms come in all shapes and sizes, many of them share a common challenge: Their marketing departments fail to deliver results. Make no mistake — marketing is measurable. If your marketing department is not serving up new business leads, additional revenue from existing clients and increased client loyalty and engagement, it is not serving your firm well.

If you treat marketing like a mature, capable and dynamic adult, it has the potential to transform your accounting firm and drive strategic goals. Unfortunately, marketing departments are often thought of as pure overhead and seated at the children’s table, instead of the conference table in the executive boardroom.

From discussions with partners and fellow marketing professionals, as well as my own observations over many years, I’ve discovered common accounting firm marketing department “irregularities.” If your marketing department is failing or flailing, one, or all, of these five might explain why:

1. It’s all a misunderstanding. It’s impossible to build and utilize a world-class marketing department when senior-level professionals don’t understand what marketing is and what it can and should do. I’ve often heard CPAs refer to marketing as branding or public relations.

Here’s how Peter Drucker defined it: “Marketing identifies unfulfilled needs and desires. It defines, measures and quantifies the size of the identified market and the profit potential. It pinpoints which segments the company is capable of serving best and it designs and promotes the appropriate products and services.”

2. Lack of partner-level support. In a 2012 Forbes article titled “Why are Firms Failing to Transform Marketing?,” Kimberly Whitler argues that chief marketing officers often don’t receive the needed level of support from their chief executives for change. An all-too-common scenario: The managing partner understands and believes in marketing. Some of their fellow partners feel similarly, but others view marketing as a complete waste of time and money.

If the managing partner is unable to get senior-level alignment around the purpose and responsibilities of the marketing department, marketing personnel will encounter roadblock after roadblock. Things can then spiral downhill quickly:

  • The in-house marketer may be terminated for not producing results.
  • The marketing consultant may either terminate their contract or be terminated.
  • The managing partner may feel defeated and stop trying to fight an uphill battle.
  • Marketing naysayers may feel that they were right all along and resist marketing even more the next time the subject surfaces.

3. No strategic marketing leadership and plan. Whether due to budgetary reasons or lack of knowledge, many firms rely on marketing professionals with too little experience and/or no strategic marketing expertise. This can result in what’s called “scattershot” marketing — trying a little of this and a little of that without any type of strategic master plan gluing everything together and driving it all purposefully forward. The result? Little to no market penetration or development.

Every marketing department needs a strategic marketing plan that is tied to higher-level firm goals. This roadmap will help guide your firm to the top of the mountain and prevent it from taking detours that devour valuable resources and eliminate progress.

4. The marketing hiring challenge. All sorts of specialties live under the marketing umbrella — strategy, digital marketing, public relations, content, social media, design, search engine optimization and more. The wide range of skills needed to service these specialties makes hiring decisions particularly challenging.

5. Marketing is put in a corner. While operations, IT, human resources, sales and finance are often given a seat at the executive table and considered vital to success, marketing is sadly treated like Cinderella and swept in a corner to churn out “stuff.” In reality, the exact opposite should be happening: Marketing needs to integrate with all other business functions to maximize its potential.

 The best marketing campaigns are those that firm professionals understand well, believe in, and play an active role in. They are developed with heavy input from front-line professionals who are aware of clients’ most pressing needs.

Creating a world-class CPA firm marketing department isn’t easy, but it’s absolutely possible. Educating senior-level client service professionals on the role and importance of marketing will also help remove some of the barriers, as will integrating the marketing department into top-level firm operations and decision-making. Ultimately, if your CPA firm provides a solid foundation for marketing success, your marketing department will be able to prove its value through the delivery of measurable results. All CPAs listen to numbers, and marketers would be wise to let them do at least some of the talking!

Debra Andrews is president of Marketri, which provides marketing consulting and training to professional services firms.

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