[IMGCAP(1)]Many accounting firms share a common problem. They need to get staff, especially younger staff, involved in business development. It often feels like an unending uphill battle. The question is, are we on the right hill?

It may be time to stop foisting outdated business development models on the millenials in our firms. It may be time to create better opportunities for their involvement. According to research by Hinge and Social Media Today, the best place to start may be to develop a formal employee advocacy program.

What is Employee Advocacy?
Many firms expect employees to promote the company, but employee advocacy goes beyond overt promotion. Employee advocacy requires a genuine belief in the content produced by the firm. Only then will your staff seek out discussions on social networks with others who share similar interests or concerns.

Employee advocacy is a departure from traditional business development efforts, but it makes more sense for the younger staff members. It is also undeniably effective.

The Benefits of Employee Advocacy
In the recent study, 96 percent of professionals noted benefits in using social media for business development. Employee engagement on social media actually increases firm visibility, facilitates client engagement and attracts new business. In fact, firms with formal programs that encourage employee participation in social media are twice as likely to be high-growth firms (greater than 20 percent growth, year over year).

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Formal employee advocacy programs also help shorten the sales cycle. Nearly 64 percent of firms in a formal program credit employee advocacy with attracting and developing new business, and nearly 45 percent attribute new revenue streams to employee advocacy.

The Root of Success
Why are employee advocacy programs so successful at instigating growth? It boils down to the simple fact that the world has changed. Today, buyers of accounting services want full transparency and look for a “perfect fit” for their needs, free education, and responsiveness. They also use multiple online resources to research your firm, identify your niche, and determine if you are the right fit for their needs.

The workforce has also changed. With Baby Boomers leaving the workforce and Millennials rising through the ranks, it makes sense that social media advocacy is catching on. In just nine years, the Millennial “digital natives” will comprise a full 75 percent of the workforce, and with them full digital literacy and engagement will be the norm.

These changes require that “we”—Boomers and Gen Xers—question our outmoded business development models and create better opportunities for staff involvement and online advocacy.

Here are some strategies that have been proven to generate advocacy from junior staff:

1. Recognize that business development has changed—it is a whole new game. That means stop trying to train Millennials to develop business prospects the way Baby Boomer partners did. It’s less about networking and lunches and far more about expertise and online presence. Fortunately, this burgeoning workforce recognizes that using social media can differentiate them from their peers. They have also developed the social media skills that are necessary for an effective advocacy program.

2. Consider BD a team sport. The days of lone-wolf rainmaker are waning. It takes a range of talents to be successful. From research to writing to presentations and proposals, building and maintaining a modern new business pipeline takes a team approach. No single person has to do it all or do it alone. The bonus here is that most Millennials are very comfortable working in a collaborative team environment.

3. Start with research. We already know that research greatly helps BD activity. Have your junior staff research possible new clients. The information they glean will be very useful when planning and executing your BD campaign. Or have your team conduct research on a technical topic. What they learn can become fodder for subsequent articles or blog posts. It will also help them develop professionally.

4. Add social media. Adding social media to the list of staff activities makes great sense. But the hard sell isn’t necessary. Getting involved on social media helps your employees—and they know it. Nearly 70 percent of employees involved in a social media advocacy at work report it helped their careers.

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Interestingly, the younger the staff, the more likely they were to experience benefits.

5. Get everyone writing. Clients are buying your expertise as accounting professionals. Yet they are typically not in a position to evaluate that expertise directly. One of the best ways to make your expertise more visible is to publish blog posts, articles in trade publications, and guest posts on other blogs.

Get your staff involved in the research and preparation of this content. Your junior staff need not be the most experienced in a subject, but that’s OK. The best blog posts and articles are those that take a complicated subject and make it understandable. The goal of junior writers should be clarity and insight. Just let your senior staff review the post and articles for accuracy.

6. Encourage speaking engagements at educational events. While public speaking is not for everyone, it just may be a good fit for some of your staff. If a staff member has done the research and learned how to translate their knowledge into useful insights in blog posts and articles, they may be ready for presentations at educational events.

Seminars, workshops and webinars are all appropriate steps on the trail to BD success. These events can build the confidence needed to command a board room for a high stakes “short list “ presentation.

The world has changed, and a range of new skills is central to the success of every accounting firm. It is time to train a new generation of staff to get involved in business development. But it also may be time for them to teach you new techniques.

Lee Frederiksen, PhD, is managing partner of Hinge, a branding and marketing firm specializing in research on the professional services market.

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