[IMGCAP(1)]The mantra “it’s who you know” has always been at the heart of successful new business initiatives for accounting firms.

But powerful new marketing approaches and technologies, combined with social marketing and media is changing this landscape at breakneck speed. Accounting marketing is about to go through a major transformation. 

Today, it’s not only who and what you know that drives new business, it’s also how you share that knowledge and insight, and how quickly you bring your thoughts to the table that’s becoming an important part of the CPA firm business development landscape.

The 1:1 marketing relationships that partners and rainmakers have built with lawyers, bankers, financial advisors, consultants, and so on, represent both the most prevalent and easiest way that CPA firms can get new business. But this article isn’t about that low-hanging fruit.

It’s about making the 1 percent to 4 percent of your top line that you’re spending on marketing deliver more ROI. If you ask shareholders in accounting firms if they’re currently getting a return from the dollars they’re committing to marketing and business development, there’s a good chance that they’ll say, “I know we have to do marketing, but show me the ROI!”

If you ask marketers about ROI, it’s likely that they’ll make a strong case that they have, in fact, delivered ROI by virtue of  the great branding work they’ve done, marketing campaigns they’ve developed, proposals they’ve written, collateral they’ve produced, and other “one to many” outbound marketing efforts they have delivered.

There is a great divide between these two ways of thinking.  What is needed is a fresh approach to firm business development that combines traditional 1:1 marketing with new marketing strategies and tactics built upon accountability and a laser-like focus on delivering ROI for marketing expenditures.

Today, most firms rely on outbound marketing to reach suspects. Outbound marketing, also known as traditional marketing, targets a broad audience using print ads, trade shows, telemarketing and cold calls, direct mail and e-mail, etc. Firms push their messages outward in the hopes that it will trigger a response in the form of a contact.

But there’s a fundamental change happening in the way that suspects and prospects want to receive information, and it’s not surprising why—message overload. Consider for a moment what’s in your inbox right now and how many sales letters, brochures and the like are sitting on your desk. How many of these did you actually read? More importantly, how many of these did you actually respond to?

Your outbound marketing initiatives are most likely getting the very same treatment. Now, think about the money your firm spent to craft and deliver those messages. The gap between your expectations and the realities of the number of leads you secured is the ROI you’ve missed.

There’s a different and new way of getting more ROI from your firm’s investment in marketing and business development: inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing is a new approach to accounting firm business development. It’s based upon firms implanting strategies and tactics for:

(1) "getting found first" by potential customers who are searching for solutions to their needs or problems;

(2) converting those who have found the firm into a new engagement;

(3) transforming traditional  outbound activities for more inbound traffic; and

(4) continually monitoring and measuring results to refine tactics in order to deliver more ROI. 

At its core, rather than interrupting people to get their attention with emails, cold calls, snail mail and the like, inbound marketing relies on the principle that visitors will find and come to you if you have the right mix of online presence, thought leadership, infrastructure, tools and discipline in place.

In outbound marketing, your firm is in control because you are taking the initiative to push your message out at the time and place of your choosing. Using inbound marketing, the customer is in control. Consider for example, that a recent study by Forbes (Forbes Insights, “The Rise of the Digital C-Suite”) found that today, C-suiters are searching for and finding information in substantially different ways than just depending upon their personal networks. According to Forbes, 81 percent of C-suiters under 50 and 62 percent of those over 50 now access the Internet for business intelligence; and 6 out of 10 conduct more than six business-related searches per day.

The upshot: your prospects and clients are more in control of what information they receive and how. Here’s a thought to ponder: your clients are doing searches for information and solutions for their accounting, financial and business advisory needs right now, and according to the CCH Accounting Firm Client Survey, over half of your clients have been approached by a competitor, and one out of three of those are very or somewhat likely to switch.

Inbound marketing involves creating and executing strategies and tactics to dramatically accelerate your online presence and credibility so that prospects seeking solutions find your firm.  Inbound marketing strategies create brand awareness, develop thought leaders, initiate valuable customer relationships, establish credibility, and build trustworthy reputations.

Another valuable and tangible benefit of inbound marketing (done correctly) is to improve your firm’s search engine rankings. If you don’t think that’s important, consider this statistic from SEOMoz, the premier authority on search: the first 10 results on a search engine receive 89.71 percent of all click-through traffic,

Inbound marketing is built upon powerful new marketing technologies that acquire, track and convert leads to engagements. These technologies can even automate the lead-nurturing process, with the effect of making partners’ unbillable time for new business development more productive and effective. Best of all, for purposes of actually pinpointing ROI and accountability, these technologies delver a wealth of metrics that measure the effectiveness of marketing spends.

One popular tactic of inbound marketing that works extremely well for CPA firms is to build lead generation campaigns around thought leadership (i.e., a whitepaper), and use a combination of different media to promote its content. New tax law, regulatory change, profit improvement, wealth management, forensic accounting, and many other topics represent a treasure trove of thought leadership opportunities that can be the centerpiece of a lead generation campaign.

For building niche practices, inbound marketing will be nothing less than transformative. With the proper and necessary investment in a solid database, niche practices will now be able to marry traditional outbound marketing tactics with measurable inbound lead generation campaigns. For building credibility, inbound marketing tactics like blogs can promote the personal brands of subject matter experts in ways that were not available only a few short years ago.

Blogging is becoming an increasingly common business practice for professional service firms.   According to data analyses by HubSpot, a supplier of lead capture, trading and analysis software, businesses that blog get 55 percent more Web site visitors and 126 percent higher lead growth than non-blogging businesses.

Today, your competitors may very well be employing inbound marketing to capture your clients’ attention, stimulate their interest, track their motivation for switching, and nurture them until they are sales ready. While you’re correctly and appropriately building your networks, working your contacts, or firing off letters and emails, so too are your competitors, but they’re not stopping there. 

They’re spending smarter and focusing their marketing spend on ROI. They’re becoming thought leaders and are promoting their thought leadership in new ways, using new media. They’ve realized that it’s not only who you know that counts in new business development, but it’s also what you know and how quickly you promote ideas, which in turn, creates leads and competitive differentiation. And, using new technologies, they can pretty easily identify your new business blind spots.

Marketing and business development at accounting firms is on the edge of a transformation, not unlike the tidal wave of accounting and law firm marketing that began in the 1980s as professional services firms won the right to market their services.

Are you ready for the next evolution?

Alan Vitberg is owner of VitbergLLC, a firm that helps accounting and other professional services firms energize their marketing programs for exceptional top-line growth. Visit his website, www.vitbergllc.com, for more information, or contact him at (585) 425-2552.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access