[IMGCAP(1)]Industry specialization can help CPAs establish a marketing platform to amplify their firm’s reputation, reach and revenue.
Plenty of firms are trying to make specialization part of their approach, but are they doing enough? Armanino LLP has been a leader in using targeted industry expertise to win new business. Here are five real-world tips from Dean Quiambao, director, audit at Armanino, to accelerate realizing the benefits of specialization at your firm.
Renew Your Commitment
Specialization is no longer an optional strategy for most CPAs—it’s a competitive necessity (see Specialization: The Ultimate Marketing Platform). And it’s not enough to do a little homework and then say you’re a specialist. You need to make it a constant priority, committing time to develop and maintain genuine expertise that provides added value for your clients.
As Dean puts it, “Today, it’s just expected that you’re a specialist. Clients and prospective clients alike want to know that you work with companies that are similar to them, in similar markets, and that you’ll be a valuable resource for them both today and going forward. They want to know they’ll get ongoing benefit from your expertise in their space.”
To become a specialist, you need to use business intelligence technology to automate the way you gather, standardize and report financial information, so that you can identify unique industry insights and demonstrate thought leadership without disproportionate time and effort. Dean draws parallels to the Internet’s impact on professional poker.
“Becoming an expert poker player used to take years, because it took time to find good players to compete against. But with the Internet, you can play incredibly smart opponents (i.e., computers) whenever you want—and get very good, very fast. That’s what business intelligence does for CPAs. It accelerates the learning process, allowing you to catch up and keep pace more efficiently than ever before.”
Make It a Differentiator
The best use of specialized expertise is to differentiate your firm’s value proposition and elevate your role beyond the traditional accounting function.
“When we talk about how our expertise can impact a business, management often says they know they should be watching certain trends and metrics, but they don’t have time. When we show them how a tool like iLumen can make that very easy, their eyes light up,” notes Dean. “But then we push it up a level—we share industry benchmarks they are not even aware of, using dashboards that clearly communicate the value of the information. At that point, there is usually a real ‘Wow!’ moment, which sets the tone for a different, higher-value relationship.”
Market Your Expertise
It’s critical to market your growing industry expertise to current and prospective clients, to stay on the radar as a valuable resource—whether by newsletter, blog, webinar, survey or other channel. Your marketing team will be an invaluable ally.
Dean reports, “I have a lot of private schools as clients, with board members from the private sector. I saw that they really appreciated receiving updates with benchmarking information and industry trends—it’s what they were accustomed to from their day jobs. My marketing colleagues helped me fine-tune our value proposition to emphasize how, beyond our outstanding accounting services, Armanino’s unique expertise also help a school meet and exceed its board’s expectations. That turned out to be an incredibly valuable selling point.”
Work with the Right Partners
To succeed as a specialist, be creative in seeking out partners with unique knowledge and contacts in your targeted industries—there may be opportunities hiding in unexpected places.
“A lot of CPAs prioritize networking with lawyers, bankers and other service providers,” notes Dean. “That’s an important piece of the puzzle, but we also try to think about who will really know our market from different angles, the history, the personalities, the connections. For example, because we do a lot of work with private schools, we’re working with a yearbook company. We also seek out best-in-class partners in operational areas, like business intelligence, to ensure we have the right systems in place to scale and grow.”
In today’s world, no one takes an important job to a generalist when a specialist is available. So it’s vital to raise your game as an industry expert, as a key strategy for growing your practice.
Rob Ganjon is CEO of iLumen, a business intelligence provider whose offerings help accounting firms drive industry practices and profits by automating the collection, standardization, and analysis of financial and nonfinancial data. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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