Over the last two years, every vendor with a product or service seems to have had the same thought: The secret to success lies in starting a program in which CPAs are rewarded for recommending those products and services to the CPA's clients.

Much of the CPA2Biz strategy was built up that premise. Vendors selling accounting software, payroll, and financial services sing the same tune. CPAs are trusted advisors. Studies show they are key influencers.

I've always felt there a big "Yes, but" here. That "Yes but" is how do you make sure the CPA recommends your product instead of competing products, which are have recommender programs, or even remembers your product in the face of day-to-day business pressures. What's in it for the CPA anyway?

There has to be more than money from commissions. CPAs are not going to make a lot on recommending a $1,000 software package. (And many small firms aren't very knowledgeable about anything more expensive.) They have to believe recommender programs will help bring in more money from traditional engagements from satisfied clients.

Two keys stand out. First, the most important thing to making a recommender program succeed is the vendor's brand recognition. The second is vendor support. You have to have a market presence. You can't just walk away and expect the referrals to roll in.

CPAs recommended QuickBooks before Intuit launched any of its advisor programs because the product was so well known. The stronger your brand, the easier the job is for recommenders. But that means the vendors must invest in effective marketing.

Vendor support is also critical. CPAs must remember that the vendor exists. One friend says that Intuit succeeds with its advisor programs because they are high-touch. The company stays in touch with CPAs and it makes sure that they know what Intuit is doing for them.

A vendor need mind share, with both end users and accountants. A product's value must be constantly reinforced in the eyes of the referrer. CPAs must understand a product's basic capabilities and its benefits to the user.

Accountants who make a living off complex engagements don't just sit around thinking, "I just can't wait to tell all my clients about this wonderful accounting software package." They must courted. It's a never-ending story.

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