The boom times are here.Business is rolling in for most firms. Yet at the same time, I see enormous amounts of time and money wasted on initiatives that don't contribute to revenue growth - marketing dollars spent on the wrong initiatives, lead generation activities that will never produce a lead, and opportunities being chased that have no hope of closing.

Why?

Many firms pursue disconnected tactical activities that have no synergy. Some are operating without a master plan. The reasons are varied - limited understanding, outdated approaches, little visibility to wasted time and money, and a "book of business" mentality. And since business is still coming in, concerns about efficiency often take a back seat to other matters.

However, with resources so tight, it stands to reason that the firms that focus on efficiency and effectiveness will out-leverage and outperform their competitors. What's at the center of efficiency and effectiveness? The foundation is a practice growth model, providing a framework for tactical pursuits. Let's step back and observe how our past growth efforts as a profession fit into a model.

Marketing has been at the center of our growth efforts in recent years. And why not? For years, promotion within the profession was relegated to hanging out a shingle and keeping the coffee pot on. Regulatory permission to market was met with open arms. But expectations often exceeded reality.

Many CPAs believed that marketing was a selling tool that would magically open the floodgates to new business. In fact, as many have learned, marketing, when done correctly, tills the soil but does not plant and grow the seed.

SUPER (SIMPLE) MODEL

Don't get me wrong. I'm a strong advocate of strategic, thoughtful marketing. But it is only effective when viewed as one step in a growth model, not as an end in itself. Working with scores of CPA firms over the years has proven to me that operating within a framework builds direction and purpose. The model described below helps firms identify where they are headed and where they are in the process at any given time.

The model has evolved, becoming simpler and easier to use over time. (It was Picasso who said that it took him a lifetime to paint like a child!) We've all seen too many of these systems that scream complexity. Festooned with boxes and arrows in all directions, they're enough to make you dizzy, and are intimidating to use. The best models are those that people can most efficiently execute. So I've stripped this one down to four stages:

1. Marketing. The goal is to segment, target and position yourself via your target markets. Marketing supports each of the other stages. If done correctly, marketing leads to the second step of the model.

2. Lead generation. This stage focuses on developing and nurturing quality contacts within a specific "ecosystem." Some of these contacts will have needs that match your offerings at some point in time. If executed properly, lead generation will lead to the third step of the model.

3. Opportunity development. The aim is to continuously develop and effectively manage the pipeline with the right opportunities. If opportunities are managed properly, the firm will achieve the highest win rate possible, leading to the fourth stage of the model.

4. Delivery of services. Here's where it all comes together - perfecting and delivering focused service offerings that meet the client's needs.

THE DIFFERENCE IT MAKES

Don't be fooled by the simplicity of the model. Sustained and efficient growth comes from the proper implementation of the right initiatives within the model. Approaching business growth systematically can reap big rewards. You'll spend less time and get better results, avoiding tactical time-wasting activities that aren't part of a plan. That's especially important these days, when technical expertise is scarce and you need to leverage as much delivery-side expertise as possible.

Don't expect immediate results, however. It takes time to structure a plan and bring your partner group into alignment with it. Many questions must be asked and answered within the four stages to ensure that each delivers what it should and leads to the next - questions like, how sophisticated a level of marketing support will you want or need? What market segments will you target in your lead generation? And what is the range of opportunities you will seek to develop?

Each stage requires its own skillset, its own processes and its own metrics. Marketing expertise is distinctly different from lead generation expertise, which is distinctly different from opportunity development ability. Firms that don't understand this run the risk of wasting time and money hiring the wrong people to do each job. It would be akin to hiring a tax person and asking them to execute an audit.

In the same vein, when firms commit to "sales training," they may not realize that training in segmenting, targeting and positioning is quite different from learning lead generation. And both are distinctly different from training for opportunity development.

RISKS AND REWARDS

The result of a lack of understanding of the model and its components is a firm that has "holes" and disconnected tactics in its practice growth efforts. And the ultimate result is wasted resources and sub-optimal return on investments already made.

The rewards of understanding the model and implementing the pieces are significant. Your marketing people will focus more on revenue growth activities. Your partners will spend fewer hours developing business, with higher dollar-value return. You'll prepare yourself for a time when the profession won't be so flush with business. Finally, you'll be more competitive, better positioned in the market, and ready to take advantage of more opportunities for developing exciting new services in the future.

Gale Crosley, CPA, is the founder and principal of Crosley + Co. (www.crosleycompany.com), providing revenue growth consulting and coaching to CPA firms. Reach her at gcrosley@crosleycompany.com.

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