[IMGCAP(1)]Marketing and branding efforts within professional service firms have historically been directly toward current clients, potential clients and referral sources.

Makes sense, right? Smart firms view their marketing teams as a strategic support resource designed and deployed specifically to positively affect firm growth. For your marketing efforts to bring the greatest value, you not only need the right resources, but you need to know when and how to put them into action. For most firms, strategic deployment means aligning marketing efforts with firm and practice-based go-to-market activities. After all, growth is directly tied to your ability to generate new revenue.

Yet services aren’t the only important thing you are selling. In today’s business climate, services and relationships might not even be the most important thing you are selling.

So what are forward-looking firms focused on selling? How are marketing professionals and brand agencies helping progressive firms make their most important sale?

Turning toward Talent
Leading firms are increasingly pointing their branding and marketing resources in a different direction. Where are these progressive firms investing marketing dollars that others are not? The answer lies in understanding both current labor market dynamics and the long-term viability of the professional service firm growth model.

While new clients are great, you can’t serve great clients without a great professional team. The labor market across the country is tightening, and nowhere more so than in the accounting profession. In this environment, where talent trumps everything, attracting and retaining high-value professionals might be the single most important ingredient to sustained organizational growth.

What do branding and marketing have to do with recruiting?

When recruiting talent, just like when soliciting new clients, you are selling something. With clients, you are selling service, expertise and value. With recruits, you might be selling opportunity, your unique culture and a place to build a career. What is more important to the future of your firm, one A+ client or one A+ practice leader? The truth is that A+ leaders are not only more valuable, they are also significantly harder to find and retain.

Still, many firms direct their marketing efforts only toward new revenue development, while the development of human resources lags behind, dragging firm performance along with it.

Branding and Selling for Talent
Great branding and messaging allow you to identify and communicate the value proposition in whatever you are selling in terms that will motivate your target audience to act. With great marketing, your professionals will have a differential message to bring to the marketplace. The same holds true for recruiting. While potential employees may not be buying products or services, they are buying something—and as buyers they have a lot of options to consider.

How do you sell to potential employees? What is the best talent looking for? What will motivate your next great partner to leave their current firm and join your organization? The right branding process can help you answer these questions—allowing you to find the right people with the right message at the right time.

Five Steps to Start Winning Your Battle for Talent
If you understand the importance of human capital to the future of the firm, then you must also be willing to commit to attracting and retaining the best talent possible. You owe it to your clients, partners and employees to build your team with the best and brightest that you can find.

In a highly competitive environment where demand for talent far outweighs the available pool, you need clear direction, a great strategy and a talented marketing and “sales” team to help you win the talent war. Here are five steps to help you get ahead in your battle for professional talent:

1. Recognize the importance of talent to your organization. Recognition is the first step. While talent is a longer-term play than new client acquisition, it’s ultimately more important. Your future depends entirely on your talent.

2. Make talent acquisition a top strategic priority. While recognition is important, lip service won’t get you anywhere. To win the talent war, talent acquisition and retention must be a top strategic priority.

3. Use your best resources. Top priorities get top resources and funding. Don’t go cheap on your employer brand or your talent acquisition strategy. You should use the best internal and external resources available to help you attract and retain top talent. If you are smart enough to invest in understanding what potential clients want, you should be smart enough to go through the same process for future employees.

4. Develop your “opportunity brand.” Recruiting is selling, and selling is a lot easier when you understand what motivates your buyers. Most firms focus their brand messaging primarily on clients and prospects. Your brand also needs to speak to potential employees. If you haven’t already, you should undergo a full brand research and strategy process aimed specifically at the acquisition of talent. This will help you clarify your audience, understand their motivation, align your value proposition, define a differentiating message and deliver the right message.

5. Sell hard. Never underestimate sales. Your recruiters are your front-line sales people, but you may have closers throughout your organization. Just as you might bring in your best rainmakers to close large opportunities, you should do the same when selling high-value new team members. The benefits of having a great professional team will far outweigh the costs.

Stephen Brunson is the managing director of The Catalyst Group, a full-service growth consultancy and marketing agency serving CPA firms. Steve and Catalyst help leading local and regional accounting firms across the country achieve their true growth potential by providing marketing and business development strategy and implementation.

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