[IMGCAP(1)]Generally regarded as recession-proof, the accounting industry has been less affected than others by the recent economic turmoil hitting the U.S. economy.
A recent ongoing survey by CPA Trendlines indicates that 69 percent of firms are either maintaining spending on marketing and business development activities or increasing it by specific amounts.
While marketing dollars are not the same as they were three years ago, this survey provides some evidence that spending by professional services firm is on the upswing. As marketing budgets for 2010 are being developed and implemented, how can accounting firms make a positive impact, be competitive and actually grow their business in this environment?
There was a time when costs were not closely monitored and available dollars seemed to be growing on trees in the back offices of many firms. However, as many firms look to be smarter with their marketing spending, savvy firms are thinking strategically and developing plans in which their individual tactics work in concert toward business objectives.
Completing a marketing plan to simply check the box and put it aside until it is time to dig it out, dust it off and update it for the coming year is not an effective way to properly manage your group or the success of the firm. You must think strategically to compete.
The first step in developing a strategic plan is to review how well your firms past marketing efforts have performed. A marketing audit can help you evaluate your marketing activities and determine which are producing results. If you havent used metrics to evaluate your marketing, youll want to identify objectives and measurements of success for the year ahead.
Keep in mind that a marketing plan is a living, breathing document that constantly needs to be revisited and updated throughout the year. Track trends, problem areas and opportunities within the industry and how they affect your marketing goals, and recalibrate your plan as needed.
Professional services firms are looking for new tools that can help them market themselves and their practice groups. Social media adoption has grown within the accounting industry, a segment that has been somewhat resistant to online marketing. Now, firms of all sizes are utilizing platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, among others.
When evaluating social media, consider how they will fit within your current marketing strategy. You can use it to: leverage thought leadership and position your firm as forward thinking; create conversations with your audience and marketplace; help drive traffic to your firms Web site and increase its search engine optimization rankings; and build awareness of your corporate brand.
Most importantly, firms need to determine whether or not theyll find their clients and prospects online. If clients and prospects are using social media, you should be too. Once you launch this strategy, it is important to listen and contribute to conversations where you can provide value.
Marketing should be thought of as an investment, not only by the marketing team but also by all firm employees. Marketing is one key to developing and sustaining a strong brand. Regardless of whether you are a partner, business developer or part of the information technology group, marketing plays an important role in all functions giving us all the title of brand ambassador.
Arming staff with key messages about the value the firm offers will help when they are out of the office visiting with clients, prospects or attending industry events. With this method, you are creating a brand ambassador culture. You are telling your employees, We trust you, while arming them with important messaging cues. All of your firms employees, regardless of their position, should be empowered and encouraged to be brand ambassadors so they can act as informal spokespeople for your firm.
For example, history has shown that the sales team or business developers have operated outside the walls of the marketing group in a silo. The current trend is to migrate the two groups to work cooperatively in achieving firm goals and objectives. Developers are providing the marketing department with useful insights into target markets and communications with clients and prospects. In turn, firms are recognizing the importance that marketing plays in developing communications for business developers to go-to-market. The sales team is a part of the marketing team and an essential component to the brand ambassador approach, as marketer Mark Stevens once noted.
This brand ambassador approach will help raise awareness for your firm and its services, create a culture of strategic involvement, and help to develop a strong brand image that can stand the test of time.
Client Service Program
To build strong relationships with clients, it is important to connect with them on a regular basis. The opportunity to build trust, create dialogue and foster meaningful relationships is vital to the success of your firm and your brand.
Think of yourself as a business advisor or partner to your clients and deliver the message that you care about their success while you execute on those key messages.
When connecting with clients and prospects, every firm should have a formal client service program in place. This is an intangible cost that will help to gauge client happiness, discover whether their needs are being satisfied, and gain valuable insights that will give you a sense of how well engagements are running and where there may be opportunities for growing the relationship. As we all know, its much easier to keep an existing client than it is to land a new one.
Remember, if youre not continually finding new ways to reach your audience, youre going to be bypassed by the competition. Strategic marketing planning, social media, brand ambassadors and a strong client service program can all help you stay competitive while growing your practice areas and developing a strong, relevant brand.
Jeremy Hoders is director of client services at Moiré Marketing Partners (www.moiremarketing.com).
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