[IMGCAP(1)]No one goes to their family doctor when they break their arm or their daughter needs her tonsils out.  When you need something done right -- whether it’s legal, medical or even automotive -- everyone knows that a specialist is better than a generalist. 

The same holds true with accountants. Businesses are increasingly aware that to compete and win, they need an accounting firm that specializes in their industry, ideally one that also knows their geographic market well.

After all, every industry has a unique way of measuring performance and success.  Smart companies know it is critical to partner with a firm that knows what these metrics are, how to track and benchmark them, and what they mean for the future.  

As a CPA, being fluent in these areas gives you a way to speak to your clients in a language they understand, and quickly value above and beyond the traditional accountant role -- the language of a specialist.  It's not just about financial statements and tax filings, it's also about interpreting the numbers within a meaningful context and sharing actionable insights so you can help your clients compete more effectively.

So how do you develop a specialist’s expertise, and incorporate it into your firm’s marketing platform?

First, you need to standardize and analyze the financial data your firm is already acquiring from clients within your target industries. Next, you need to use surveys and other market research tools to collect additional data -- both financial and non-financial -- from companies within your target set outside your existing client base (e.g., prospects).  

More and more, we are seeing high-performing firms use business intelligence tools to collect and combine this data on a regular basis, as part of their ongoing business development initiatives.  They then use the same BI tools to slice and dice the data, to identify meaningful trends and insights for their clients.  

So, for example, they may discover that quick-service restaurants with a drive-through are growing 20 percent faster than those without.  Or they may find that law firms that have an in-house intellectual property group have 8 percent higher billings than those that don't.  Or they may be able to tell clients how much Hurricane Sandy hurt profits in manufacturing and boosted profits in construction during the fourth quarter of 2012.


Next steps

Once you have the data and the insights, there are two steps for incorporating them into your firm’s marketing approach.  The first is to get in front of your clients and prospects face to face, armed with customized reports that highlight ways they can use the data to improve their performance.  The recommendations should be unique, relevant and actionable. The highest-performing firms do this again and again, one client and one prospect at a time, giving them a privileged “first look” at the industry-specific information.

The second step, after you have leveraged the data in your direct sales pitches, is to use your findings to create content that will establish and amplify your firm’s reputation as an industry expert.  You can then easily deploy that content through public relations outreach, white papers, case studies, webinars, and other marketing channels -- every restaurant franchise company CFO will likely read an article entitled “Study Confirms Correlation Between Restaurant Employee Turnover and Profitability” when it comes up on their daily Google search.

CPAs that deliver a specialist’s insights stand apart from the pack.  They are viewed as valuable and trusted advisors by their clients, and firms-of-choice by prospects.  And the genius of this approach is that they become authentic industry experts at the same time that they are gathering the raw material they need to differentiate their marketing efforts. 

What could this path to specialization mean for you?  Yesterday, you were one firm among many. Tomorrow, you could be a sought-after thought leader and industry expert, generating powerful word-of-mouth buzz that leads to new business.

Rob Ganjon is CEO of iLumen, a business intelligence provider whose offerings automate the collection, standardization and analysis of client financial data.

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