our yard was inundated with bird-food-eating squirrels and we were desperate. so we did what desperate people do: We fell for a shiny advertisement promoting a highly specialized (read: expensive) squirrel-defying bird feeder.

The squirrel spies the contraption, thinking he's discovered a birdfeeder Lazy Susan, which is pretty much what it looks like. But climbing on it sends the pest on a vertigo-inducing merry-go-round ride. We were promised that this does not harm the squirrel.

What it does do is send the dizzy rodent straight back to the forest with a powerful message for its fellow squirrels: "Dudes. Do not go foraging in the Crosleys' yard. Nothing good will come of it and you'll likely come away with a monumental headache."

It struck me that this sylvan communication is a perfect example of shared market intelligence. Market intelligence is the aggregate of information about a particular market, and the strategic use of that information to grow the firm. It takes you beyond the tactical to the strategic, leading to faster growth.

Picture a fishing pond. Stand at the edge and throw a line in and you'll probably catch a fish now and again. Compare that tactical approach with a more strategic method - jumping into the center of the pond and closely studying the dynamics of the ecosystem. Surrounded by so many organisms and so much activity, you're certain to figure out where in the pond the most fish reside, what they're hungry for, etc. And as a result, you're sure to reel more of them in.

 

RANDOM ACTS OF NETWORKING

When it comes to business-building, however, most partners have resisted that soggy jump into the center of the pond. They're more comfortable with "random acts of networking" like the traditional banker breakfasts, lawyer lunches and chamber cocktails. This might have been good enough when the economy was soaring, but not anymore.

So here's the deal: Master rainmakers have never been content with that kind of unfocused networking. Super-successful partners are, by nature, strategic thinkers who have figured out how to discover market intelligence by getting up close and personal with that pond. Once discovered, they connect the dots, leading them to a great quantity of potential buyers and growing their understanding of buyers' interests.

Market intelligence is a result of the relentless pursuit of information, especially through focused research calls on prospects, competitors and others in your niche. You supplement this knowledge by reading everything you can about that industry: trade journals, magazines, electronic publications. Add the new social media tools at your disposal. If you haven't begun to tweet, Facebook, blog or use LinkedIn, you're missing the opportunity of a lifetime to get in on the (nearly) ground floor of incredible tools to learn your market from the outside in, from what's on the minds of buyers to what they're reading, buying and responding to.

Consider these hypothetical examples of how CPAs can leverage market intelligence.

Through contacts in the manufacturing sector, you hear about a new conference on Lean/Six Sigma strategies. You realize this would be the perfect presentation forum for a manufacturing consultant you know who specializes in Lean/Six Sigma, and is trying to grow her base. This is a valuable piece of market intelligence that you share with her. (P.S.: Someday, she gives you a juicy nugget of market intelligence.)

You learn through a lawyer of growing European interest in purchasing U.S. real estate companies. After researching the situation, you use this market intelligence to restructure several of your services into international offerings. You start identifying areas of thought leadership to help these global players and, eventually, become the go-to firm in this space.

You discover that a publication is launching a new benchmark in the construction industry. You convince them to jointly sponsor it with your firm, and the firm becomes positioned as the go-to place for benchmarking on this issue.

 

LISTEN FOR THE THEME

The closer you get to the epicenter of your market and the more high-value market intelligence you uncover, the more the dots start to connect. Rather than looking for a lead here or a referral there, you're looking for the big picture to emerge. It's not the individual notes of music, but the large themes they produce that matter. The results include a better strategic direction, a bigger pipeline and faster revenue growth.

That's when you know you're trading in the currency of market intelligence.

 

Gale Crosley, CPA, is 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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