Most firms face a never-ending challenge finding and acquiring new clients. According to a recent study, over 70 percent of firms make business development a major priority. Here are five basic mistakes that undermine many firms’ ability to attract new business.

1. Strategy Non-Starters

The great majority of CPA firms stumble in how they develop a marketing strategy. Here’s how. Typically, toward the end of the year, a firm assembles a team of partners and senior executives (typically the more, the merrier) to brainstorm ideas for marketing and develop an approach for the coming year.

One problem with this approach is it’s very difficult for large groups to reach a consensus of opinions. Also, big groups tend to resist change, meaning next year’s plan will more than likely be pretty similar to this year’s. Last but not least, since most accounting firms are run by accountants, they’re generally conservative on spending and tend to shy away from new types of marketing investments.

The result? Strategies that are an unsatisfactory mashup of instinct, compromise and stale ideas.

Fortunately, there’s a better way. Delegate the creation of your marketing strategy to a small team with authority to make decisions. Research the current needs and preferences of your target audience (remember, these change from year to year). Create a differentiated brand to make sure your buyers remember you. And then implement tactics with a proven ability to generate results.

2. Critical Skill Gaps

Based on my experience, many accounting firms simply have the wrong people in charge of marketing.

Effective marketing requires a broad set of skills, from copywriting and search engine optimization (SEO) to using social media and web analytics. Yet when they’re making staffing decisions, many firms focus more on minimizing costs — and less on maximizing impact. Or they may hire good people, but then give them so many duties that they can’t succeed. The harsh reality is that most firms simply don’t understand which skillsets are required in today’s marketing environment.

3. Botched Implementation?

Some firms have trouble putting workable strategies into action. They may start out with lots of energy, only to find that enthusiasm soon fades when people have to implement the plan. For example, a firm might plan a monthly webinar series, but after producing one or two, interest fades and the effort dies. The same thing can happen with blogging and networking as well. It’s far too tempting to put time and effort into work for paying clients.

Another reason marketing efforts can fail is when they don’t deliver results immediately. Management may lose faith in the effort and return to previous tactics—sometimes, just when the new approach was about to take off.

4. Non-functioning Funnels

We all know about the ideal sales funnel. Prospective clients enter at the top, where they learn about you. In the middle of the funnel, you work to nurture prospects and earn their trust. It all pays off at the bottom, where prospects are transformed into paying clients.

Marketing funnel

The problem is, some firms don’t have all the pieces of the funnel connected, or they leave out key parts. Prospects can’t move smoothly through the funnel. They may get stuck—or lose interest and simply leave.

As a result, a firm might be great at attracting new prospects, but then fail to provide offers to extend the relationship. Or they may effectively attract new readers with blog posts, but then neglect to include tools for deepening the engagement.

5. Driving Blind

Most people would not drive at night if their car had no headlights. Yet many accounting firms do essentially just that—paying little or no attention to how their marketing efforts actually perform. Without tangible evidence of what is and what working, they’re basically flying blind.

This is another area that we’ve researched, and we’ve found that high-growth firms generally monitor more metrics compared to their low-growth peers. It’s easy to understand why: they have the data they need to adjust their campaigns on the fly. These firms also do more audience research to gain a clearer understanding of their buyers’ motivations.

Firms that rely on gut feelings or anecdotal evidence, in contrast, are much more likely to invest in tactics that underperform—or pursue the wrong prospects using the wrong message.

Be a More Rigorous Marketer

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted,” the legendary retailer John Wanamaker famously said. “The trouble is, I don’t know which half.” Since his death in 1922, many advertisers and marketers have struggled with the very same challenge in knowing where to invest their limited marketing dollars.

But thanks to digital marketing, it’s now fairly easy to get accurate insights into what is and isn’t working. Accessing these insights takes diligence and a more scientific way of thinking about marketing accounting services.

Lee Frederiksen

Lee Frederiksen

Lee Frederiksen, PhD, is managing partner of Hinge, a branding and marketing firm for professional services.