Art of Accounting: Getting started with marketing

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I have always been a marketer of some sorts, and have posted many columns describing some of what I’ve done. However, I received a call recently that got me thinking about the process I followed. Until that call, I felt like marketing projects just spouted forth full-grown, like Venus being born, but that wasn’t the case.

My marketing efforts were directed toward various specific goals. When I wanted to add some restaurant clients (so a staff person who harbored a secret lust to own a restaurant would see what a tough and hard business it was), I ended up with a couple of clients pretty quickly. When I wanted some business valuation clients (so one of my managers could get experience and take the test to become an ABV), I somehow got a bunch of them. When I wanted to get some critical mass in employee benefits plan audits, they miraculously appeared. And when we wanted to service New Jersey businesses with QuickBooks consulting, we did just that. What I did, and how I went about it, are separate stories by themselves, but that is not today’s topic. Today I want to discuss the marketing thought process. (By the way, it is never what I did; it was what we did. Everything was a collaborative effort with my partners.)

Marketing success, or success in any endeavor, does not just appear. It needs deliberate planning and execution. Here are some things to consider:

1. You have to decide on the ultimate result. Do you want new clients or to retain what you have, to sell additional services to existing clients or to have clients refer you? Each of these is a separate goal and needs distinct marketing efforts.

2. If you’re pursuing new clients, you have to decide on the types of clients you want — size, geographical location, type of ownership, industry, niche specialties, audits, reviews or tax preparation clients who are high-net-worth individuals and executives, or a large volume of mid-level or lower-income clients.

3. If your goal is to retain what you have or to sell additional services to existing clients, you need to plan your strategy, set a budget and allocate the time to meet with and interact with your clients. I have always believed that if I never lost a client, I would always do very well; maybe not great, but very well, which is pretty good. I developed a plan to sell additional services to 5 percent of my existing clients each year. This may not sound too ambitious, but it worked very well. Besides needing to call about four times the number of clients to achieve my number, I was informing the ones who did not engage us for the additional work about our capabilities in areas they were not fully aware that we were qualified in, and this led to unexpected referrals.

4. If your goal is to have clients refer you, then you need to manage these referral sources. My outlook is that the clients, i.e., referral sources, were my sales force and I was the sales manager. As such, I needed to provide them with “materials” to do their selling and to be available to motivate them, follow through and evaluate their results.

5. You need to assess your inventory of staff, skills, availability, management, infrastructure and working capital. Growing without properly absorbing it could create more damage than any benefits that might ensue. This leads us to budgets and operating and cash flow projections.

6. Another function of your marketing could be to recruit and retain talent. Reducing turnover is a noble goal and can be pretty profitable. However this also needs determination, effort and directed action.

7. Training staff and partners to market and sell takes effort, and teachers able to teach. This is also a function of marketing.

Before you start a formal marketing program and hire someone, you need to know what you are doing. Use the above as starters. As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”

I've also posted a blog illustrating the role of a marketing person.

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Referral marketing Referrals Client relations Client communications Client acquisition Accounting firm services Ed Mendlowitz