The accounting profession is undergoing a series of seismic changes. From automation to blockchain technology, profound change is already underway. How can a firm keep up and thrive in such an uncertain environment? Here are six tips that can help you align your business approach with the needs and expectations of a rapidly evolving marketplace:
1. Utilize Research-Based Marketplace Insights
This is not a good time for guesses and hunches. Firms that conduct formal research on their target markets have been proven to grow faster and become more profitable. Our own research has revealed that high-growth firms are much more likely to conduct systematic client group research at least once a quarter. They are able to base their business decisions on solid empirical evidence rather than gut instincts or dangerously flawed assumptions.
2. Create an Expertise-Centered Brand
With insights gained from your research, you will be able to build a more valuable brand based on the wants and needs of your target audience. Knowing what your prospects are looking for in an accounting firm enables you to demonstrate and promote your firm’s expertise in addressing those needs. The right expertise is the number one selection criteria for prospective clients seeking a firm to hire. Even more impressive, in nearly three out of four searches (72 percent), expertise tipped the scale in favor of the final choice.
3. Balance Traditional and Digital Approaches to Firm Growth
The way buyers are searching for and evaluating firms is evolving rapidly, so your marketing strategy must also evolve.
Achieving the greatest marketing message reach and frequency (how many prospects you “touch” and how often) requires balancing on- and offline outreach by speaking at events, publishing educational articles and blog posts, and producing free webinars, to name just a few common tactics. In fact, firms generating leads from both digital and traditional sources tend to grow faster and are more profitable than those that rely solely on traditional sources. Our research tells us that firms utilizing a balanced approach can grow up to four times faster and be more than twice as profitable as firms that employ an unbalanced approach.
4. Develop a Focused Marketing Strategy
Research has also revealed that buyers favor specialists over generalists. While it may seem intuitive that offering more services to a broader audience creates greater opportunity for growth, quite the opposite is true. A broader approach simply creates less obvious value and benefit to potential clients.
A better strategy is to offer more niche services. Firms that take this approach are more likely to be high-growth firms. Another proven differentiation approach is to focus on solving a particular business problem or serving the needs of a particular type of client.
5. Create a Culture of Learning and Change
Implementing some of the strategies outlined here may require a significant change in how your firm operates and that may be a challenge—inertia and an entrenched way of doing things can be difficult to overcome. In professional services it’s easy to embrace how everyone else in the industry operates, and that leads to a me-too environment that is difficult to stand out and succeed in.
However, before you can retool your marketing, you must develop a firm culture that supports learning and change. One way is through training. Another is by adopting what we call the Test/Measure/Learn cycle. This is a methodology that helps organizations introduce and test new services and marketing methods to help the firm gain value and visibility in the marketplace. The approach is simple, but effective: You introduce and test an idea, measure the results, and learn from the experience—was it a success or failure? Make it a habit and your services will evolve more quickly.
6. Become a Magnet for Top Talent
As you introduce the strategies above and begin to reap the benefits, your firm will gain visibility and create greater value for existing and prospective clients, as well as top industry talent. Investing in your employer brand can help you capitalize upon this. Start by determining the following:
• What is your reputation as a place to work?
• Is your workplace culture consistent with your client-facing brand?
• Does your employer brand attract top talent or make them leery of working for you?
Why is this important? Because our research has shown that what is most valuable to today’s job candidate for employment and career advancement has changed. Potential employees today are most interested in working for a growing firm and having job flexibility. Interestingly, obtaining the highest possible salary came in third. In other words, the kind of work environment you provide is more important than whether you offer the highest salary.
These six fundamentals of marketing have proven instrumental in helping professional services firms achieve greater visibility and a competitive advantage in an evolving marketplace. Put these six strategies to work for your accounting firm and start achieving the success and profitability you deserve.