Just like the storms that have recently passed through the country wreaking havoc, our economy has taken its toll on accounting firms across the country. In these last couple years, we have seen the importance a strong foundation plays in a firm’s ability to weather the storm. At this year’s Association for Accounting Marketing Conference a new trend has taken root that is helping firms across the country become more effective in how they market and sell their services.

The concept of variable marketing has slowly, through the assistance of technology and the continuous progression towards specialization, taken root in accounting firms and is an approach that is producing more effective results.

Marketing at the core is about building awareness and creating opportunities and sales is about closing those opportunities. For sales to be more effective, your marketing must be more effective. Variable marketing doesn’t necessarily change your tactics, but it does look at how something is executed, by whom and how it’s positioned. Rather than taking a one size fits all approach- for example all practice leaders need to complete X meetings with referral sources a year- firms  are customizing their approach based on the opportunity, partner involved and the marketplace opportunities. After all, some partners may not be great networkers no matter how hard they try, but it doesn’t mean that can’t be a great writer and still be just as effective at supporting the firm’s growth goals.

Variable marketing is being used a two key areas by firms to help support the overall growth of an organization and the sales efforts by partners and business developers. The first is in planning. Partner, director and manager marketing plans, goals and activities are now being customized based on the individual person and their market. Marketing departments are also using this approach when taking the firm to market, especially in the areas of messaging and strategic activity. Let’s look at how we can incorporate variable marketing into these two areas.

Creating a more effective marketing plan
Our people are our intellectual capital and each unique in their own way. Yet most firms approach marketing planning with a broad stroke and rarely incorporate their individual uniqueness into the planning process. While the firm should have an overarching strategy, it must also begin to look at how that’s implemented through its people.

You can take your firmwide and/or industry marketing plans to the next level by looking beyond just the firm and build your tactics and activities around your partners. Start by identifying your partner’s strengths, weaknesses, comfort levels and motivation factors with a variety of marketing/sales activities and build a customized plan based on these things. Make sure that these tie into your overall firmwide goals. By aligning with the partners strengths and motivating factors, your execution will be more effective and your results will be greater.

Targeting your communication
Once you have you plan and tactics set, you still need to get your message out effectively. Technology, especially social media, has made it increasingly easy for marketers to collect information and then segment and target communications based on user profiles.

One of the most applicable ways firms can use this is in the development of their niches. Starting with the development of prospects lists, firms can use things like LinkedIn , Google Alerts, Twitter, Google Analytics, email tracking software and more to gather meaningful data about their prospects activities, changes impacting their business or even what they are reading that you are sending. All of this information gives you the ability to purposefully create opportunities, communications or touch points with your firm, like inviting them to an event, reaching out to schedule a meeting or lunch or sending them a specific article or pronouncement around an issue you know will directly impact them. When done purposefully, these types of activities will generate more meaningful opportunities and aid in making the sales process more effective.

Patience is key
Variable marketing takes a lot more time than traditional marketing approaches. It’s not about just pushing out a broad message and hoping it sticks or buying a list and mail merging it. It’s thoughtful and purposeful.  It requires more research, monitoring of information, thoughtful analysis and purposeful activity with follow through.  It can be overwhelming  when you  begin the shift.  Pick one key niche to start and remember to remain patient. While it may take more effort, you return on investment will be so much greater.

Sarah Johnson is the Director of Marketing Consulting Services for PDI Global and works exclusively with CPA, law, and financial services firms across the country to help them grow more effectively. When she’s not working, Sarah spends time cooking and completing triathlons. Sarah can be reached at sjohnson@pdiglobal.com or 312-245-1681 .