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The future of accounting marketing is strategy

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When we look back at 2020, what will we remember? COVID-19, sure. Cancelled conferences, closed offices, and the rise of “unprecedented” and “new normal” in our vernacular. The coronavirus pandemic changed the game for everyone, but we’d be missing the beat if we didn’t take a minute and look at the opportunity for growth.

Firms have done so much to pivot and readjust to meet clients where they are. Let’s capitalize on the newfound and long overdue appreciation for marketing and use this time as an opportunity to not just reinvent ourselves, but to also design strategic marketing initiatives that support our firms in really meaningful ways.

In a recent conversation with Katie Tolin, chief growth guide at CPA Growth Guides, I was reminded of how far we’ve come as a profession in a very short time, but also where we need to think about going.

The future is now

COVID-19 has pushed a lot of accounting firms into “firsts” — first webinar, first e-newsletter, first video, first tweet and so on — and I love it. Another first that’s happening is partners are looking around and talking about the concept of digital marketing. When they can’t meet with clients face-to-face, lead generation must happen somehow, and it’s happening online. To capture those leads and remain relevant, firms must invest in technology that will connect the dots between their e-newsletter, website, social media, SEO and more. This shift means that partners are now engaging with their marketing departments or outsourced marketing partners in new and exciting ways.

As these marketers emerge from the trenches of COVID-19 communications, they will have new expectations thrust upon them as the tools and resources they have asked for — in some cases, for years — are now available to many of them.

We finally have buy-in! What’s next?

What this means is that the marketers must become more strategic. “We need to be more big-picture thinking and better project managers,” Tolin said.

Think about it: In the past, marketing was more of an art. We talked about messaging, how something looked and how our firm was represented. Now, the data is driving the conversation. Your marketing needs to harness that data and use it to your advantage.

Here are some ways Tolin suggests you be more strategic with your marketing:

  • Packaging and pricing: Many firms aren’t doing this yet, but the concept of productizing our services is gaining steam, Tolin explained. Some firms started offering packaged services around PPP loan forgiveness or advisory services for the first time this year. The conversation really starts with value. Packaging is a different way of thinking about how you offer and price services, right? It’s consistent, based on value and not hours, transparent, and easy to understand. Your marketing team or marketing resources can help by outlining what’s being offered, understanding who’s currently buying similar services and where the gaps are, parsing out the value proposition in those offerings, recommending packages and then leading the strategic implementation.
  • Innovation: When you hear “innovation,” you might think of big ideas and novel discoveries. It doesn’t have to be. Innovation, Tolin explained, can be something new to your firm or new to the marketplace. Foster a culture where continuous improvement is part of the firm’s vision. Assemble a cross-section of employees across the firm, as well as strategic external consultants, to dream of what could be possible for your firm in two, three or five years from now. Or heck, in two months! Consider what changes need to happen to make that dream a reality. Involve clients and structure the solutions around pricing.

Use your marketing professionals if you’re lucky enough to have them. They are in an excellent position to captain this ship. Not only are they responsible for firm growth, but they already talk to everyone in the firm, can see beyond the immediate tax deadlines and know how to pull in other resources when needed.

  • Technology: Marketing technology levels the playing field amongst firms of different sizes, but most firms haven’t invested in MarTech or they aren’t using it to its fullest potential. The best strategic technology tools are collaborative and talk with other pieces of software so you have to give you a holistic look at client and prospect data. There are solutions that incorporate AI learning, workflow automation, personalization and more. Some options even help you do more with fewer resources.

If technology is the journey, automation is the car that drives it. One of the revelations from COVID-19 was partners asking whether they have segmented lists of their clients and prospects. If the answer was “no” or “not enough,” then get it in place now! That’s what CRM was built for and less robust versions or CRM are also built into some automation tools.

Speaking of automation, it’s going to become more popular too. It works like this: You send an e-newsletter, Judy Client clicks on a link and is redirected to the website. She clicks around on a few pages, downloads something and then leaves. Automation adds Judy to a segmented list based on her download. She then receives pre-written messages you’ve mapped out related to that download to guide her through the sales process with no additional involvement on your part. Technology used to its fullest potential is a beautiful thing.

Strategic marketing with strategic resources

We’ve come to accept that an accountant can have a specialty in tax, audit, forensics, cybersecurity or a number of other areas — but marketers too have specialties. It’s very hard for one person to know everything and do everything that needs to be done when it comes to marketing. To be strategic and successful, you need to understand what your marketer is good and what they don’t know. Then build your team to complement those skills or deficiencies. This holds true whether your marketing resources are in-house or not.

Let’s say a firm has an in-house marketer who excels at digital marketing but struggles with content development. Hire an outsourced copywriter. Or maybe there’s a firm that wants to do more than just dabble in online advertising. Hire an outsourced digital advertising expert. The future marketing team is fluid and changes according to project needs. Smart firms and/or marketers will know who to call to fill those needs and better utilize their own strengths.

As you use this unique time we’re in to reinvent your firm and move beyond “survival,” be strategic with your marketing. It’s how you’ll find new opportunities and new revenue. “There is no roadmap, so create your own,” Tolin said.

Have a purpose to what you are doing and try new things. Radical CPAs need radical — and strategic — marketing, after all.

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Client strategies Coronavirus Client communications Client retention
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