[IMGCAP(1)] About once a month I am called in to assess the marketing and business development efforts for a 30 to 150 person CPA firm.  The firms typically request an evaluation of their marketing efforts, approach, tools, skills, and more.  As I spend time with the firm trying to uncover the issues and challenges within the firm that are obstacles to success, I often come to the conclusion that I am not dealing with a marketing problem. Rather, about half of the time, the root cause of their lack of growth, profitability, and success is a foundational weakness.

Allow me to explain what I mean:  
•    If the partners are unfamiliar with the strategic or directional goals of the firm, how will they get there?  
•    If each individual partner doesn’t have a goal in terms of new business how will marketing be able to help?  
•    If the partners aren’t aware of all the services the firm can provide, or don’t fully understand them, how can they cross-sell anything to existing clients?  
•    If the staff and partners don’t know what sets them apart from other firms, how can they expect to win in a competitive environment?
•    If the partner compensation formula doesn’t reward an investment in marketing time, why would partners spend time marketing?
•    If firm leadership can’t hold partners accountable to basic tasks like turning in their timesheet, or delegating lower-level work, how could leadership hold the partners accountable to marketing?  
•    If the partners don’t trust each other or share information, how can we expect to collaborate and help each other win new business?  
•    If the staff is punished for spending time doing marketing activities, how can the firm possibly expect to become more marketing-centric?

The good news is that these foundational issues and problems can be overcome. The bad news is that any marketing efforts implemented before the foundational issues are addressed will likely not succeed.  

I realize that most firms cannot wait to fix everything before they get their marketing and business development machine up and running.  And, I realize that no firm is perfect.

However, the tough reality is that firms need to have a dual approach to solving their foundational weaknesses while starting to build a better marketing and sales engine.  

Why is this so important? Because marketing will have a lower success rate if people don’t want to market because foundational issues are standing in their way.  This may sound obvious, but it happens more often than you might think. Perhaps the number one pre-determination for marketing success within a CPA firm is desire.

So, if you’re serious about building a firm that succeeds at marketing, make sure you have addressed the key foundational weaknesses first – and then move on to marketing. Don’t expect marketing to be the band-aid that can patch things up. After all, band-aids are for minor cuts and scrapes only.  

Art Kuesel is a director of consulting services for PDI Global, Inc. and works exclusively with CPA, law, and financial services firms across the country meeting their most significant marketing and business development challenges. He also enjoys gourmet cooking and travel with his wife, Colleen. Art can be reached at akuesel@pdiglobal.com  or 312-245-1745.