Marketing: winning tactics

I’m often asked if you should cut marketing expenditure in a downturn. Each
time my answer is no – and yes.

Think back to the last recession. At that time many business analysts
observed that the companies that invested in marketing activities tended to
emerge stronger than those that didn’t. But we also know that, with financial
resources currently stretched, many accountancy firms need to select marketing
activities that bring a fast return – ie. new business. Historically, the
marketing undertaken by the profession hasn’t always had this focus. So it is
certainly dangerous to continue doing what you always did. The new economic
landscape requires a different approach.

Beautiful game

The key to marketing’s effectiveness in a recession lies in its aim or focus.
If the focus is to create a route to explore business opportunities face-to-face
with a client, then any activity used will be hugely valuable. If, however,
marketing is being conducted without a real focus, then it is likely to fail.

Think of marketing in the context of football, with marketing activity as the
football pitch, discussions with potential clients to explore opportunities as
the penalty area and asking for work as shooting towards goal.

You can be excellent at marketing activity – the seminars, alerts, etc – but
this is the equivalent of passing the ball around the pitch to create an
opening. Some teams are excellent at passing but don’t get enough players into
the penalty area (and football statistics show that most goals are scored from
inside the penalty area).

It’s the same with accountancy firms; some have very good marketing systems
and collateral but simply don’t get enough of their senior accountants into the
exploring box. As a result, they find that they are undertaking lots of
activity, but with limited success.

The challenge for accountancy firms is a simple one. Ask yourself, how can we
use our activity to get us quickly and effectively into exploring opportunities
with clients? And when we get our people in there, do they know what to do to
score? In other words, do your people know how to conduct such discussions and
put themselves in a position to ask for the work when it is appropriate to do

Asking for the work is a skill similar to that of goal scoring. Just because
you get players into the penalty area doesn’t mean they are going to score. It’s
helpful to get them into the right place on the pitch, but they also need the
ability to guide the ball into the net.

So, what sort of marketing activities create a platform where you can explore
your opportunities? Here are some examples that we’ve seen enable firms to
position their ideas and knowledge. Their true worth though, lay in how
individuals in that firm then followed them up:

* Case studies – the war stories of how you have helped others.

* Articles – comment on topical issues and raise an individual’s profile.

* Alerts – aim to be the first and make sure they’re good.

* Reports – ‘Trojan horses’ that help secure a meeting and start a discussion
with a client.

* Advice – sharing your market/client intelligence to give a view.

* Resources – support client challenges when you share them.

* Training – bring value and knowledge.

Shots on target

The purpose of the business conversations when you secure them is to build
your understanding of the client and explore opportunities where you can bring
further value and win work. This isn’t about being pushy. Instead, it requires a
very careful approach and relies on an accountant having three key things:

1 Knowledge of the right sort of questions to ask in order to understand the
client’s situation.

2 A sensitive approach to positioning and demonstrating their capabilities
with a specific issue.

3 A good sense of timing so, when they ask for business, they are not
rebuffed by the client.

These are not always skills that accountants have traditionally been taught
during training. They are, however, ones that are crucially needed in the
current climate if accountancy firms are to turn their marketing activity into
revenue generating work.

Aim for a hattrick

Along with all the ‘doom and gloom’, the downturn is also presenting
accountancy firms with a number of opportunities. Businesses and organisations
are leaning more on their advisers for guidance on how best to cope with the
current business situation. The more practical and ‘hands on’ that guidance is,
the more the client values the relationship with a firm and stays with them. In
times like these, clients desperately need support, ideas, a view of the future
and guidance. They also love those advisers who share resources, knowledge and
business opportunities with them. With their expertise, knowledge and
experience, accountancy firms are well positioned to respond to what clients
need and many are currently trying new ways to get involved.

The question to cut or to keep marketing resources in an accountancy firm
depends very much on its focus. If marketing efforts are focused on creating
routes to explore business opportunities with a client then they will be hugely
valuable and should possibly be given additional investment in the current
climate. Across the accountancy profession there are currently resources,
experience, expertise, intelligence, knowledge and advice which clients would
value right now. The key is to be more active and find out what would help them
the most. Oh yes, and get in there before your competitors do.

What the client wants…

Here are some examples that we’ve seen working well recently:

* Instigating innovative and supportive billing practices to help clients
afford certain services.

* Creating valuable (really valuable) pieces of intelligence and insight
that, when followed up, create a platform for a focused conversation with a
client on the matter addressed in the resource.

* Introducing clients to other colleagues, contacts and clients whose
expertise touches exactly on an issue they’re facing.

* Creating events/activities which bring different clients together where
there may be synergy or mutual business benefit.

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