Marketing has always been seen as a ‘dark art’. Traditionally it’s a role
which other people have difficulty defining and explaining – a bit fluffy, not
quite sales, a job for the girls. And when times get rough, it’s the first
contender for budget cuts, because it’s a cost and not an investment.
The end point or key measurement for marketing activity is not about
awareness or creating buzz or any of that nonsense. These may be steps along the
way, but it’s not the key objective, which is more people buying your services.
So if you ‘invest’ £20,000 on a marketing campaign, you should expect £60,000
back in new business. When you look at it like that, you cannot afford to cut
the budget and you shouldn’t allow anyone to tell you that it’s not the point,
because it is the only point of doing any marketing. Ever.
Unfortunately, many professional firms only see marketing as a new brochure
or ad in the local paper. This can drive new clients to your door, but will they
stay with you and, more importantly, will they recommend you to others? Too many
organisations still believe they can splash out with some publicity using a
scatter gun approach, hoping they will hit the target occasionally.
I believe that a customer-centric marketing process is needed instead, it’s
more like fishing for clients, using bait, luring them in as you give them more
information and assurance along the way, giving superior customer service until
they’re completely hooked.
The concept should be used by accountancy professionals because it will allow
them to ask some powerful questions of the person in charge of marketing the
business, not least of which is “where is my tangible long term return on
The new marketing logic is about providing a service that your clients truly
want. Making information available to them when and where they want it, and
giving them an outstanding service. In essence, the process asks the following
* Do you know your clients?
*Can you solve their problems?
* Have they heard of you?
* Where can they find out more?
*How do you compare to the competition?
* What are you like to deal with?
The first two are about the nature of your services, the second two are down
to the marketing department and the final two are about customer service and
For accountancy firms, probably the most overlooked element of these is “what
are you like to deal with?” This means you have to make advocates out of all of
your staff, including the person who answers the phone and the first person your
client will see when they walk into your office. Are they saying the right
thing, do they know what the business actually does?
In the world of professional services, after someone has bought your
advertising claims or been referred through word of mouth, their first
impressions form their opinion of your capabilities and reliability. Your
services are somewhat intangible, so your client will take other clues as a
proxy measure. If the brochures in the foyer are a little dog-eared and the
toilets have no soap, or your receptionist is chewing gum and serves you coffee
in a chipped mug, it collectively forms an impression and speaks volumes about
you and not them.
If controlling impressions is too hard, the alternative is to go for short,
sharp business growth by making sure your fees are cheaper than your nearest
rivals, and go for a big budget advertising campaign that makes unrealistic
claims about slashing people’s tax bills or whatever your forte? may be. That
should get new clients walking through the door. But if the reality of dealing
with you is different, you are unlikely to get repeat business and the new
clients you have won won’t be making any referrals. Not to mention the
unsustainable nature of charging unrealistically low fees over time.
If you want real profits and sustained competitive advantage, especially in
tough times, you need permanently happy customers who honestly believe you have
a great reputation, and are willing to recommend you by word of mouth. Truly
putting clients first is a philosophy, and it should be right up there in your
vision, mission and corporate planning. Professional firms are completely
reliant on their local reputation, and you cannot pretend outwardly that putting
your clients first is your key priority, but actually dismiss it behind closed
doors. It will be spotted quickly, not least by your own staff. You have to
fundamentally believe it, not just with your business head, but with all your
heart, and you have to lead your staff through it and explain why it is so
Sue Nelson is social marketing director at Kindred Agency and author of
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