Bridging the gap

It seems that accountants and marketing managers are worlds apart when it comes to ensuring promotional spend makes a difference to accountancy firms’ bottom lines.  But it needn’t be like this, says Kevin Walker.

More than 80 years after his death, John Wanamaker’s quote still rings true: ‘Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.’  Marketing is perceived as difficult to measure.  At the same time, while dealing with crucial business activities, accountants and marketing managers are often regarded as being from different planets.

In working with accountancy practices for many years, we have recognised several issues that affect how you measure the effectiveness of marketing.  These are: marketing is often separated from the business development process; marketing is often perceived to be the role of a department and not a company-wide activity; marketing plans tend to be ‘historic’ by nature, in that they reflect what worked or didn’t work in previous years.

In our minds, marketing can generate a clearer return on investment when linked closely to business development strategy.  When this occurs, marketers and accountants can work together more harmoniously for the greater good of the company and its clients.

The first point on this road to marketing effectiveness is to start with a company’s business objectives.  These may relate to increasing turnover, they may also address the type of client the company wants, or in what industry it aims to specialise.  Whatever the objectives and their timescales, these are the foundations.

Using these objectives, fee-earners should define a realistic and manageable list of clients and prospects that they aim to work with.

To arrive at this list, fee-earners and marketers can apply ‘triggers and filters’ selection criteria.  These establish whether the company and the prospect are likely to add value to one another.

Triggers are those factors that indicate it may be timely and appropriate to develop the relationship with a (prospective) client.  For instance, there may be a change in ownership or the business may be going through a period of significant change.

Filters are those factors that make it easier / more difficult or more attractive / less attractive to build the relationship.  For example, you may have a track record in their market or the incumbent adviser may be too small to serve their needs.

To win and retain a new client, the company will need to demonstrate a great understanding of the prospect’s business and the issues facing them.  We therefore suggest sharing client and prospect lists to a wider audience in the company.  Not only does this engender greater team spirit and share the load of marketing among employees, it can also lead to new business.

As an example, one of our clients published its prospect list in the company’s coffee area.  This, in turn, led to a secretary helping her firm win a piece of business as she recognised one of the targets as the company her husband worked for.

With their company’s prospect list to hand, marketers are in a better position to gain economies of scale from market intelligence and research.

By identifying ‘similarities’ in the prospect and client base – for example industry sectors – and segmenting them into groups, research expenditure can be refocused to be more supportive of the fee-earners’ business development effort.  We’ve heard of companies setting up ‘industry watchers’ that monitor their clients’ particular industry development.

Others invest in news-feed systems, or conduct research relating to a particular issue that a group of clients or prospects are facing.

Equipped with a defined prospect / client list and a very focused stream of intelligence, the company can rethink its marketing plan.  The ultimate aim in this is to motivate prospects and clients to want to talk with us about our company’s capabilities that they do not use today.

This is achieved when three levels of marketing work concurrently.  Collectively they create the image, or ‘brand’, which makes clients choose to buy the services of that company.  These three levels of marketing work are:

  • Corporate marketing – activities that create a general awareness and understanding about what the company does in general;
  • Capability marketing – those activities that specifically illustrate its capabilities; and
  • Contact marketing – these activities involve direct contact between the client / prospect and people from the company.  They demonstrate the company’s understanding and support of its clients / prospects and seek to add value to the client based on this understanding.  It is these activities that invariably differentiate a company from its competitors.

While there is a general understanding of marketing within accountancy, the amount of contact marketing, which is almost exclusively the remit of fee-earners, is usually quite low.

Typically, in professional services firms, a lot of time and financial resources are devoted to corporate and capability marketing while very little is spent on contact marketing.

In contrast, when you look at how difficult the three levels are to measure, contact marketing (because of its direct and active nature) is the easiest.

This is one of the reasons why companies have difficulty measuring their marketing expenditure, as significant resources are devoted to what are the most difficult areas to measure.  Companies also expect results that only contact marketing can deliver.

Corporate and capability marketing do have a strong role to play in building awareness in the client’s mind.  However, without contact marketing, the client / prospect is unlikely to buy from that company.  While we are not suggesting that accountants and marketers halt expenditure on corporate marketing, we do recommend that:

  • The communications budget is re-examined against the new understanding of the company’s clients and prospects;
  • Over time a greater proportion of communications budgets is devoted to contact marketing; and
  • Measurement systems are adjusted – or in some cases introduced – to reflect this change.

Only then will companies see the direct correlation between what they spend on marketing, the new business they win and a reduction in the clients they lose to competitors.  Marketers and accountants needn’t be from different planets.  Collectively they can make their companies’ marketing more effective.

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