The New York Chapter of the Association for Accounting Marketing recently hosted a lunch and learn, featuring Lee Frederiksen of Hinge Marketing at Wiss & Co. The topic, “Marketing in 2015: How to Drive Higher Growth”. The presentation highlighed key findings for growth marketing tactics from Hinge Research Institute’s document titled 2015 Professional Services Marketing Priorities which surveyed over 500 professional services firms (you can download the report for free at http://www.hingemarketing.com/library/article/2015-professional-services-marketing-priorities).
Some of the notable findings of the survey uncovered –
- Increasing qualified leads from referrals and visibility of firm expertise are the top two marketing priorities
- 81.5% of firms have received referrals from people they have not yet worked with. This represents a large opportunity moving forward.
- Online numbers are getting bigger and bigger across the funnel
- 51.9% of potential clients have ruled out a firm before ever speaking with them
- Top referral killers – website not impressive, over emphasis on selling, poor quality content
So, Frederiksen noted that marketing for accountants and professional services firms is undergoing a transformation from art to science. Therefore, there is a shift into more digital marketing tactics that can now be measured. While a good creative will always be important, establishing benchmarks and measuring performance is more critical to determine where firms make, and continue making, their marketing investments.
Driving the Transformation – Growth Marketing Tactics
This transformation is being driven by the way people buy things and make decisions. The goal of accounting firm marketers is to build growth marketing tactics and a recognizable brand identity (to attract) and then create valuable content that will educate buyers and establish trust (to convert). [Editors note: how people make decisions at every point in the decision making process has changed forever, we believe it is no longer a ‘sales process’ but rather a ‘buying process’.] Moreover, with 70.5% of survey respondents stating attracting and developing new business a top priority, to counteract this trans-formative shift, the challenge marketers face is creating enough informative content that responds to problems their clients have and gives a level of trust and industry expertise of the firm’s partners.
So, in response to this challenge, Frederiksen gave some feedback on some of the main ways that marketers at accounting firms aim to drive new business.
- 50% plan to focus their efforts on generating more referrals. This is understood and already has buy in from top level management.
- 42.5% plan on finding ways to increase the visibility of their experts [partners]
- 40% aim to make existing clients more aware of other services (cross / up selling)
- 37.5% want to increase brand visibility in a specific industry or segment – “what do you know us for”
- 37.5% stated the need to create a content marketing program
Content Marketing and Creating Content
The topic of content marketing spurred a lot of discussion and interaction from the group. Discussion included how best to go about creating content and what types of content will lead to converting new client opportunities. All agreed that producing educational and informational content, based on how their partners work with clients to solve a specific client problem, or helping uncover problem, was the best way to highlight the firm’s expertise.
Debunking many senior partner beliefs that prospective customers only come from referrals, Frederiksen revealed that an astounding 81.5% of firms receive referrals from people that have not directly worked before*. Therefore, to drive higher growth, marketers at accounting firms must educate management on the fact that people are using the Internet to –
- get informed about topics
- to identify a trusted professional source
- pass along this information to their friends and colleagues
Merging Traditional Advertising with Online Content Marketing
CPA firms can make this trend work for them by producing content targeted at common problems. They can also look at questions that people have. This way the firm becomes the source of information rather than their competitors.
Still, many firms invest heavily in traditional advertising, like magazines, billboards and sponsorships that do not answer problems or showcase an expertise that potential clients are looking for. Even when an advertisement works, the prospect will then jump online and make their decisions from the content that they read, such as blogs and articles, watch, such as video content marketing, as well as from sources like social media and LinkedIn.
In fact, 51.9% of potential clients have ruled out a firm before ever speaking with them* and cited a website not being impressive / professional, over emphasis on selling vs. providing information and poor quality content as cause.
“Online numbers are getting bigger and bigger” said the study, and showed a staggering disparity in the digital marketing investments of high vs. low growth firms. Furthermore, high growth firms have a larger portion of their investments proportioned to the place where people go looking for answers to the business problem they want to solve. Not surprisingly, low growth firms put marketing and advertising dollars predominantly in –
- Non-educational firm events
- Individual partner development
While high growth firms put investments into –
- Content creation focused around improving visibility of their experts
- Improving their website and SEO
- Networking and tradeshows (industry specific pays off more)
- Educational events
- Marketing materials (pitch decks w industry specific overviews)
Getting Your Information Out
This spurred a new round of discussion from the group, with one participant stating “…our partners have the knowledge, getting the information out is the issue.” As a result, many agreed that there was not enough buy-in from partners and upper management on investing in a content marketing strategy for accounting firms. Citing comments like “my customers are not looking at social media”, “my firm needs instant gratification” and were not clear on how best to “distribute the marketing content, which is the next step”
But with over 30% of potential clients searching for experts online and over 80% checking out your firm’s website before buying, the marketing content you have online can be an effective tool in converting referrals into clients.
Finally, another group discussion produced some ideas on going about content marketing that positions partners as experts –
- Publish blogs and articles around educational content
- People search to solve their business problems, not for your firm’s name
- Produce video marketing content as it has a strong ability to make a complicated topic understandable
- Own the narrative; here is the problem, here is how you solved it
- Professional business video communications makes it easy for people to get to know partners while evaluating their skill set
- Start with partners that are open to digital, focus on them, build metrics from there
- Work with a writer to write about an organized key points from the partner
Finally, have the business development follow up and stick with it. It might take a while to create the channels to distribute the content that resonates with your target audience – and with most firms they will have multiple target audiences. So, Hinge’s internal metrics show that content marketing pays off 3-6 months after a major content marketing push.
* Statistics from “Referral Marketing for Professional Services Firms” and can be downloaded at http://www.