Traditionally firms used the March Budget as a chance to contact clients and prospects. Now that the low-key Spring Statement has somewhat ended this annual marketing opportunity, Philip Fisher suggests alternative avenues firms can explore.
Given that the composition of accountancy practices ranges from at the one scale an individual far beyond normal retirement age who is happy working with a few loyal clients to multinational organisations with a turnover in the billions at the other, there will be many different methodologies employed to maintain and grow businesses through marketing and sales efforts.
There is a fair possibility that you hate sales and marketing and regard it as, at best, a necessary evil. After all, accountants generally like helping clients, not trying to flog them things.
In the past, you may have gritted your teeth every March, invited all of your clients at the local solicitor to some kind of Budget presentation and sent out associated marketing literature, then gone to selling sleep for the next 11 months. But the dear Chancellor has scuppered that one so this might be a good time to consider alternative approaches.
This series has been compiled with the intention of giving readers some ideas about how they might be able to grow their own practices in ways that they will find palatable but also successful.
While you may find some of the suggestions inappropriate either due to the nature of your personality, the budget available or the kind of practice that you are trying to develop, it is sincerely hoped that across the series you will pick up enough tips to justify the few minutes it takes to read each article.
What do your clients want?
As a starting point, it is worth reflecting on what your clients and prospective clients might actually be looking for. There is no point in bombarding people with data that they find irrelevant or worse, offensive. That approach will cost you time and money and is more likely to persuade prospects and even clients to head for competitors rather than take up your services.
In the last year, I have personally needed the services of two professionals in very different fields. In the first instance, I immediately made contact with somebody at a firm with which I have had contact for years. I chose him because I rated the firm’s values and knew of his reputation as one of the leaders in his field. It helped that this was a niche practice that was unlikely to charge at the kind of rates I had no intention of paying.
Secondly, I required a professional in a very different field about which I had no understanding at all. In this case, I called a friend whose judgement I trust implicitly and asked him who he used. As a result, I am providing some very good and lucrative business to his trusted adviser without ever looking at the market.
Reputation is king
Readers should be able to learn some basic lessons from these two examples. When it comes to sales and marketing, in many situations reputation is king.
If your practice is trying to specialise in a particular area, whether it be geographical, technical or even based on factors such as antecedents and religion, the key is to make sure that as many people as possible who fit into the relevant criteria become aware of your services and, by whatever means, regard you as the person they want to use or more realistically someone on the list of accountants that they wish to talk to before making their big decision.
Marketing and sales are not the same
None of this is intended to detract from getting the basics right. Marketing is undoubtedly helpful whatever the size and aspirations of your practice. Similarly, in some form out and out selling might also be necessary. This paragraph immediately gets to the heart of what is a very important distinction. Marketing and sales are not the same thing.
For these articles, marketing can be regarded as equivalent to throwing bread on the water, possibly creating some kind of a brand name, but spending money that is unlikely to have any direct return.
Sales is potentially far more direct, sending out nasty looking hooks or even a depth charge by attempting to get in front of as many prospective work providers (which could include existing clients) as possible and telling them why you and your firm will be the solution to their particular problem.