Lauren Clemmer, executive director of the Association for Accounting Marketing, has been immersed in accounting marketing and business development for more than a decade, and was recently named one of the most powerful women in accounting. For the past two years, she has worked with hundreds of accounting firms to help them advance their business development and marketing efforts. Over the course of her career, she has witnessed remarkable transformations in the marketplace. Here, Lauren outlines the most pressing trends that accounting firms need to keep in mind to stay relevant with their clients and prospects.
1. Customer Experience Rises in Importance
In the midst of significant client turnover, firms are realizing the need to completely embrace and prioritize the client experience. “The more immersed firms are in their clients’ businesses and the more focused they are on truly serving them, the better their chances are of keeping and expanding business with those clients. To succeed in this area, firms must listen to the marketplace and their clients,” explains Lauren.
2. Firms Must Specialize to Differentiate
Lauren cuts to the point when she says the entire profession needs to embrace change. “Accounting firms must expand beyond compliance and traditional services to survive.” Part of that is embracing a willingness to adopt a laser-like focus with regard to the services and industries they serve.
For example, a firm might find greater success specializing in international tax or by exclusively serving a specific industry. “The more focused a firm, the better it can grow its business. In fact, a small firm can compete quite effectively against larger firms by specializing,” says Lauren.
The first step is for firms to gain a deeper understanding of their own business. “Smart firms dig into their data and analyze the source of their business. By understanding what their most profitable and loyal clients value, they can strategically focus to develop new product lines and new business based on their strengths.”
3. Staffing Up for Business Development
At the same time, Lauren says she is seeing firms employ different approaches to staffing up for business development. Some have hired experienced professionals from outside the industry, while others have trained their existing staff. Regardless of approach, the ones that stick with it and strategically plan around it are more likely to see greater success.
Lauren encourages all accounting firms to develop and embrace a business development strategy. However, she notes, it’s important to recognize that business development doesn’t come naturally to everyone. In her experience, Lauren says the professionals who are more likely to excel at business development tend to be highly driven, goal-oriented extroverts.
4. The Team Approach Prevails
Successful firms make business development a part of the client management team approach, which minimizes disruption to the client experience should one person leave the firm. Smaller and medium size organizations can get started by identifying existing staff members with solid sales skills and training them on business development skills. This person can then train the rest of the firm. Some firms, Lauren says, will train everyone in business development to promote a cultural evolution throughout the firm.
5. Technology is the Foundation of New Business
Just as it has impacted every other industry, technology continues to make inroads in accounting. “Technology won’t replace people and relationships. In fact, it will make people’s jobs more important because they need to translate the data that technology can calculate, helping their clients understand how those numbers apply to their business. The key is to identify opportunities and articulate how the firm can help the client embrace those opportunities,” says Lauren.
Lauren recommends that firms embrace the right technology for their needs, and in particular, get web savvy and understand the role of social media. “Technology is the number-one investment for accounting firms because a new generation of clients is looking for services online. And they aren’t afraid to change accounting firms. In today’s world, location matters less than the right services. Firms need a strong website to drive people to their business,” concludes Lauren.
Here are four more strategies to ensure your clients remain loyal to your firm.