For more than two decades, best-selling author Ramon Ray has been helping accounting firms stand out and drive revenue. Now, more than ever before, he says it’s critical that firms develop a brand personality that they bring to each interaction with a prospect and client. He insists it’s the only way to stand out in an ultra-competitive marketplace and minimize client attrition. He provides four tips on to achieve this.
1. Build a Brand
With nearly 1.25 million accountants and auditors in the United States, one could say the market is saturated. And that makes it difficult to stand out. Yet that is exactly what accounting firms must do in order to survive and thrive.
Remember: It’s a given that accounting firms are expert at what they do. The question becomes – what sets one apart from another?
Branding is a visual and conceptual way to get a firm recognized and remembered, ideally by helping them perceive the company in a favorable way. While many elements contribute to a brand – including the company name, logo, slogan, and design – the main focus is encouraging people to view the company as the right and best choice in the market. In many ways, it comes down to the client’s experience of and with the brand.
According to Ramon, branding gives clients a reason to choose one firm over another by conveying what is special about the firm.
“The best test of how well the firm’s branding is working – do potential clients feel they need what the firm offers? Better yet, does the branding bring a smile to their face?,” says Ramon. In other words, branding should evoke an emotional response that motivates someone to sign on as a client. Even better, branding should make clients want to remain with the firm over the long haul.
2. Engage Clients Before They Sign On
Business development professionals can and should take steps to advance the brand with each interaction – even before working with a client. Keeping in mind that the experience with the brand is often what determines the client’s perception, it’s essential to focus on making that experience as enjoyable and valuable as possible. Here are examples of pre-engagement activities that help do just that:
- Automate appointment scheduling by taking advantage of technology and web options that put more control in the hands of clients.
- Prepare the client for the interaction, such as by sending an email with a photo of the assigned accountant or by inviting the client to a free pre-tax webinar.
3. Nurture Client Relationships
One of the biggest mistakes accounting firms make is failing to wow the client once the initial engagement is complete. According to Ramon, “Firms should not ignore clients that return year after year. Those clients are not locked in because it’s quite easy to switch accounting firms. Rather than get lackadaisical, it’s critical that business development professionals commit to staying top of mind with clients.”
Simply put, to encourage return business and loyalty, business development professionals must continue nurturing those client relationships. Ramon suggests something as simple as sending a box of chocolates on April 1 with a reminder that tax time is right around the corner.
4. Make it Manageable
In all cases, business development professionals need to ensure that pre- and post-interaction engagement feels personalized. To personalize interactions at scale, it helps to call upon a customer relationships management (CRM) solution that makes it possible to segment the customer database. Then it’s a matter of designing and executing relevant campaigns for each segment.
To keep it manageable and effective, Ramon advises following these best practices:
- Define the strategic branding goals and then select a technology that can help achieve those.
- Test messages and offers to see what resonates with clients both pre- and post-engagement.
- Segment the customer database to align with relevant messages and offers.
- Start small by sending these to a sub-section of the database.
- Equip and train staff to deliver an experience that wows clients.
By winning the hearts and minds of prospective and existing clients with a compelling brand experience, firm’s can encourage and influence more initial and ongoing business.