Many businesses have already made significant adjustments to daily operations, some of which (including remote work) may turn out to be permanent. The first priority has always been to keep the wheels turning while helping people—both staff and clients—stay as safe and productive as possible. Now, as a “new normal” seems clearer with each passing week, it is time for CPA firms to refocus marketing and business development activities to take advantage of genuine opportunities in the marketplace.
The Landscape Has Changed
For many CPA firms, much current business has been put on hold. Opportunities in the pipeline have been cancelled or delayed. Clients are withholding payment or asking for new terms. Moreover, face-to-face meetings, conferences, and special events have all been sidelined for the near future. Firm leaders are facing the reality that they will have to find new ways to market, sell, package, price, and deliver their services.
In the second half of 2020, CPA firm leaders will need to get a fresh read on their priorities, for both existing clients and prospects. What had value to them six months ago may not have the same value today. Also, it is now a virtual world. Firms that have not used digital marketing techniques to the fullest will need to adjust their strategy. Finally, every dollar is precious to clients and prospects right now. Many will have tighter budget restrictions than they did even a few months ago.
As CPAs try to look ahead, consider these 11 ways to retool leadership, marketing, business development, sales, repackaging/pricing, service delivery, and the central role of technology going forward.
Be bold and invest.
While a careful, conservative approach has served CPA firms well over the years, today’s challenges warrant thinking big and acting decisively. According to management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, tinkering—instead of making big moves—leads to changes that are too small to match the external pace of disruption. When it comes to staffing and programs, cutting back may not be the right choice. McKinsey & Company found that businesses which invest when valuations are low outperform those that do not.
Lean into change.
Can potential changes be categorized as a predictable trend or an unpredictable event? The rise of digital technology and the aging of the workforce are two examples of predictable trends; by contrast, the COVID-19 pandemic is clearly an unpredictable event. Leaders should plan for predictable trends, and cultivate an attitude of openness among both leadership and staff to adapt to unpredictable events. In The Anticipatory Organization: Turn Disruption and Change into Opportunity and Advantage (Greenleaf Book Group Press), author Daniel Burrus lays out a process for identifying disruption and using it to your advantage.
Ensure that the marketing team includes top-level digital marketing expertise.
The importance of digital marketing will be for CPA firms cannot be overstated. Whether this talent is on staff or outsourced, digital marketers should help a business with website design, social media, search engine marketing, email marketing and more. These areas will generate an increasing amount of leads and support branding overall.
Conduct a blog audit.
In the face of the magnitude of changes present by COVID-19, a firm’s thought leadership needs to reflect the most current concerns of its target audience. Analytics should be used to determine where engagement potential lies. Now is the time to adjust calls to action and internal links. Some posts are likely out of date and need a refresh; others may have served their purpose and can be put to rest. Firms should commit to continually monitoring their marketing program and assessing even evergreen resources for relevance.
Business Development and Sales
Collaborate with clients and prospects on business development initiatives that are win-wins.
For example, offer industry-specific perspectives via a webinar developed and presented together. By teaming up, firms can extend their marketing reach and demonstrate a commitment to partners’ success. That type of trust multiplier is extremely powerful and helps a prospect move forward with a decision to engage the firm.
Step back and conduct an honest assessment of the firm’s website.
Is it compelling? Is it easy to navigate? Is it differentiated and memorable? Under the new normal, a website is the gateway to the firm. It is the place of first impressions. Keep in mind that prospects will be accessing a firm’s website at their convenience—even staff may not be available—so it must be working as hard as possible, 24/7. In the absence of true face-to-face meetings, the decision to work with a firm may well be tipped by its website.
Repackaging and Pricing
Realize that time does not equal value.
A CPA firm must understand its competitive environment and identify where it can create value for its clients by serving them with faster turnaround and greater efficiency—or providing analysis with up-to-the-minute insight about their business. A firm must determine what its clients are willing to pay for this value. In addition, firm leaders should recognize that communication about such enhanced value is just as important as value delivery. Anyone selling a firm’s services must clearly understand how to position such value for a client or prospect’s circumstances.
Create a client-only portal.
In addition to using this portal for secure file uploads and payment transactions, CPA firms should provide client-exclusive digital content in every shape and form. Create a special, value-added experience for clients with this portal.
Leverage the firm’s tax, audit, and financial advisory experts in video and online formats.
Make sure these professionals get media and presentation training so they can showcase their expertise to best advantage and develop their personal brand. If they are not polished or comfortable on the new video or digital channels, consider hiring an actor to present the firm’s content.
Chatbot technology has come a long way, and offers a great marketing, business development, and client service enhancement for a CPA firm’s website. Keep in mind that, at least for the months ahead, everyone is playing catch-up and business development people can only speak to one prospect at a time.
Chatbots are available 24/7; they can offer information to anyone at any time the interest is there. Chatbots can answer many common questions and even schedule appointments for follow-up by business development staff.
Take advantage of an email or marketing automation platform (MAP).
Investing in some form of marketing automation should one of a firm’s top priorities. This technology can help a firm scale its outbound marketing efforts and reach more people faster. The system one chooses will depend upon which features firm leaders think will be needed over the next three years.
E-mail platforms tend to focus primarily on posting an ongoing series of emails and tracking them. Going forward, more sophisticated functionality such as personalization, lead nurturing, and the capacity to support account-based marketing will be crucial.
Now more than ever, CPA firms need to establish a marketing and sales funnel and set up the firm with the capability to push out the right content to prospects at every touch-point. Most professionals know that CPA-client relationships are high-touch, so when an early engagement is personalized and customized, trust and confidence in the firm’s expertise and services are built.
2020 is halfway done, and “unprecedented” doesn’t begin to describe the magnitude of change CPAs must navigate for themselves, their firm or employer, and their clients. When firms embrace the tactics outlined above, they will be demonstrating the resilience and responsiveness sought by the best clients and expected by the best staff—and positioning the firm for growth even in difficult times.