Marketing is a process through which supply meets demand. To meet demand, professional services firms supply the knowledge, skills, and time of their staff. Although many accounting firms closely follow the needs and wants of their target market (buyers) in order to adjust their supply propositions, often these same firms pay little attention to what firms’ staff (that which supplies the buyer) demand for themselves to be in a position to meet those buyer requirements. Accounting firms are in the market for both clients and talent. With the current demand for accounting services high but the talent pipeline having trouble meeting supply, it makes a lot of sense to temporarily shift some of the focus from clients to the most pressing issue—talent, specifically their needs and wants.

In what ways could marketing possibly impact talent management?

A CPA firm is in a position to decide which segment of demand to pursue, that is, make a strategic decision on which kind of clients (and work) to go after. In order to be able to meet that slice of demand, firms have to adjust their supply proposition by choosing which kind of people to hire and train so that the firm’s provision of these services is compelling for those clients. Thus retaining and acquiring professional staff (a resource that is part and parcel of the supply proposition) directly impact the ability of the marketing process to fulfill its function. It works both ways: the knowledge and skills of current staff impact the demand that can be pursued and, by deliberately pursuing a specific demand, the composition of future staff is impacted.

Organizations that have already learned how to attract and retain clients are in a good position to apply similar marketing tactics to talent management—their main asset. Consider how some of the following tactics—which would generally be applied to clients—can be adapted to staff matters.

Marketing Tactics to Manage Talent

Surveys.

Many accounting firms claim to be client-oriented. This idea can be flipped to address the needs and wants of the staff. Employees usually want to be listened to, respected, and valued. The best way to discover what people need and want is to ask them. Employee surveys conducted on a regular basis are a great way of taking the temperature of the firm. It shows people that management is listening and, if management acts on that feedback, proves to staff that their input is valuable.

Relationships.

Just like seniors, partners, and account managers are responsible for fostering relationships between clients and the firm, managers should take responsibility for building personal relationships with and among their subordinates. People collaborate more if they trust one another, which is more likely if they get to know each other multidimensionally: interests, hobbies, family, books, volunteerism. Employees are less willing to quit if that means losing personal bonds they have developed over the years.

Fairness.

Clients want fair work for the buck—that’s the baseline, below which firms operate at their peril. The threshold is, obviously, different for every client, but it exists for all. Professionals have their pay thresholds too. Today, when the demand for professionals is high, people are more confident in their ability to get a job elsewhere. Staff are often more than willing to put in fair work if they receive fair pay. Paying people a fair market rate is usually enough to keep the level of good quality work from dropping, and it provides less reasons to jump ship.

Quality.

Consistency in the quality of work is held in high esteem among buyers of professional services. The only way to consistently deliver on work quality is to supervise staff and make them accountable. The same goes for the quality of staff itself. Although self-improvement and personal accountability are a given, it is management that has to be held accountable for how they consistently reprimand, praise, encourage, and develop their subordinates.

Image.

Looks can be deceiving; nevertheless, both buyers of accounting services and potential candidates judge firms by their appearances. A brand-new conference room with fancy furniture, on the one hand, and a shoddy office kitchen with a 20th-century microwave oven on the other, send a clear message to employees: the firm cares more about clients than us. The same goes for firm’s website and social media accounts: talent want a sneak peek into the potential future workplace and culture. If it isn’t managed well or at all, that’s quite discouraging for professionals who have many other options these days.

Culling.

Firing clients that are a bad fit can be a significant boon for a firm. It is good for morale, profitability and long-term sustainability. On the flip side, bad-fit employees tend to be the source of low morale or poor performance. Firing people who do not fit the culture (including toxic rainmakers) or cannot pull their own weight improves the mid- to long-term financial performance of a firm.

Staffing.

Clients want firms to staff their engagements with their best people. If buyers could have it their way, firms would have to overwork their senior professionals, because they are generally more knowledgeable and skilled than junior staff. Well-run accounting firms know how leverage works and staff projects accordingly. Flipping this idea to matters of talent, firms can identify the importance of staffing people in accordance with their developmental needs. Project managers or partners responsible for staffing must take into account the need and willingness of people at all seniority levels to grow, not to mention their personal preferences with regard to which team members they are most comfortable collaborating with.

Differentiation.

In a similar way that firms can present themselves as a compelling alternative service provider for clients, firms can present themselves as an appealing destination for professionals—be it a career springboard for professionals seeking a particular avenue of personal growth, the most secure place to work, or the environment with the most networking opportunities. There are many ways of differentiating a firm from competitors.

Caring.

Buyers of professional services value firms that deeply care about their success; not through mere proclamations, but real actions. CPA firms that invest their time in thinking, doing research, attempting foresight, or otherwise looking into client’s unique challenges without being asked are rewarded with attention. A similar caring approach to talent management can be very compelling: “We have thought about your challenges and aspirations as an employee: here is how we can help.” Onboarding, orientation, mentorship, and robust outplacement programs are the kinds of activities that resonate with job seekers. In an employee’s market, the scales tilt toward, “What can the firm do for me?” instead of “What can you do for the firm?”

Speaking.

Conducting seminars and making speeches at industry conferences is a well-known way of getting buyers’ attention. Meeting prospects at water coolers has always worked. Talent isn’t different in that aspect. Making the firm visible at places where talent hangs out is a good marketing activity.

Firms that have discovered other successful client-oriented marketing tactics should consider flipping them to see whether they make sense in a talent management context.

Sergei N. Freiman is a marketing advisor at awezzom, a marketing consultancy for professional service firms.