Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 20 seconds

Despite a lousy economy, it’s nice to see “leading edge” accounting firms acquire new business systematically, almost like there was no economic downturn at all.  In fact, it’s great to see small accounting firms stick to their marketing plans and fight thru this economic storm like it did not exist. 

At the same time, I have heard from some firms that pulled in the reins last summer and are now struggling with high client attrition rates in certain industry sectors (e.g., real estate, construction, manufacturing, etc.).  In fact, I received a long email from a client earlier this month who pulled the plug on marketing last summer and is now trying to cry on my shoulder about how his practice had too many construction clients…blah…blah.  And because the practice declined so quickly, he can’t really sell the practice for a fair price either.  In response, he got some tough love from me back within the hour about how his marketing expense reductions cut into the bone and did not trim any fat.  Much to my surprise, he agreed.   

To me, cutting back on client acquisition programs in a soft economy has a snowball effect in subsequent years which few firms take into account when they make this decision.  Let’s use the example of a farmer because the business is seasonal in nature much like our industry.  Suppose a farmer anticipates a robust market for corn due to the demand for ethanol and he seeds accordingly in the spring.  However, the stock market turbulence cuts into his retirement savings so he cuts back on fertilizer, insecticides and watering during peak growing season.  In other words, the stock market tanked so he decided to pull back on investing in the business.  This in turn, results in a soft fall harvest, very long winter, and he can’t secure adequate credit in the spring for the following growing season.  Net, the decision to cut spending on growing crops mid-season created a snowball effect in the subsequent years.  This scenario occurs in many small accounting firms when they cut investment in new client acquisition.   

As you look ahead to life after busy season, don’t pull the plug on your client acquisition program!!  You will need a healthy inflow of new clients to offset client attrition over the next year (or two). 

Fundamental Shifts in Marketing

Over the past two decades, there has been a steady shift in the marketplace between buyers and sellers of goods and services.  In other words, the trend has been taking power away from the seller into the hands of the buyer.  This trend has forced marketers to shift their approach.  In marketing terms, this has been referred to as a shift from “push” marketing over towards “pull” marketing as the buyer becomes better informed and more in control of the purchasing decision. 

To give you insight, the average consumer is bombarded with over 5,000 advertising messages a day and quite frankly becoming increasingly irritated by the barrage.  In particular, the buyer gets quite annoyed these days by “push” marketing tactics like cold call telemarketing, fax marketing and blatant email blasts.  Even passive yellow page and newspaper advertising have lost their effectiveness as more consumers have gone online. 

What Is “Pull” Marketing?

Pull marketing is a long term, effective way of informing prospects about your accounting services using marketing vehicles that do not overtly push a promotional message.  Pull marketing is not about pulling prospects in, per se, it’s about giving prospects a reason to pull your firm (or point of view) into their consideration set.  In other words, pull marketing plants a seed in their mind and provides helpful solutions to the prospect so they can make a better informed decision.  Examples of pull marketing include:

-          Writing articles and securing placement in local newspapers

-          Website marketing supported by search engine optimization and pay per click advertising

-          Opt-in email newsletters

-          White papers

-          Free seminars

-          Speaking engagements

-          Responding to local blogs on business topics

-          Non-promotional articles that you’ve written for the internet

-          Radio programs (not radio advertising, ask the expert type talk shows)

-          Social media like internet forums, blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter

-          Podcasting and webinars

To me, Greg LaFollette’s approach is a perfect example of pull marketing.  In other words, he’s passionate about helping accounting firms capitalize on technology and has created his own voice to the accounting industry through speaking engagements, publishing hundreds of articles, conducting webinars and podcasts, engaging in social media, managing blogs, testing new technology gadgets for accounting practitioners and reaching out to accountants at public forums. 

Does This Work for Local Accounting Firms??

While nobody has enough time to take full advantage of every pull marketing strategy mentioned earlier, many accountants are using a combination of these approaches to establish themselves as a thought leader in their local communities and have no problem acquiring a steady flow of new business clients.  Don’t get me wrong, pull marketing takes more work and effort than push marketing but the quality of the leads generated will be dramatically higher and your client retention rates will improve as well. 

Leading edge accountants are realizing that it’s fun to become a thought leader with a thriving practice. 

Hugh Duffy MBA

Hugh Duffy is co-founder and chief marketing officer for Build Your Firm, a leading practice development firm dedicated to the accounting industry.  Based in Madison, Conn., Build Your Firm works with small accounting firms providing accounting marketing, practice management and Web site development services

Prior to co-founding Build Your Firm in 2003, Hugh was a Vice President of Internet Marketing for Business & Legal Reports (BLR), a business-to-business publisher for small and medium sized businesses.  Prior to BLR, Hugh was a Director with a publicly traded global internet media company, 24/7 Real Media responsible for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships.  The foundation of Hugh’s marketing background is fourteen years of consumer packaged goods marketing with Schick, Nabisco, Clorox and Coca-Cola. 

Hugh has 25 years of marketing experience, an MBA degree in marketing from the University of Rochester and a B.S. in finance from the University of Maryland.  While at Maryland, Hugh was on a golf scholarship and his coach was Fred Funk, PGA Tour player.  Today, Hugh’s golf game suffers and he is content watching his two kids play college lacrosse.

Last modified on Sunday, 02 June 2013
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