Disruption, Transformation . . . Now What?

You know that the accounting profession faces significant opportunities and risks from digital disruption and rapidly evolving technology. Your firm is undergoing a transformation, building upon its existing compliance and transactional services to provide more consultative-based services. Now what? How do you market those new services to clients?

Create your story

Do your existing and potential clients know why you do what you do? Hopefully, the answer isn’t, “To make money!”

Since the beginning of time, people have communicated with stories. A good story captures our attention, and we learn best from lessons hidden in anecdotes. That’s why the greatest brands have a story and they tell it authentically.

Case in point: Nike has been leveraging stories longer than many people have been online. In 1999, they released a one-minute commercial commemorating the career of Michael Jordan. Was the Nike logo all over the ad? No. There was no mention of Nike until the film’s final seconds, where the brand’s slogan, “Just Do It” appeared in the corner of a school photo of Jordan, followed by the classic Nike logo.

Nike didn’t push its brand down consumers’ throats. They knew that what would really make a lasting impression (building the brand and selling more products in the long term) was an authentic story. Of course, the Air Jordan brand continues to sell shoes nearly two decades after Jordan’s retirement, often to kids who never saw him play.

Of course, accounting firms rarely have the entertainment value (or marketing budget) of the largest athletic footwear company in the world, but your firm does have a story. How did the firm start? How did it get to this point? How are you making the world a better place or helping your clients achieve their goals? A great story tells where you’ve come from and where you are going. When you tell a story that authentically shares why you do what you do, it invites people to be a part of where you are going and drives engagement.

Go to market

While every firm should have a marketing plan, your go-to-market plan is narrower in scope – specifically focused on your new service offering. Crafting this plan ensures that you’re including the right people in the decision-making process and thinking about your client’s end-to-end experience.

A go-to-market plan consists of five key steps:

  1. Define the market. Who is your ideal client base? It may be tempting to shortcut this step by claiming all businesses are your ideal clients, but when you really think about it, that’s likely not true. The ideal clients for your advisory services may be companies in growth industries that aren’t yet large enough to have a full-time CFO.

  2. Determine your value proposition. What problems or challenges do your clients need to solve? Once you figure this out, you can ensure that your services meet their needs and align your marketing efforts accordingly.

  3. Define strategy. How will you differentiate your firm from the competition? You may want to create a unique strategy for each of your different target markets.

  4. Discuss your channels. How will you reach your ideal clients? Selecting the right channels to promote your services is essential. You may choose to focus your marketing efforts on networking, your website, speaking engagements, social media, newsletters, thought leadership in professional publications, or a combination of several of these channels.

  5. Evaluate success. How will you measure success? Take some time now to determine the objectives of your go-to-market strategy. This will make it easier to measure success. Keep in mind that you may need to shift strategy after your launch based on client reactions.

Get your team on board

Your team can be your most powerful brand asset. That’s why it’s incredibly important to get them involved in telling your firm’s story consistently, time and time again.

Too often, internal and external communications are mismatched, and employees hear one thing from management but observe another message being sent to the public. Writing for Harvard Business Review, Colin Mitchell provides a glaring example:

“One major financial services institution told customers that it was making a major shift in

focus from being a financial retailer to a financial advisor, but, a year later, research showed

that the customer experience with the company had not changed. It turned out that company

leaders had not made an effort to sell the change internally, so employees were still churning

out transactions and hadn’t changed their behavior to match their new advisor role.”

Whether or not your employees interact with customers, you want your employees to have your brand’s story in mind and consider whether they’re supporting the brand in every decision they make. As you transform your firm to advisory services, are your employees still focused on compliance work? Are they still held to metrics such as chargeable hours and utilization rates? If so, you need to work on communicating your firm’s brand to employees.

Once your people really understand the marketing message, they tend to be very effective in helping to land new business and keep clients that are already on board.

Differentiating and positioning your services, then networking and referrals are the keys to marketing success for professional services. Instant communication and cloud applications mean your potential clients have a world of possibilities before them. You’re no longer competing with just the firms in your city, but with firms all over the world. Craft your story, create an effective go-to-market plan, and make sure your team is on board. This will set you worlds apart from your competition.