Like it or not, accounting marketing is changing. Business development and marketing strategies that have worked for 50 years are losing their effectiveness and fierce, new competitors are cropping up everywhere.
Any major change in the marketplace, however, brings not only threats but exciting new opportunities, too. And firms that understand the forces shaping the future of the professional services marketplace will have an advantage.
So here are five important trends that are shaping the future of accounting marketing:
1. How buyers search for accounting services is changing.
Referrals and local visibility used to be the only game in town for many accounting services buyers. No more. Buyers are using online search and social media with increasing frequency for all kinds of professional services purchases. To many buyers, these new tools are faster, easier and often more comprehensive. Today, even traditional referrals are supplemented with online search.
These behavioral changes are partly driven by the evolution of the Internet. But there is also a generational component. Buyers under the age of 50 are simply more likely to “Google it.”
2. Client loyalty is declining.
There are increasing pressures on many organizations to find new ways to save money and increase productivity. Some of that pressure inevitably gets translated into more frequent reviews of accounting service providers. Who can provide audit service most cheaply? Who understands my industry and can solve my problem most easily? This environment forces your firm to improve your marketing — just to stay where you are.
3. Geography is collapsing
Geography isn’t the force it once was. With the common adoption of communications technologies such as VOIP, video conferencing and email, it’s getting easier and cheaper to work with clients anywhere. Furthermore, clients are getting more comfortable with the idea of working with the best firm for their needs, regardless of where that firm may be located.
On one hand, this opens you to a wider range of competitors. On the other, it enables you to compete well beyond your locality.
4. There is an alternative path to trust.
Historically, trust is built through repeated personal contact over time. First you get to know a potential service provider, perhaps by working together on a not-for-profit board or industry association event. While this model still works, it’s no longer the only approach — or even the best one. Trust can also be built online by following a person in an online group, by reading useful content that they publish on their website or attending one of their webinars. By providing practical advice and insights into your audience’s industry you can begin establishing trust. Because this trust can be built online, you have a wide range of tools and options to add to your credibility and expand your business development opportunities. And because you don’t have to spend face time with each prospective client, you can attract a large and geographically diverse audience.
5. The expectancy of online transparency.
Potential clients expect to be able to learn all about your firm online. After all, they can research everything else online, why not your firm? This shifts a large part of the control of the business development process to the buyer. If your firm does not come across as relevant or candid, you will be ruled out at the very beginning. Fair? Not necessarily, but it’s is an emerging reality.
What do these trends mean for your firm? Here are a couple of key implications:
- The days of trying to be everything to everyone are numbered. The newer trends favor the specialist.
- Your online presence is every bit as important as traditional networking. Treat it as such.
- Professional competence and excellent client service is no longer enough. They are merely the cost of entry. Your firm must develop a robust accounting marketing capability if it is to compete effectively.