Lost time, lost opportunities and lost revenue. Firms with an eye for growth see with clarity the looming horizon: digitization, leadership development and long-term strategies have to be prioritized. Now.
Marketing and business challenges go hand-in-hand. They may be symptomatic of a firm’s faulty processes or simply a byproduct of the market at large. The end result of accepting these challenges as inevitable is the same: loss.
At Winding River Consulting, we work exclusively with managing partners. This means we’ve seen behind the curtain at top firms and understand the shared struggles. While we don’t name names, it can be helpful to know that even the most successful firms out there encounter these issues. The ones that remain at the top implement successful, winning strategies to these four challenges.
1. The Learning Curve and New Skills
It goes without saying that digital skills are essential for the future. Digital marketing has largely replaced print marketing, and comes with its own set of norms, metrics, systems and best practices. This is a learning curve and, for some firms, it is steep.
Digital technologies that are a part of the practice of accounting may be prioritized above those that relate to marketing. After all, if opportunity exists to uplevel financial services through automation, AI, predictive analytics, etc., that’s where the training dollars will get spent.
And yet, a 2021-2022 AAM Marketing Budget Benchmark Study found the following to be true:
- High-growth firms spend more on digital services than slower-growing firms.
- High-growth firms spend more on consultants, agencies, freelancers, email marketing, social media and technology.
- A specific area of digital spending priorities for growth-minded firms is internal education and training.
Developing the skills to not only create, but deploy, meaningful marketing campaigns is something that competitive firms will invest in.
2. Changes in Buyer Behavior and Perceptions
Related to the digital transformation, even high-level business clients are finding and using financial services in different ways than they did a decade ago. This is one reason search engine optimization (SEO) is such a key part of a comprehensive digital marketing strategy. Optimizing all of your firm’s web content and social content to rank better in search ensures that the people who are searching for your firm online can find it.
Beyond new trends in buyer behavior, which present a distinct challenge to traditional marketing methods, is buyer perceptions. Even five years ago, many accounting firms gave little thought to brand messaging. It was assumed that the public largely understood what they did, and a list of specialties and services sufficed to clear any questions. Now, however, consumer expectations and even loyalty are driven by things like brand messaging, brand consistency and brand stories. It may not be enough anymore for a prospect to understand what you do, they want to know who you are.
While challenging, exercises that refine your brand messaging serve a dual purpose of attracting talent to your firm. Turns out, elder millennials all the way down to gen-Zers want to work at vision-driven companies. This dovetails nicely into the third biggest marketing challenge CPA firms face.
3. Your People Power
The Bureau of Labor projects a 4% average increase in accounting jobs between 2019-2029. While that is reasonably comparable to trends in years past, industry leaders are keenly aware of possible labor shortages. In fact, a recent Accounting Today article had leaders in accounting reporting that this is one of the two key issues every firm is facing: the ability to attract and retain diverse talent. This impacts marketing in two ways:
- To excel in digital channels, your team (managing partners on down) needs to be marketable. Their role is more public and their voice can be amplified. This is not a proficiency that has often been hired for in the past, but it is one that may matter more than ever. The bottom line is that hiring the best talent has a multiplicative effect on the power of your digital presence.
- If you are hiring internal marketers at your accounting firm, digital savvy and business acumen are both requirements. What’s more, creative professionals are in high demand, and will go where they want, not just where they can make a paycheck.
Truth is, there is no quick fix for this. Some firms have systemic challenges in attracting top talent. Others are making efforts to course-correct bad patterns, or engage in ways that contribute to accounting firm culture. This is a leadership skill that needs to be cultivated and applied.
It’s a gap identified early on by WRC CEO, Gary Shamis, who launched his Managing Partners Bootcamp in response to the industry issue. At the end of the day, only skilled leaders will successfully create a culture that overcomes this challenge, both for marketing and business.
4. The Relentless Demand for New Content
The internet is fast. People consume videos, soundbites, memes, slides, photos and more, all in a single scroll session at a stoplight. Many accounting firms we work with see a major disconnect between content production and actual revenue. This can lead to decision fatigue and an early opt-out to the world of social media, blogging or PR. And yet, a virtual workforce is always logged on. Every demographic signs onto a smartphone every day. There is no reasonable “opt out” option for accounting firms that want to grow.
A balanced approach is essential. There are both internal and external opportunities to create, repurpose and maximize reach from content. You can be both realistic and ambitious about what you produce and the purpose it serves for your firm in the market. Leveraging the power of social, without sapping resources better spent elsewhere, is a specialty of growth and niche marketers. It’s a skilled activity that can move the needle in measurable ways. While a challenge, it is one that should be faced head-on.
Solving Marketing Challenges for Accounting and Financial Services Firms
The problems may be obvious, but solutions aren’t always as clear. The path your firm takes to success is best navigated with some eyes in the sky, and an ear to the ground. Winding River Consulting is specialized, meaning we only work with accounting firms. With decades of experience, and industry leaders at the helm, we provide perspective and an informed roadmap for success. If your next steps are unclear, contact us today.