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The 2 Types of Accounting Firm Marketing Models and Which One Your Firm Should Adopt Today

The accounting and financial services marketplace is undergoing a period of rapid change. While sellers scramble to stay competitive and meet evolving client needs, buyers are changing the way they find and evaluate professional services providers. On top of these long-term trends, a global pandemic and unpredictable regulatory environment add to the stress and uncertainty of the times.

Amid this uncertainty, one thing is becoming clear: the traditional “rainmaker” business model—which relies heavily on a firm’s partners to bring in new business —is no longer sufficient to reach today’s buyers. Increasingly, it takes a team to build and implement a strategic marketing plan designed to attract the modern buyer.

In this article, we’ll examine some of the latest data on today’s accounting and financial services buyers and discuss how firms can realign and optimize their marketing efforts around a team approach.

How Accounting Buyers Are Changing

More information is available online today than ever before. So it’s no wonder that the latest data on accounting and financial services buyers from The Hinge Research Institute indicates that buyers are more prone to seek out solution providers that understand their specific industry and the challenges they face.

While buyers report that they receive 33% more value from their service providers today than they did five years ago, they also admit to being 16% less likely to make a referral. Buyers also say that the services they receive are more relevant to their specific needs (by 56%), yet they are 20% less loyal to their current service provider.

What is going on here? Our research shows that online searches are up 66%. Potential buyers are using digital search techniques to find a “perfect-fit” solution with the right expertise and focus for their needs.

Undoubtedly, firms that are able to be found online will have an advantage. And as we see in Figure 1 below, accounting and financial services firms lag behind other professional services industries when it comes to generating leads on digital channels.

Figure 1: Accounting & financial services firms lag behind other industries in generating new business leads online. (Source: The Hinge Research Institute)

Goodbye, Rainmaker Model… Hello Marketing Team!

As the digital revolution continues to unfold, many business models that worked in the past no longer resonate with a new generation of prospective clients—most notably the rainmaker model.

Today’s buyers want to educate themselves before engaging with service providers. They decide when and whether they want to talk to someone, want to watch a video, or listen to a podcast. They decide if your firm is a good candidate to help them based on your apparent expertise. This is why it is so important to make your firm visible to today’s digitally oriented buyers.

Most individual rainmakers are not equipped to build, implement, and monitor a strategic marketing plan that works in today’s digital marketplace. For example, modern accounting marketing departments need to prioritize content creation, search engine optimization, social media, and website analytics as well as traditional approaches to business development. This is a lot for anyone to master, let alone a busy “seller-doer.”

A Case Example

Bill.com developed an illustrative case example of two partners at Kline, Rowe, and Co. The rainmakers, Martin and Martha, started a new firm together that relied on their strong networks. And in the beginning, they were quite successful. They outsourced their website to a virtual assistant and did little else in terms of marketing. But as the digital revolution picked up steam, their leads began to dry up. They hired a “marketing specialist” to help—but that person was burdened with administrative work and too under-qualified to build a strategic marketing plan. Then, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world, they were caught flat-footed and unequipped to pivot.

Stories like this have led a growing number of accounting and financial services professionals to shift to marketing strategies that leverage digital—as well as traditional—marketing channels. These strategies showcase their firm’s range of expertise in solving business problems —rather than exploiting the professional network of an individual rainmaker. These strategies also involve the entire team working together to achieve common marketing goals. This team approach creates the opportunity to leverage cross-channel engagements that involve multiple services and a variety of partners and other team members.

In short, you are marketing the firm rather than an individual.

Some of the common features of both the Rainmaker and Team models are summarized in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Differences between the Rainmaker and Team models.

The Rainmaker model is problematic for several reasons. First, the potential for growth is limited by the talents and reach of a few individuals. Second, in an internet-driven marketplace, individual rainmakers rarely have the time to develop and maintain a robust digital presence. They don’t fit into a typical buyer’s journey where finding and evaluating firms largely happens online. Finally, the kind of face-to-face interaction that many rainmakers prefer is no longer possible in a world transformed by a malicious virus.

By comparison, a team approach takes advantage of expertise across a firm. Marketing teams dive into the digital techniques that will generate more leads online with confidence. With this team model in mind, let’s focus on what kinds of marketing techniques work today.

What Works Today?

We will take a journey through the ideal marketing funnel, as shown in Figure 3, to help you identify the most effective marketing approaches for each stage of your business development efforts.

Figure 3: Ideal marketing funnel for accounting and marketing firms

Being Found at the Top of the Funnel

One of the first tasks of every marketing department is to increase the number of leads and opportunities. This is no easy task. But the fastest growing accounting and financial services firms have found an answer: producing and promoting valuable educational content. Regularly creating content that speaks to specific problems your prospects have will increase the likelihood that digital visitors will see you as a knowledgeable service provider. How should you showcase that content?

Fortunately, The Hinge Research Institute’s new research study, the High Growth Study 2020, Accounting & Financial Services Edition, has done the legwork for you. Here are the top marketing techniques and tools favored by high-growth firms:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Blogging
  • Writing for other digital publications
  • Webinars
  • Paid advertising
  • Networking and sharing thought leadership on social media

Once a prospect has found your firm, give them an opportunity to provide you with their contact information so they can be added to your list where you will nurture them and build a trusting relationship. For example, you may invite them to download an exclusive piece of research or content following a form fill.

Establishing Trust and Building Relationships in the Middle of the Funnel

The middle-of-the-funnel nurturing sequence may go on for an extended period of time. That is not a problem as you are building an awareness of your range of expertise and how it can be applied to solving client problems. This helpfulness over time is a great trust builder.

As the relationship deepens, prospects will come to learn how you can help them and the kinds of problems you can help them solve. The marketing techniques often employed effectively in this stage tend to involve deeper levels of engagement than do the top-of-the-funnel techniques.

Top marketing techniques and tools in the middle of the funnel include the following:

  • Research studies
  • Executive guides
  • Live and on-demand webinars
  • Marketing automation-driven nurturing sequences
  • Videos

Closing the Sale at the Bottom of the Funnel

The bottom of the funnel is where you have the traditional business development conversations. Your website and nurturing techniques should include offers for this more personalized level of engagement. A common offer is a free consultation or a demo of your service offerings. Here your business development tools should be ready to deploy quickly.

Top marketing techniques and tools at the bottom of the funnel include:

  • Consultation offers and service demonstrations
  • Video conferencing technology for virtual meetings
  • Case stories
  • Video testimonials
  • Deliverable samples

A Final Thought

To market your firm to today’s buyers you need to be where they are looking—which increasingly is on digital channels. Yet accounting and financial services firms are lagging behind their professional services peers. One of the key reasons is that the traditional Rainmaker model is not built to reach today’s buyers. By embracing the Team model of marketing your firm will be better able to stay competitive and employ today’s most effective marketing strategies.

 

November 17, 2020
Lee W. Frederiksen
Hinge
Lee Frederiksen Ph.D. is the Managing Partner at Hinge. Lee is a former researcher and tenured professor at Virginia Tech, where he became a national authority on organizational behavior management and marketing. He left academia to start up and run three high-growth companies, and at Hinge, he leads the research team where we conduct studies of professional services firms and provide research and strategy for clients. And just recently, Lee was named one of Accounting Today’s top 100 influencers in the accounting and financial services industry.