Productivity as a Competitive Advantage in Business Development

In professional services marketing, success often depends on our ability to get things done with limited resources. When a firm increases its productivity, it is able to produce more with the same amount of resources (work and time), which can lead to several important benefits.

In today’s world, productivity often depends on implementing the right technologies for your firm. In business development, this means identifying the manual aspects of your marketing and sales processes and selecting tools to help you streamline and automate those areas to increase your business development productivity.

When you implement tools that reduce administrative time, amazing things can happen. Let’s look at two scenarios:

Scenario 1: You spend less time on Task A.

Productivity - Spend Less Time

In this scenario, you are able to reduce the amount of administrative time spent on Task A which means the task gets done faster and you are able to move on to Tasks B, C, and so on.

Increasing productivity enables a firm to provide more “product” (in our world, hours) without increasing costs or other inputs. The ultimate result in this case is INCREASED PROFITABILITY.

Imagine the impact on your growth with tools in place to enable a doer-seller to deliver customized marketing collateral to 5 prospects in the same time it previously took them to send information to 1!

Scenario 2: You spend the same amount of time on Task A but with a greater focus on strategy.

Productivity - Focus on Quality

In this scenario, you are able to reduce the amount of administrative time spent on Task A, which frees up time for you be more strategic and work on the more complex (less clerical) aspects of the task.

You may spend the same amount of total time on Task A, but because more of this time is spent focused on strategy, the end result is INCREASED QUALITY (i.e., a better product). And in the world of professional services, this means better client experiences (which I dare say will ultimately also lead to increased profitability).

Imagine if your firm had tools in place to enable a doer-seller to take the same amount of time previously wasted searching for marketing collateral and use that time to focus on high-value relationship-building activities for a prospect!

Summary

Productivity and time management are ALWAYS topics of discussion within our firms, especially as it relates to business development. Finding ways to reduce administrative time in our marketing and sales processes helps to increase the productivity of both your doer-sellers and your marketing teams and gives your firm an advantage in the competitive professional services marketplace.

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Article Round-Up: New Ideas to Pounce On

Looking for inspiration and ideas for firm growth? Here’s a roundup of some of the best pieces of content we’ve come across recently.

1. Your #1 Competitive Differentiator

https://jbarrows.com/blog/your-1-competitive-differentiator/

There are a TON of articles out there on uncovering and promoting your organization’s differentiator, but this article offers an interesting take that really resonated with me.

According to John Barrows, “there is one thing [your competitors] can’t say they have, which is ultimately the #1 competitive differentiator for all of us. It’s our customers and the results we drive for them.”

Our differentiator is not our resources, thought-leadership or service quality (which are all top-notch, of course); it’s our clients and the value we bring to them. This makes me think about how our marketing can do a better job of sharing our clients’ stories in an impactful way.

2. 5 Articles on How to Ask Better Questions

https://threesixtyeight.com/insights/how-to-ask-better-questions/

Yes, I’m including an article round-up within my own article round-up—it’s like article round-up Inception. In all seriousness, asking the right questions in the right way is critical to success within our teams, with our clients, and within the sales process. Kenny Nguyen, CEO and co-founder of ThreeSixtyEight, shares a few of his favorite articles on how to ask better questions.

3. 11 More Audience Engagement Tools You Need to Know

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/blog/audience-engagement-tools-2016-ds00/

At P&N, in-person events are a significant and critical piece of our marketing strategy. Our goal with these events is not just to draw attendance but to meaningfully engage with clients and prospects.

From voting and polling to presentation-sharing and feedback-gathering, there are low- or no-cost apps available to help take our events to the next level of audience engagement.

Confessions of a Client: How to Get Me

We know how important it is for our doer-sellers to truly understand our clients. When people understand those they serve, they solve problems more creatively, provide better service and build stronger relationships.

To develop an in-depth understanding of our clients and prospects, it’s important for our doer-sellers to not only spend time with them but to actually put themselves in their clients’ and prospects’ shoes.

With this in mind, we developed a training session for our doer-sellers called “Confessions of a Client: How to Get Me.” In this presentation, our marketing team shared our story and personal observations about being on the prospect’s side of the sales process. We discussed how we selected a firm to assist with our brand refresh and website overhaul, covering everything from how we determined which firms would be invited to participate in the bid process to how we ultimately selected our vendor.

My guess is most of you have a similar story to tell, and this can be very powerful in showing the sales process from prospect’s perspective.

Looking back at how we selected a partner, we believe these were their keys to success:

  1. They identified us as a target. They made it known that we were a firm they wanted to work with.
  2. They made contact. They used their network to identify in-roads and set up meetings. They paid attention to what information was being published by us and about They used this information and their network to build a relationship with us.
  3. They helped us for no other reason than to help us. When they first reached out to us, we were NOT ready to build a new website, and we let them know very directly. They helped us anyway—by passing along helpful information, calling us when they spotted interesting opportunities in the market, offering introductions to others, etc.
  4. They practiced patience. They checked in with us regularly and made sure we knew they were waiting in the wings for the opportunity, but never assumed they were our only option.
  5. They made mistakes. BUT they did a great job recovering from those mistakes.
  6. They were on our team. We knew they were the right pick for us because it felt like they were already on our team, well before we officially selected them. They guided us throughout the process, from getting budget and buy-in from leadership to establishing a baseline price range.
  7. They compensated for their perceived weaknesses. They played to their strengths, and found ways to make sure we knew it. They also asked what their weaknesses were and addressed how they would overcome them.
  8. They asked for the work and were prepared to close the deal. At every stage in the process, they made sure that we knew how much they wanted to work with us. They also knew that the decision might not be unanimous among our various decision-makers, but they had prepared for this by identifying their champion within our firm and making sure that champion would go to bat for them.
  9. They won the work. Enough said.
  10. They continue to win work. They regularly stay in contact with us to understand what we’re working on, what our priorities are, what challenges we’re facing, and so on. And they continue to find ways to help us with these priorities and challenges.

Summary: Share Your Story!

This is just one example of our own experience as the prospect. Consider sharing your own story with your doer-sellers to offer a different perspective on the sales process and to help them put themselves in their clients’ shoes.

Scary Side Effects of Rogue Marketing Materials

We’ve all seen it: the piece of marketing collateral created by a doer-seller on the fly. An old company logo. Complete disregard for brand colors or fonts. Pixelated images. Typos. CLIPART.

If your doer-sellers can’t easily find the marketing materials they need when they need them, they may go rogue and create their own pieces (the kind that haunt our marketing nightmares).

When this happens, it can affect your team’s efficiency, your firm’s brand, and ultimately your bottom line.

Here are three scary side effects of rogue marketing materials:

1. Lost Time (i.e., Lost $)

Based on this study, 36% of a typical work day is spent looking for and consolidating information. How much of this time could your firm get back if all of the information your team members need was neatly stored in one location?

This is obviously not limited to marketing materials; BUT if your firm lacks a system for organizing and accessing the materials that support your doer-sellers in the sales process, you may have some inefficiencies that are costing your firm time AND money.

2. Brand Inconsistency

Consistency and accuracy in your branded marketing collateral is an important factor in how clients and prospects perceive your firm. So if they receive a piece of collateral that doesn’t match the look and language they expect from your firm, it can damage your brand and reputation.

Inconsistency in the visual styles of your materials can make it difficult for your audience to see past the style elements and absorb your message.

Inconsistency in the voice of your materials could send mixed signals and make it difficult for a prospect to trust what you are saying.

3. Misalignment of Marketing and Sales Functions

When doer-sellers go rogue and create their own materials, it can create a disconnect between the roles of the marketing team and your doer sellers:

  • Your doer-seller has spent valuable time on a task that should be done (or may have already been done!) by your marketing department. Marketers are generally more adept at writing and graphic design—doer-sellers don’t need to be spending their time in those areas.
  • Marketing may have a bank of collateral that goes unused. If your doer-sellers don’t know where to look to see if a specific material already exists, the time your team invested in creating that collateral in the first place is time wasted.
  • Marketing needs input from doer-sellers to ensure effective messaging of collateral, but if doer-sellers create their own pieces that Marketing never sees, then Marketing never gets the feedback they’re looking for to make the firm’s collateral more effective. As marketers, we need the insights our doer-sellers receive from clients and prospects on a daily basis.

What’s a Marketer to Do?

Rogue marketing materials are a real problem for many marketers, but one that can be easily mitigated by using a centralized tool to organize materials. By creating a consistent, centralized system that is easy to access and use, marketers can drastically reduce the clipart that finds its way onto rogue materials (and prospects’ desks).

3 Fun [and FREE] Online Tools I Just Learned About

Sometimes, I come across interesting (and in this case, FREE) online tools I just can’t want to share with our favorite marketing people. They may not be brand new, but here are 3 new-to-me online tools.

WillRobotsTakeMyJob.com

We’ve all heard it: automation, artificial intelligence and robotics are changing the business landscape, and our industry is no exception. According to this article by AccountingToday, “robotics is expected to eliminate 40 percent of basic accounting work by 2020.”

In his recent AAMHigh! session “From Compliance to Consulting: A Guide for Marketers” for the Association for Accounting Marketing, Jeff Pawlow of ABLE discussed the critical move firms must make from offering mostly compliance services (that can be more easily replicated by a computer) to consulting services (that are more insulated from automation), and how marketers play a critical role in helping our firms make this shift.

(NOTE: If you missed this session from the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM), you can access it in the AAM Portal.)

In his presentation, Jeff referenced WillRobotsTakeMyJob.com, a searchable database of jobs and the probability of automation for each job in the near future. This can be an interactive tool in facilitating discussions with your firm’s leadership team.

AnswerThePublic.com

This is a great tool for keyword research and content idea generation. By leveraging the auto suggest results from Google and Bing, AnswerThePublic.com can provide you with an aggregated view of the questions—and therefore, a hint of the motivators—of the people behind each search query.

There are SO many ways you can apply this knowledge: content and SEO strategies are the first ones that come to mind, but you can even use this information when updating marketing materials or professional bios to ensure these pieces speak directly to the reader’s primary questions and challenges.

Fount

Have you ever gone to a website and wanted to know what font was used? Fount does just that.

Fount will tell you which web font you are actually seeing on any webpage and even includes a link to download said font. Just add the Fount button to your bookmarks bar, go to any site and click the Fount button.

3 fun tools - Fount screenshot

 

McMarketing: How Marketing Departments are like Franchise Operators

Our firm recently had an opportunity to work with a growing franchise business, and in conducting some research to better understand the unique challenges and opportunities facing franchise operators, I discovered that franchisors and accounting marketers have a lot in common.

If marketing is the franchisor, our doer-sellers are the franchisees; we as marketers are successful when our “franchisees” are successful, so it is in our best interest to help position them for success in business development.

The following tips are for successful franchise operations, but apply to accounting marketers as well:

Have a Clear Concept

Successful franchises have a clear core concept and a shared understanding of the organization’s mission, vision and key differentiators. You can’t expect franchisees to communicate a clear concept to customers if the franchisor has not clearly defined the concept, provided transparent communication across the organization, and supplied franchisees with marketing collateral that conveys this concept.

Similar to franchisors, marketers are in the ideal position to define and drive our firms’ growth strategies, including key verticals, high priority targets and our unique selling propositions. It is also our responsibility to share this information with doer-sellers of all levels within the firm so we are all on the same page and working together towards shared goals.

Protect Your Brand Relentlessly

A franchisor’s most valuable asset is its brand. Your brand represents your culture, your products and services, and your pledge to your customers. This is why franchisors make it a top priority to define clear brand compliance standards, establish controls around branding and monitor franchisees’ compliance with brand standards.

In the accounting profession, a firm’s brand also carries considerable weight, especially given the often intangible, complex nature of the services we offer. Consistency (and accuracy!) in your branded materials and content is an important factor in how clients and prospects perceive your firm.

Having a resource such as POUNCE for our “franchisees” to access and distribute marketing collateral in a controlled environment is key to protecting the integrity of our firm’s brand.

Provide Comprehensive Support

The most successful franchise operations provide extensive support for franchisees in the form of policies, procedural guides, training, marketing assets, market and industry research, and more. They also facilitate communication among franchisees to encourage the sharing of ideas, best practices and success stories. Basically, franchisors strive to ensure that their franchisees always have resources and help available for any business-related questions or issues.

Likewise, the role of marketing within accounting firms includes providing the processes, tools and training needed to position our doer-sellers for business development success. We are the go-to resource for any and all things growth-related within our firms. Marketing support also includes encouragement and recognition of milestones and wins!

Maintain A Strong Working Relationship with Franchisees

Effective franchise operations require a strong working relationship between franchisor and franchisee. Trust, open communication, and mutual accountability are just a few of the characteristics that create healthy working relationships that ultimately lead to business success.

In any organization, it’s no secret that the magic happens when sales (or as is the case for many of us, doer-sellers) and marketing work together towards the same goal. By publicizing our marketing plan and priorities, sharing things that have (and haven’t) worked and providing a comfortable avenue for doer-sellers to provide ideas and feedback, we can build strong, collaborative relationships with our “franchisees”.

The result? Better rate of success (i.e., more wins), more satisfied clients, and happier and more engaged team members.

 

Whether it’s a quick service restaurant franchise or a CPA firm, the success of a franchisor is ultimately aligned with the success of a franchisee.

 

Move Over, MarTech: Why You Should Focus on Your BD Culture Stack

Everyone is likely familiar with the concept of a Marketing Technology (or MarTech) stack—that is, a group of technology-based tools that marketers use to execute and manage marketing activities across a number of channels.

In today’s post, we’re discussing a similar concept: a Business Development Culture Stack (if you haven’t heard of this, it’s probably because we made it up).

We’re defining a BD Culture Stack as all the things used to build a culture of business development across the firm. Essentially, what are all the things your firm does that shape your culture as it relates to sales and business development?

This may include performance management, BD expectations for individuals, pipeline management tools, sales empowerment tools (ahem, POUNCE), BD training, and a whole host of other pieces.

Whether intended or not, all firms have a culture as it relates to growth and business development. Instead of just letting it happen, it’s worth the effort to help set and maintain it.

So how do you change culture?

1. Get Everyone on the Same Page

The first step to fostering a culture of business development is to ensure everyone is reading from the same page. Make sure everyone understands why BD is important and share firm and department goals with everyone. Transparency is absolutely critical is getting everyone on the same BD page.

2. Set (and Communicate) Expectations

Firms that are seeking to build or sustain a business development culture must clearly communicate to everyone in the organization why cultural change is important and necessary, and be willing to tell team members what’s in it for them. Each individual within your firm must understand what the firm expects from them with respect to business development.

3. Provide Support (Training & Tools)

Once your people understand what is expected of them, you provide them with the necessary support to empower them to execute activities and achieve their BD goals. This comes in the form of business development training, defined processes (such as a pipeline process), and technology tools that support these processes.

Business development skills can be learned and cultivated, but your practice professionals need training, feedback and support in order to develop those skills.

4. Recognition & Accountability

Business development is a process that takes time, particularly when you are starting out. Results do not come overnight, which makes it even more important to recognize those who contribute to the firm’s marketing and business development efforts, not just outcomes.

Consider aligning business development efforts and achievements with compensation or promotion opportunities. Measurement, accountability and rewards must all be in place in order to reinforce the message and encourage desired behaviors.

Culture creates competitive differentiation; strategies can be duplicated, but culture is unique. BD culture and BD strategy are two sides of the same growth coin—you likely have a BD/marketing strategy, but do you have a BD culture development plan?