What Building a House Made Me Realize About My Role as a Marketer

By Rachael Higginbotham

I didn’t know until recently that you have to select plumbing fixtures for a new house before the slab is even poured. Why is this important? Because bathtub faucets have different specifications, and the plumber needs the right valve for the rough-in.

To be honest, I didn’t even know what a rough-in was, which is why I hired a contractor to guide me through the process. I could look at a set of plans and say, “I want this house,” but I had very little idea of how to turn that plan into a reality. If it had been up to me, I would have probably selected my floors before my plumbing fixtures, because visually it seems that flooring is installed before faucets.

Through the process of building a home, I’ve come to realize that marketers are very similar to general contractors. We (usually) don’t have the right technical skills to execute the jobs (i.e., we aren’t going to prepare a tax return, like the GC isn’t going to wire the house for electricity), but we know the process for marketing and selling our services. My GC guides me through the home building process, bringing his experience, resources, and advice along the way.

Marketers can guide the growth process, and help our team members build things too–things like relationships, brands, pipelines, and revenue.

So what can we, as marketers, learn from a great general contractor?

Growth Process

All GCs understand the home building process, but most homeowners don’t. A good GC walks you through the process instead of just letting you navigate it yourself.

As marketers, we understand the buyers’ journey and can help our doer-sellers identify the right tools to use along the path. We give insight into the industry, and we help provide order and knowledge (i.e., create a relationship first, send a proposal later, just like you select plumbing fixtures first, pour slab later). Having that guide gives critical advice and provides a level of comfort, especially to those who haven’t built things before, whether it be a home or a book of business.

Budgets & Timelines

A good GC ensures that expectations, including budgets and timelines, are well-established and vetted. No one likes surprises. If you’ve worked in an accounting firm for any period of time, you know that CPAs like surprises (especially financial ones), even less. That’s why it’s critical to know not only how much you are spending, but WHY you are spending it. What does that $5,000 sponsorship get you? Does it create direct opportunities/leads? Does it make your “doer-seller” team more effective? Is there a better way to spend it? I don’t want my GC to say “whatever you want,” and our firms don’t want us to go along with the path of least resistance either. It’s our jobs to recommend the right budgets, with the right investments, and to manage them according to the right timeline.

Resources

A good GC has resources at their disposal. One of the most stressful parts of building is selecting finishes (flooring, paint, windows, doors, cabinets….ALL THE THINGS). A good contractor has great vendors—people who can guide you and advise you about their specialty. A good marketer also has resources who can advise our firms. Whether your firm needs a graphic designer, videographer, web designer, business development trainer, or other type of specialty, having marketers with relationships outside of their firms is critical to success. As an example, we have found great resources in the Leading Edge Alliance, the Association for Accounting Marketing, the Rainmaker Companies, and others.

Communications

A GC simply can’t be good at his/her job if they are not good communicators. Poor communication is how balls get dropped, mistakes get made, budgets get blown, and people freak out (not speaking from experience, of course ;)). As marketers, the baseline of our jobs is communication—business development is 100% letting our clients and prospects know how we can help them and why they should choose us. Marketers have tons of resources to help us be proactive communicators…content calendars, tools to help us schedule emails and other communications in advance, social media management tools, etc. But because we are all so busy, responsive communications sometimes suffer.

How many times have you been asked to provide materials to help a doer-seller with a prospect, and you’ve taken longer than you wanted to because you had to dig for it, update it, or worse, write it from scratch? Having professional, organized, searchable materials ready to go are a big part of making sure our sales teams are prepared to meet with clients. And you get bonus points if the doer-sellers all have access and can put packets together with the click of a button.

One thing I really like about my GC is that he uses a communication tool where everything I need is at my fingertips. He doesn’t have to stop what he’s doing to answer my question about the specs for my light fixtures, the date a selection is due, or who to contact for my countertops. It’s all readily accessible in my self-service app, which makes him more efficient because he doesn’t have to spoon-feed me information upon demand.

 

From laying the groundwork to delivering the keys to the new owners, general contractors own the building process. Great general contractors don’t just deliver a quality home, they make the process easier for the homeowners. As marketers, it’s not just about delivering growth results. Great marketers make the process easier and more effective for our doer-sellers too.

 

HeadshotCropped_Rachael_HigginbothamRachael Higginbotham is the Marketing Director for Postlethwaite & Netterville. With over 15 years of marketing and consulting experience—including a decade in the world of accounting marketing—her strengths include marketing strategy, business development coaching and support, ROI development, brand management and strategic corporate projects.

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Building a Business Development Culture, Summed Up with this Playlist

I was recently re-reading this article that our very own Marketing Director Rachael Higginbotham wrote on building a business development culture and decided it is a story worth re-telling in song form. Enjoy!

Track 1: Set Expectations

The Song: “Whataya Want from Me” by Adam Lambert

Standout Lyric:
Hey, slow it down
What do you want from me
What do you want from me
Yeah, I’m afraid
What do you want from me
What do you want from me

How it Relates: If you’re trying to change behavior, it is critical to communicate to your team members what exactly they are expected to do. The more specific you can make these expectations (in terms of participation, activities and results), the better. Improving focus on business development cannot happen without clear communication that everyone is responsible for helping the firm grow.

Track 2: Provide Training, Tools & Processes for Success

The Song: “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash

Standout Lyric:
I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

How it Relates: Communicating expectations is only the first step. Once your people know what they need to do, you must show them how to do it. This comes in the form of business development training, defined processes, and technology tools that support these processes.

By removing the obstacles (such as, not having the knowledge or skills needed for business development), your team members will be able to clearly see how they can meet (or exceed) their business development goals and expectations.

Track 3: Establish Accountability

The Song: “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson

Standout Lyric:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change

How it Relates: Am I just looking for a reason to use my favorite MJ song? Perhaps. But here’s my explanation anyway:

Behavior truly changes only when there is the aspect of accountability, either in the form of a carrot or a stick. While this song maybe more focused on personal accountability and action, firms can hold their team members accountable through performance reviews, sales and business development incentives, and leadership opportunities.

Track 4: Is the Cultural Needle Moving?

The Song: “Got My Mind Set On You” by George Harrison

Standout Lyric:
It’s gonna take time
A whole lot of precious time
It’s gonna take patience and time
To do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it
To do it right child

How it Relates: BE PATIENT! Culture change takes time—a whole lot of precious time—and consistent efforts. You won’t see results overnight, but don’t give up! Persistence is key.

BONUS TRACK!

The Song: “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship

Standout Lyric:
And we can build this dream together
Standing strong forever
Nothing’s gonna stop us now

How it Relates: By setting expectations, providing tools and training to ensure focus and consistency, holding people accountable, and having a bit of patience, nothing can stop your firm from achieving its growth goals!

 

 

 

How to Ensure a Tech Adoption Failure

One of the questions we are frequently asked is “How did you get your people to use POUNCE?

Like any software tool, the success of POUNCE (or any new tech tool) largely dependent on the extent to which users embrace it.

New technology can help drive efficiencies in your marketing and sales efforts and can even create competitive advantages for your firm, but only if the people within your firm actually use the new technology as intended.

Before selecting and implementing new tech tools, consider your plan for maximizing user adoption. If you want to ensure your tech investment is a big waste of time and money, follow these steps:

1. Start with technology instead of strategy.

We are surrounded by technology in the workplace. And as new solutions are developed and older solutions become more affordable, we continue to acquire even more technology.

With new tools being introduced all the time, it can be easy to fall into the “shiny object syndrome” trap. We all go to conferences and talk with peers about the tools that they are using in their respective firms, and it’s natural to want to try approaches that others are having success with. While sharing ideas with peers is undoubtedly important, it is also important to remember that no two firms are alike and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.

Instead of starting with the tools, start by examining the underlying challenge or opportunity.

Think big picture. By creating a strategy that clearly aligns technology with larger firm goals, you can help maximize your technology investments and drive business results.

2. Leave end-users out of the decision-making and implementation process.

To increase the likelihood and degree of technology adoption success, involve users early in the process. Adoption will always improve if end-users have a voice in the evaluation, planning and implementation processes.

Involving all types of users early in the process offers two main benefits:

  • End-users can help you clearly define your priorities at the beginning. They can help identify features that are deal-breakers and which ones are nice-to-have, but maybe not necessary.
  • Early involvement gives end-users a sense of pride and ownership in the process. They can serve as ambassadors of the new tool, and can help persuade others to get on board.

3. Ignore the WIIFM.

Before you ask any team member to learn a new technology, be sure you can answer the “what’s-in-it-for-me” (WIIFM) question for each group. When users understand the potential benefits and long-term strategy, they are more likely to invest their time and energy up front.

Emphasize how the new technology benefits both your organization and your users as individuals.

4. Set unrealistic expectations for user adoption.

It’s important to enter into the tech evaluation, selection and implementation process with realistic expectations of how your end-users will adopt the new system. Based on our own experience with introducing new tools and processes over the years, we see users fall into three main groups:

  • Power Users/Early Adopters make up about 20% of your user base. This group embraces new technology like an office puppy. They are excited by new ideas and new ways of doing things and are typically eager to get on board with new tools. Use this group’s excitement and influence to your advantage and make sure to involve these users early in the process (see #2 above).
  • Moderate Users comprise about 60% of your user base. This group is likely to use new tech tools if they have a clear understanding of the potential benefits to them (see #3 above). Since they represent the majority of your user base, it is important to integrate moderate users into your process early (see #2 above).
  • Light Users/Laggards make up approximately 20% of your user base. This group is allergic to the office puppy. Laggards tend to have a skeptical view of new tools and a stronger aversion to change. It may not be your best use of time to try to persuade these users to embrace a change, but it is important to consider the obstacles or challenges associated with non-use by these individuals. (What happens if you have users that do not use the tool as intended? Are there reasonable workarounds that can be easily applied?)

For example, when we designed POUNCE, we were well aware that we had a few professionals in our firm that would likely never be persuaded to use the system themselves. As a workaround, we created a separate user type and trained administrative assistants throughout the firm to use the system on behalf of these professionals.

5. Over-complicate the system or process.

When selecting new technology, simplicity and turnkey functionality should be top of mind.

Systems should be simple to use once the initial setup has been completed. This is especially important when working with teams of varying levels of technical expertise and comfort. Considering the multi-generational workforce that is the norm in most firms these days, it’s important to select tools that can be utilized by both younger team members who have grown up with technology, as well as older team members who may be less comfortable with new technology.

Also, technology should be personalized to match your firm’s processes and terminology.

For example, when P&N decided to implement a CRM to help us manage our sales pipeline, it was important to us to ensure field titles matched the terminology our doer-sellers had already become accustomed to, and to build reports that were already familiar to them.

Technology should add VALUE, not WORKLOAD. The best tools enable users to be better at their job by simply using the tool to complete tasks they are already doing.

6. Treat communication as an after-thought.

The technical and functional aspects of the software implementation process can be time-consuming and overwhelming, no doubt. BUT it’s important to have a clear communication plan from Day 1.

Don’t wait for launch day to let employees know what’s going on. Employees should be informed of new tools and technology as soon as possible so there is a clear understanding of when new processes will take effect.

Make sure employees are aware of the benefits that the new technology will provide (see #3 above) and offer training and support. Being transparent and communicative throughout the process will make onboarding users more efficient and effective in the long run.

 

Any system your firm implements will only be effective if your people use it. They key to getting a significant return on a tech tool investment is to ensure you have a carefully considered plan for encouraging user adoption throughout the process.

 

Ready for a tech tool that your people will actually use? Contact us for a free POUNCE demo.

3 Surprising Ways POUNCE Helps Our Team

You already know POUNCE is a professional resume and marketing material management tool that can enable your team members to easily find and distribute up-to-date collateral to prospects. (If this is news to you, check out our video.)

But after using POUNCE in our own firm, we’ve discovered a few other ways the system makes our lives easier. Here are a three surprising ways POUNCE has helped the P&N marketing team:

1. Quickly find outdated or prohibited language.

POUNCE’s search feature makes it easy to find words or phrases in user profiles or marketing materials that may need to be updated. Here are a couple of real life examples:

Regulatory Changes: Our firm performs a LOT of audits in the governmental and non-profit arenas, which means we had numerous marketing materials and resumes referencing the single audit standard OMB Circular A-133. As you know, this standard was recently consolidated into OMB’s Uniform Guidance.

With POUNCE, we were able to do a quick search of all marketing materials and resumes containing “A-133” so we would know exactly which pieces would need to be updated with “Uniform Guidance.” Without POUNCE, we would have had to individually go through each resume and marketing material that might contain “A-133” and that would have been time-consuming to say the least. POUNCE helped us quickly identify only those materials requiring updates rather than having to sift through each one.

Prohibited Language: The State Board of CPAs for our home state does not approve the word “expert” or “expertise” in advertising, marketing materials, or public communications.

However, our practice professionals have a tendency to describe their industry or service expertise in their resumes. (“Why shouldn’t I say I have expertise in state and local tax?”)

POUNCE makes it easy for us to perform periodic searches of these and other prohibited words and terms to ensure we are compliant with industry regulations.

2. Keep track of speakers and presentation topics.

It’s no secret that speaking engagements can be a powerful way to position your firm AND the individual speaker as a thought-leader and subject matter expert. But in our experience, it can become an administrative nightmare trying to keep track of each speaker and presentation.

POUNCE provides a place for your professionals to update and maintain their own list of past speaking engagements.

POUNCE-Keep-track-of-speakers-and-presentations

This information can be incredibly valuable for your marketing team (to understand who is speaking, where they are speaking, and so on), but can also be a huge benefit for your practice professionals as well. Why?

  • The full-text search feature in POUNCE makes it easy to see if others in your firm have presented on a specific topic. This means you can see if someone else has existing presentation content that you can leverage, which can save valuable time when developing a new presentation.
  • Your firm may have expectations of its practice professionals to participate in marketing and business development activities. POUNCE provides a central, visible place for users to document their speaking engagements that are aligned with these expectations.

3. Mitigate the risk of potential conflicts of interest.

Especially in the accounting and legal professions, potential conflicts of interest can arise before or during the course of an engagement. As an example, having a partner on the board of a non-profit organization would impair independence in performing that organization’s audit.

However, by performing a quick search of the name of the non-profit entity before investing time in the sales or engagement process, you can understand if any of your team members are currently serving (or have previously served) in a board member role.

POUNCE-Mitigate-the-risk-of-potential-conflicts

Most firms have policies and procedures in place to govern how conflicts are identified and managed to ensure that client interests are not jeopardized and professional standards are not violated. POUNCE is not designed or intended to act as a conflicts management or client acceptance tool, but is has become a valuable reference tool for our firm.

 

When we developed POUNCE, we were not seeking to alter the way we find and share presentation content across offices or check for potential conflicts of interest. We simply wanted to provide our doer-sellers with on-demand accessibility to the resumes and marketing materials they need in business development.

But we’ve found that the adoption of POUNCE has helped us become more efficient in ways we had not intended.

For a free demonstration of these and other ways POUNCE might be able to help your firm, please contact us.

 

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Sales Enablement = Accessibility + Training

You have spent countless hours developing your firm’s marketing materials, meticulously reviewing content and design to ensure consistent branding and flawless copy that speaks to your firm’s knowledge, experience and value.

But are your professionals using these materials? Do they know where to find them? Do they even know you have them?

Empowering client-facing team members to succeed in business development is an ongoing effort and topic of discussion for many professional services firms. As marketers, part of our job is to provide the sales training and tools our professionals need.

Creating effective materials is half the battle. But the other half is ensuring your professionals can easily access the materials and are trained on how to effectively and appropriately use them.

Accessibility

In an increasingly competitive professional services marketplace, we are always looking for ways to further empower our professionals in their business development efforts. Your marketing materials are only valuable if your sales force (for most of us, our doer-sellers) can access them when they need to.

If you have marketing materials developed, but your doer-sellers don’t have easy, immediate access to them, you may find yourself with one of the following situations:

  1. Your doer-sellers assume your firm does not have these materials, and just move on (using “we don’t have the materials we need” as an excuse not to fully participate in the business development process).
  2. Your doer-sellers assume your firm does not have these materials, so they make up sales content and summaries on their own (without your knowledge or review).
  3. Your doer-sellers actually ask you for the materials, which you are happy to provide, but your productivity takes a hit as you respond to these types of administrative requests. And sometimes, you simply may not have the time to respond to every request immediately.

If any of these situations sound familiar, your firm may find it beneficial to keep these resources all in one place accessible by everyone, whether it’s a shared folder on your network, your firm intranet, or a tool such as POUNCE (shamelessly promotional, I know—but this is the POUNCE blog after all).

Training

To arm your doer-sellers for success, you must also train them how to access and appropriately use your materials. Of course, best practices in marketing materials will vary from firm to firm, but here are some of the guidelines we share with our professionals at P&N for providing our marketing materials to a prospect:

  1. A prospect or client is probably not going to read a packet of marketing materials that is 30 pages long. Keep it concise.
  2. If the prospect is a new relationship for the firm, consider providing a piece of general “About the Firm” information to give them an introduction to our organization and help to establish our credibility.
  3. If you already have a good indication of the services the prospect is interested in (for example, they told you they are looking for a new external auditor), you should definitely send them the marketing materials we have directly related to that service.
  4. If you do NOT have a solid indication of the services the prospect is interested in, resist the urge to send them service-specific marketing materials for everything they may possibly need. A better approach is to first have an open dialogue with them about their challenges and follow up with the appropriate service materials based on the conversation. Focus on their needs first.
  5. If there are industry summaries, case studies, etc., that demonstrate to the prospect that the firm is familiar with their industry and serve similar clients, this could be very valuable to provide. Just be sure you don’t overwhelm them with case studies of EVERY similar client.
  6. Make sure you are using updated materials. If you’re not sure, ask us. DO NOT SAVE MATERIALS TO YOUR DESKTOP AND USE THEM FOR THE NEXT 9 YEARS.

Conclusion

Business development is already a process that makes “non-sales” people uncomfortable. In order to continue to nurture a business development culture, it is critical to make the simple stuff (such as finding materials) as easy as possible.

Tips for Effective Marketing Collateral

Since we’ve already reaffirmed that marketing collateral still matters, let’s talk about how to make it effective. Here are a few tips to ensure your marketing materials resonate with your prospects:

1. Focus on the problem solved…

People only buy two things: solutions to problems and good feelings.

To draw from the wisdom of WinWholesale COO Monte Salsman, “people only buy two things: solutions to problems and good feelings.” If you think about your own recent purchases, you’ll likely discover that they fall into these buckets.

The professional services your firm provides are meant to solve problems, and marketing collateral is the perfect avenue for explaining how your services benefit a potential client.

Just as you did with your professional resume, use the “so what” test when reviewing your marketing materials. Does the piece focus on information that means something to the prospect, information that they care about?

2. …but don’t overlook the importance of good feelings.

Obviously, the services you offer are meant to solve problems, whether they are compliance-focused, financial or operational in nature. But a prospect has to feel good about purchasing the solution from you.

Your firm likely has several competitors that could also solve the same problems, so why should the prospect pick you?

Your marketing materials are just the place to clearly state your value proposition. Yes, you can solve the problem at hand but you do this in a way that is more efficient, more effective, more communicative, etc., than your competitors.

3. Create pieces that work online and offline.

There is no doubt that today’s business exchanges are conducted online more frequently than in the past. But the reality is that (especially in professional services) a significant portion of business interactions are still conducted offline.

In-person meetings are instrumental in building connections and relationships that last, and especially critical in generating those good feelings mentioned above. Online channels are great for sharing information, but human interaction still packs a greater punch in developing like and trust, which, as we know, is essential to winning business.

And, generally speaking, our professionals are more confident in prospect meetings when they have something tangible to leave with the potential client.

Create some efficiencies by designing dual-purpose marketing pieces that will work online as a downloadable document or attachment, as well as offline as a printed piece.

4. Less is more.

As we mentioned in our post on professional resumes, attention spans are short in this digital age. Be sure to use concise language that gets to the point quickly and clearly demonstrates the meaning and benefits of your services to the audience.

5. Put quality first.

Your marketing collateral is more than a description of what your firm does. It can make an impression on your prospects that represent you and your firm long after an initial meeting.

To be remembered as a professional, respectable company, your copy should be free from typos and your branding should be consistent. Provide high-quality paper for printing these materials.

Make quality a priority.

Conclusion

Static marketing materials are far from dead, and can actually enhance your firm’s overall marketing and business development strategy and efforts.

 

Do you have other tips for creating effective marketing materials?

How Marketing Helps with Employee Retention

Our marketing director Rachael Higginbotham recently spoke with Laurie Holt, marketing director at HHM CPAs, for an episode of AAMplify!, a podcast series hosted by the Association for Accounting Marketing. In this episode, Rachael and Laurie discuss how the marketing department can play a critical role in employee engagement and retention.

Here are some highlights:

  • Product Development – As we know in professional services, our product is our people. And since product is one of the 4 P’s of the marketing mix, it is important for marketing to be involved in the team member development because it directly affects our clients. At P&N, one of the ways our marketing team helps with this is through our leadership in the design and execution of our consolidated soft skills training program.
  • Coaching – Many people think of the marketing department as the cheerleader, helping to maintain a positive attitude and encouraging people from the sidelines. While the cheerleader is an important role, marketing departments have really started to embrace the coaching role. As a coach, marketers use their understanding of individual players’ strengths and design plays that put the right people in the right positions.
  • The Right Skillset – Everybody brings a different strength to the firm. As marketers, we think differently and have different skills than our practice folks or even than other operational areas within our firm. As it relates to employee engagement and retention, communication is a critical component and marketing professionals are generally master communicators. We can help our firm determine the appropriate frequency, manner and channel of communication with employees to receive a desired outcome.

 

For more information, check out the full episode of AAMplify!