In normal times, summer was the respite between tax and audit busy seasons, a pause in marketing activities, the time to take it easy and to catch up on CPE, and to conduct personnel reviews and other administrative duties delayed from the beginning of the year.
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This summer is different, on so many levels. The sunlight filters through your bedroom window a bit earlier, and these days, if you’re even driving to the office, the roads are strangely less crowded. The general mood is more tenuous, as we all speculate about the new normal.
Most CPA firms will continue the same pattern of waiting until September to ramp up their go-to-market efforts But two or three out of 10 firms will use this summer to get a head start to make up for lost opportunities, and revenue, caused by the COVID crisis.
I have always been struck by the general attitude among CPA firms that summer is an “off” season, and firms generally avoid events, focused market pushes, and the other activities that can convert targets into prospects into clients.
A few years ago, my firm offered to host a summer thought leadership series for one of the organizations of which we were members, as the group previously took a summer programming and meeting break. This seemingly counterprogramming generated great success – scores of prospects attended the four summer events hosted in our offices, with topics that admittedly promoted our services, likely because every other firm and organization had taken the summer off and there was little competition for prospects’ headspace. We found new clients that we would not have sourced had it not been for that summer series.
In the words of Sun Tzu in The Art of War, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”
April-July is the ideal time to promote your firm.
It’s likely that 80-90 percent of your new business comes about when another service provider somehow dropped the ball (staff turnover, surprise bills, missed deadlines, missed tax deductions, audit restatements); these months are vulnerability point, as the pain of the last tax return or audit is still fresh on the minds of prospective clients. Waiting until September allows the wounds to heal and potential clients to kick the can of changing firms down the road.
Here are five steps your firm should consider taking advantage of the market lull that will put you ahead of the pack of other firms:
1. Client satisfaction surveys: In How to Inoculate Your Firm against Covid Competition, I wrote about the value of client satisfaction surveys. Firms frequently believe that their service is impeccable, their partners omniscient, and their staff the best and the brightest. That’s not always the case, and client interviews can raise previously unspoken issues, and even possibly uncover systemic service flaws. And it’s just good business sense to create a forum through which your firm can check in with clients – before your competition does.
2. Joint events: There is still time to plan and schedule client events either on your own or, better yet, with “Centers of Influence.” Now that the wave of PPP applications has faded, clients still will be seeking ways to improve operations, reduce costs, or recover tax payments (e.g., R&D credits or NOL carry-forwards allowed under the CARES Act). Conducting such events in conjunction with Centers of Influence allows your firm to get in front of their clients, and vice versa, hopefully with market triggers on which clients will want to take action. Finding a bank, law firm, insurance brokerage, or other COI with whom to partner should not be difficult, as every segment of the professional services world is clamoring for new work just as CPA firms. Taking the bold step now will enhance your market presence with both potential clients and your COIs.
3. New thought leadership: One firm managing partner with whom I spoke in May was bragging that he had deployed various team members to write thought leadership articles on emerging issues related to COVID, industry-specific topics, and general implications of the CARES Act. As your people are working from home, less encumbered by idle office chatter, endless meetings, and other normal office distractions, they are in a better position to invest the time to write articles and to get more active in social media platforms such as LinkedIn. Now would also be an opportune time for your firm’s marketing department to improve your professionals’ LinkedIn profiles, and to teach your professional staff how to repost articles on LinkedIn. One firm with which I consult was able to increase their LinkedIn followers by 50 percent by using this focused approach, giving them frequent and regular exposure to clients, prospects, and Centers of Influence – and it cost them nothing to do so.
4. Reach out to prospects: By developing thought leadership topics, your partners will have a reason to reach out to prospects who you have already identified. In the ideal world, your firm will already have a prospect pipeline, organized in a CRM system, who receive regular updates via email. If your firm isn’t already doing that, now is the time to create such a process. It is also the time for partners to leave their comfort zones and actually pick up the phone (that’s the black device on your desk with a bunch of numbers on it) and call prospects. I am fairly certain that few firms are taking such steps, and doing so now will allow your firm to stand out from all the other firms’ partners who are wringing their hands waiting for something to happen.
5. Follow up on lost proposals: A typically untapped market is lost proposals. Again, if your firm has a functioning CRM system, the process of identifying proposals you lost two or three years ago will be that much simpler. Absent of such structure, encourage each of your partners to reach out to prospects they lost. These companies have knowledge of your firm, thought enough of your firm to invite you to bid, and for whatever reason made a different choice. Checking in with this subset is a fairly painless process (it’s not a cold call), and hits them at a potential point of vulnerability, as it often takes a few busy seasons to realize that the choice of a CPA firm may not have resulted in the right fit.
No one is in their comfort zone in 2020, so why not abandon your firm’s typical practice development habits and take a more aggressive stance to increase your market presence, establish better overall practices and leave the lemmings breathing your dust through their face masks?