It’s no secret that today the business development strategies of professional services firms like accountants are changing. Old strategies that worked for many years are losing their effectiveness.
There is a clear switch to new strategies — strategies that can bring new and exciting opportunities to help CPAs grow their practices faster.
In the professional business world, you’re only as good as the business development strategies you use. New tools and their rapid evolution have had an increasing impact on the way professionals are developing their practices.
Here are 9 top strategic opportunities to examine and consider in order to boost and switch your practice’s business development in 2018:
1) Identify and Separate Business Development and Marketing
More professional services firms understand the importance of business development to grow their practice. Many of them are acting on this understanding by separating the business development and marketing functions — and in the case of larger accounting firms, starting to switch the business development responsibilities from the marketing team and into the hands of a special BD manager.
This is a development that I warmly encourage, specifically because professional business development (and even international business development) demands a totally different set of skills and completely different mindset from marketing.
When we deal with business development, we speak about building and nurturing the relationships with potential clients, referral sources, and strategic alliances. By contrast, the core efforts of marketing are about being found, as a professional (offline and online).
This explains why joining a professional network is not enough today. A network can, in the best cases, help professional with marketing efforts (assuming the people within the network supporting these efforts have marketing experience!).
But no wonder these marketing efforts do not lead to actual work, in many cases. For that to happen, they must be supported by business development, within the professional network or within the professional practice. And this part in most cases is missing!
It demands a dedicated effort — and dedicated personnel for larger accountancies — to develop and nurture relationships with potential clients.
We believe that going forward, many professional will shift from traditional marketing to a more marketing-business development approach to enhance the complete cycle of their practice’s growth.
2) Insert Business Development as Part of the Client Engagement Process
The opportunity is to use business development as an important part of the client relationship and client engagement process.
As you learn more about the prospect, your interaction with the prospect could (and should) be more tailor-made and personal.
For example, you can invite them to a special event, organized by you, to meet like-minded prospects. Or you can send an item of value to them — for example, an interesting book that provides valuable input, or an invitation to join you at a seminar.
3) Implement ‘Attentional Leadership’
We are living in a time of enormous and constant demand on our time and our attention. While marketing is all about “getting attention,” business development is more about “giving attention.”
As content has grown increasingly abundant and immediately available, attention becomes the limiting factor in the consumption of information, including by your prospects and connections.
As a leader of your practice, you should learn to practice “Attention Leadership” as part of the business development of your practice. This means learning to give attention to your connections in order to stand out.
4) Niche Your Practice and Your BD Efforts
In this ultra-competitive professional marketplace, accountants are realizing that a more effective approach to business development is focusing on a narrower group of prospects to guarantee success.
From a practical point of view it is more efficient to invest your time in building relationships with a specific group of potential clients. It is better to build a narrow and deep approach to business development rather than being wide and shallow.
5) Know Your BD ROI Numbers
Many CPA firms cannot point to direct results and accurate ROI from each business development initiative within the practice.
This needs to change. Why?
First, it will help you reveal what works and what doesn’t. No more guessing. You should double down on what works and end any business development project that does not bring measurable ROI to your practice.
Second, the secret of growing your practice is knowing your numbers.
Professionals who know their business development ROI numbers have a tremendous advantage over those who do not. The business development ROI numbers tell a story — and understanding the story behind your numbers can be one of the most important ingredients for long-term business development success.
6) Switch from Practice-Focused to Client-Focused
Many professional services firms at some point get the opportunity to participate in a Request for Proposal to clients with complex matters in their area of expertise. This is a great opportunity to boost your practice’s business development.
How? By taking a more strategic approach for these projects.
In other words, instead of pitching only your specific capabilities, add more of your strategic approach to dealing with the client’s needs. Convey that you understand complex client problems, and share how you’ve resolved issues for similar clients.
7) Create a Systems Approach
Successful CPAs are always looking for ways to generate new client leads and prospects for their practice.
However, we are seeing a significant shift in the way professionals address this need. Over the last 2 years, many of my clients have chosen to implement a lead generation system as part of the business development of their practice. For a free strategy session: bit.ly/ia-call.
This system includes generating contacts through content distribution in the right channels (not only online but also offline), tracking activities with key prospects, measuring the results in different stages of the client engagement process, and analyzing data to identify potential clients.
8) Stand Out and Differentiate
If I ask you what your firm is known for, do you know the answer? Setting aside slogans, like “We are more professional” or “We reply fast,” are you aware of your sustainable advantage?
You need to learn to stand out and differentiate your firm by your innovative business development approach.
Focusing your business development efforts to help you stand out in the marketplace and get the right exposure will help you to both attract new clients and gain global industry recognition.
9) Look for New Revenue Opportunities
Many of your connections, people in your network that like and trust you, are willing to pay you to share your knowledge, experience, and ideas with them.
For example, we helped one firm conduct a special training in their area of expertise for their clients. The clients enjoyed it so much that we helped them develop a new internal (online) training that was marketed to their clients. It created a new 6-figure profit center for the firm.
You can learn (and we believe you should learn) how to effectively turn a cost center in your practice into a new profit center.
Macro-trends indicate that clients have made fundamental changes in the ways they purchase professional services like accounting, which has driven professionals to embrace new approaches to business development.
What do these strategies mean for your practice? Here are some key implications:
- The days of trying to be everything to everyone are numbered. The newer strategies favor the specialist professional.
- As professionals, you need to combine both online and offline business development strategies. Do not ignore any of them.
- Professional competence and excellent client service are no longer enough — they are merely the cost of entry. Your firm must develop a robust business development capability if it is to compete effectively.
We are certain that professionals who best adapt their strategies to these market conditions and execute on the strategies described above will make the most progress in maturing their business development evolution in 2018 and beyond!
Which strategy is the most appealing to you? Which strategy are you planning to implement right away? Please share your input.