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Do You Have ‘Issues?’

Reprinted with permission from the Association for Accounting Marketing’s Growth Strategies.  

In part one of this article I wrote about the Research Call℠, the power-packed maneuver that gives you insight into an industry or niche you wish to dominate.

I described how a well-executed Research Call℠ informs the three elements of strategic growth – services, buyer groups and distribution channels. And I recommended the types of questions you should ask to elicit essential information.

In part two I’ll focus on the one question I believe is the most essential, “What issues and challenges are you and others in your industry facing?”

A potential buyer’s issues are a reflection of what they are grappling with, as well as what they might need. Knowing – and responding to these issues – is your opportunity to show deep knowledge and commitment to the buyer group, and often an opportunity to innovate your services.

Two types of issues

You may be worried that I’m tossing you into an open Pandora’s box. As an accounting professional you can’t be expected to respond to all the challenges facing the individual sitting across from you in a Research Call℠, right?

True. But what will likely emerge from your question is two types of issues – those strictly accounting-related, and everything else. Listen with an open mind and you’ll be surprised at the power of this exercise to reveal information that will lead you to new services, buyer groups and channels of distribution.

Accounting issues are those related to the services and counsel CPAs typically provide. For example, a the leader of the firm’s construction industry learned during several Research Calls℠ that sureties wanted something more from the typical financial statements, such as bonding scorecards, as well as a way to benchmark the business against other providers.

In response, the CPA and her team came up with a competitively distinctive financial package, which included a bonding score card, benchmark data, and other unique enhancements. These innovations neatly filled an innovation gap and eventually enabled the firm to grab a coveted most-recommended CPA firm position with the sureties. Listening to interviewees and delivering what they want is powerful stuff.

New territory, new opportunities

Many times the issues you glean during a Research Call℠ are focused on non-accounting related needs. Sometimes these lead to new innovations, and sometimes they lead to thought leadership.

One example is a government segment leader who heard, through several Research Calls℠, that the buyers were mostly concerned about efficiency and cost reduction. The leader and several team members became proficient in Lean/Six Sigma, innovating their service line beyond merely providing government audits.

Sponsoring thought leadership around buyers’ non-accounting issues, especially by doing so through a mutually motivated distribution channel, puts you squarely in the spotlight. A notable example is the case study on my website “Technology Niche Leader Uses Research Call℠ Approach to Find His Strategy”. It’s the story of how Jim Bourke at WithumSmith+Brown uncovered the #1 issue facing tech companies – talent acquisition – as a way to develop his growth strategy and follow-on success.

I was recently working with a firm segment leader who is developing a physician practice niche. “So tell me,” I asked, “What issues have you heard? How are you helping buyers and distinguishing yourself as a sponsor of thought leadership?”

He responded that the top issue facing docs isn’t accounting-related, and therefore he has no thoughts. My response was that you don’t have to have any thoughts. You just need to find people who DO have thoughtful knowledge and sponsor their thought leadership.

Once you discover thought leadership that specifically addresses prospects’ issues, and is co-sponsored with and through powerful distribution channels, it will open the door to buyers, building momentum within your niche and establishing you as the expert.

Eyes wide open!

We typically think of “issues” as problems or weaknesses. But when the goal is to learn all you can about a prospect and respond with value-driven thought leadership and innovations, issues uncovered during a Research Call℠ are not problems at all, but are the source of solutions.