Myths are persistent. Like the one that suggests drinking orange juice will cure a virus. Even when we know better, we find comfort in familiar bromides. The same is true in the area of practice growth, where a multitude of myths prevail. In each of the five highlighted here, the commonly held view is starkly different from what really works.
Myth #1: Opportunity development calls on prospects are best made by a group.
CPAs offer many reasons for making group calls. Including that one person may hear what the other misses, or that it’s hard for an individual to take notes and listen at the same time. Ridiculous! Most CPAs I know are perfectly able to talk and write simultaneously! Often they’ll team together to support each other and bolster overall call confidence. However, job #1 in the early stages of the opportunity development cycle is to develop a relationship with a prospective client. This is best done one-on-one, face-to-face. If you don’t do it then, it’s very hard to go back somewhere in the middle of the cycle and establish the relationship that you should have kicked off to begin with. Going in pairs is like having a 3rd person on a first date!
Myth #2: Marketing drives revenue.
I was recently invited to speak about how to drive marketing efforts into top line revenue. I explained that I couldn’t do it, because it’s simply not true. Marketing is not a discipline designed to yield revenue. Marketing is all about long-term strategy, and involves targeting, positioning and awareness. If the marketing investment is partnered with proper conversion elbow-grease – lead generation and opportunity development activities – revenue will follow. Proper conversion means that someone needs to leverage the marketing investment into leads, and then sell something.
Recently, Inside Accounting’s 2004 Benchmarking Report published by Hudson Sawyer noted that the average fee growth for firms in the survey was approximately the same, regardless of whether the firm had marketing professionals on board or not. I rest my case.
Myth #3: A proposal is a selling tool.
I’m also asked by firm leaders to help them improve their proposals so they will attract more business. I respond that a proposal is an historical record of opportunity development activity and does not sell a firm to a prospective client. If you’re not winning new business, the fault does not lie with your proposal. It’s what you’re doing, or not doing before the proposal is written, in areas like pursuing an active face-to-face call program, and uncovering client needs. Those are the activities that will get you, and keep you in the door.
Myth #4: Every partner should be a rainmaker.
Many CPAs express frustration that there simply are not enough rainmakers in their firm. But that’s beginning to change, especially in larger firms, where those ideally suited to bring in business, both within and beyond the firm, are being identified and turned loose. If a rainmaker is currently billing out 50, 60 or 70 percent of capacity, why not put him or her on a compensation plan that motivates them to do what they do best – make rain! As a profession, we’ve been too willing to put technical experts out on the front lines and expect them to morph into rainmakers. Keep them where they belong, behind the scenes turning out work that’s highly valued by your clients. Take the chains off those scarce rainmakers and focus more of their time on business development.
#5: Practice Growth is an extracurricular activity.
For as long as anyone can remember, the delivery side of the CPA house has been more sophisticated than the practice-growth side. That inequity must be righted to take advantage of the current, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for selecting new service providers. Do you want to keep practice growth tangential to your ‘core business,’ or is it time to bring it out of the extracurricular realm and make it part of your ‘core curriculum?’ In a mature market with stiff competition, practice growth must be treated with the same level of intensity and commitment as service delivery. As client demands rise, your challenge is to free up valuable technical resources to meet them. Shoring up your practice growth capability, and assuring that the right people are in the right roles, is precisely the right strategy. Turn myths about practice growth around and leverage them to create a more nimble, responsive and profitable firm.