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If Growth is Your Goal, Choose Channels Over Referral Sources

Reprinted with permission from Accounting Today. 

You know the services your firm has to offer and you know who your target buyer is. In order to drive growth you need to align these elements in an act of strategic matchmaking. If you’ve been relying on referrals as a way to achieve this you’re operating with about one-and-a-half hands tied behind your back.

The required firepower cannot be unleashed by occasional meetings and introductions. Instead you need to energize your efforts by cultivating focused channels of distribution. This will take your efforts from tactical to strategic and lead to a more powerful growth experience.

A distribution channel is the way you find your buyers and they find you in large numbers. Distribution channels are the individuals, businesses, organizations, websites, events, publications and places your buyers prefer. The possibilities are limited only by your knowledge of your prospective buyers and your ability to seek them out. The best channels are those your competitors have never considered.

Good faith

One example of a creative distribution channel comes from an accounting firm that sought my help to strengthen its wealth management group. To date their “strategy” had been to target anyone with a pulse and a wallet. My recommendation was to specialize by identifying specific buyer groups. The first step was to analyze their existing client base, which revealed a significant concentration of widows, a niche the firm did not even realize it had.

Next we looked for distribution channels—the places and opportunities to which this buyer group gravitated. Brainstorming and Research CallsSM suggested that a key place to find widows in need of financial planning was churches. The wealth advisors partnered with area faith leaders and arranged for financial literacy presentations at church-sponsored events including clubs and study groups. The result was a productive niche benefiting an underserved demographic.

Another example of a successful distribution channel involved a firm that sought traction in the construction industry. Research Calls℠ led to the dean of a construction sciences program at a major university. My client connected with the dean who knew the key individuals, organizations and opportunities in the construction community.

The niche leader was invited to join the department’s advisory board and to serve as a guest instructor. The relationship yielded loads of market intelligence while helping the accounting firm enhance its visibility, influence and lead generation in construction.

Another example comes from a firm with a technology implementation niche. The search for distribution channels led to a company that provides Internet-based phone services. Even though prospects liked the offerings, their computer networks were never adequate to install the service, and as a result the phone service provider’s sales were suffering.

Once the accounting firm and phone service provider discovered one other, they aligned their interests to help the phone service company sell a total solution, which included the accounting firm’s technology services. For its part, the accounting firm found qualified buyers in great quantities.

Authentic alignment

Some channels show great promise, but alignment between the two parties is illusive. When that happens the firm may make choices that look like alignment, but really are not. Examples are sponsoring a conference when many firm competitors are doing the same, or writing articles for a publication where competitors frequently appear in print.

Authentic alignment means that your firm is the preferred partner and no one else shares that position. It also means that the channel is providing something you need, like qualified buyers. Many channels can provide visibility and credibility. But you can have both of these and never grow anything! You also need channels that enable you and buyers to find each other in great quantities. Various channels can be used by you in various ways to achieve different objectives.

And the channels will all need something different as well. Be assertive in your search for alignment. Start by interviewing the channel leader/s in order to identify their most pressing need, such as more students, more association members, better content, benchmarks, surveys, credibility, visibility or market intelligence.

One medical niche leader found that the head of sales for a medical equipment distributor was unaware that physician customers could take accelerated depreciation on new capital assets, such as the equipment the distributor sold to them. Once informed, he then needed education for his sales force about accelerated depreciation. This in turn fueled more orders for new equipment. Before long the niche leader was regularly offering training to the sales force, and members of the sales force began bringing him to meetings with physicians, high-value exposure to many potential buyers he could not have otherwise achieved. Stay open and creative; the opportunities are virtually endless.

Turn to the right channel

If your goal is firm growth you need the right services, well-defined buyer groups and distribution channels with aligned interests. Employ this powerful triad and you can expect sustainable growth for the long term.