Reprinted with permission from Accounting Today
Professional services are organic – they have lifecycles and stages distinctly their own. Marketing your offerings to the max should include efforts to extend the lifecycle of your offerings. Infuse them with innovation to keep them living – and giving – longer.
From Lean to Fat
The typical accounting offering starts out in an embryonic stage in which your objective is simply to attract an early adopter. Properly managed, the offering matures to what I call the “diamond-in-the-rough” stage. It’s the realization that there’s plenty of unrealized potential…and plenty you need to do to uncover it. At this point, if you do it right, you’re beginning to pick up traction.
Eventually, you can reach “dominance,” the stage at which the offering is driving relatively large amounts of revenue for your firm. Now you’ve got the hang of it. Once you’re really humming, delivering efficiently and reliably, you’ve got yourself a “cash cow.”
Well before this point, you want a plan in place that will assure that your “cash cow” doesn’t turn into a stringy, struggling animal, a fossilized version of a once-robust offering. The name of the game is innovation. Left to its natural cycle, your offering will likely whither and you’ll be holding a low-margin, commoditized service with nothing to differentiate it in the marketplace. With little to distinguish it, you begin to look like every other Tom, Dick & Harry.
Enter Captain Innovation!
When innovation is added to the mix, the profitable lifecycle of an offering can be significantly extended. What does innovation look like? Imagine the difference between a cup of takeout diner coffee and a visit to Starbucks. The caffeine-peddling giant creates not only an excellent product, but a memorable experience. Warm, welcoming and inclusive.
One way to innovate is to do what Starbucks does – enhance the experience. One client who does 401(k) audits started by asking his clients about the hassles they face in working with the auditor on employee benefit plan audits. He learned that the biggest problem is the array of documents they must gather and manage. His response was to develop a binder and a set of instructions that helps organize the paperwork in preparation for the auditor. Problem solved. Experience enhanced.
There is a growing wealth of innovation in software tools and solutions designed exclusively for CPA firms. These can be imbedded in your offerings and drive demand. One category focuses on performance measures, financial analysis and benchmarking. A product likeProfitCents provides valuable benchmarking information about companies in comparable industries. Another is iLumen, which delivers dashboard-style analysis indicating discrepancies like creeping accounts receivable or out-of-range inventory. Powerful and user-friendly Profit Driver enables you to easily fashion “what if” scenarios with your clients, using their financial data. Similarly, workflow software tools like Xpitax add efficiency to the processing of tax returns, infusing efficiency, value, and protection of margins in mature offerings.
Yet another category of tools helps you maintain contacts and identify new opportunities within your client base or among prospects. One such is BizActions, a service which unlocks partners’ thought leadership and displays it for all to see. It makes it easy to write and distribute articles on issues of importance to prospects and clients. You can gauge interest by identifying how many recipients read which articles. Another is TRUST, a web-based needs assessment tool completed by the prospect/client which pinpoints the top cross-selling opportunities for your firm. It permits the CPA to produce a professional report that addresses specific, identified needs such as strategic or financial planning, budget and cash-flow forecasting.
Commoditized offerings and razor-thin margins? Hogwash! This is the result of lack of innovation, which is as fundamental to the health of your offerings as sunlight and water are to a plant. If your services are struggling, ask yourself if you even know about the above described tools. If not, get out there and start evaluating! The key to success with any of them is to be sure they’re applied with the spirit of innovation. Offer something new, fresh and exciting. Close your eyes and breathe deeply…can you smell the latte?!