Reprinted with permission from CPA Practice Management Forum
The more things change, the more we need to change with them. Massive shifts in market conditions are profoundly affecting our profession. But it’s not just the market that’s recalibrating. We’re also in the midst of a revolution in information gathering, which influences how our buyers think and how they make decisions.
These changes represent a realignment of our universe. They demand that we move beyond old, familiar ways of generating leads and adopt new strategies that reflect today’s environment.
A better question might be, “What’s not different?” Here’s the headline: Kibitzing at the Chamber of Commerce after-hours networking event is a dinosaur, despite what some senior partners may believe. Read on to learn why, and what new methods you should consider to take its place.
The economic downturn.
The storminess of the past two years has helped shine a spotlight on the limits of the old methods. When work is falling from the sky, it’s hard to recognize the success or failure of a particular strategy. But when the torrent slows to a trickle, the impact of every effort matters a lot.
There were trends emerging before the recession, but their convergence renders tried-and-true techniques unable to sustain firm growth. We need laser-focused strategies with the highest probability of success. That’s why specialization works and generalized socializing does not. Our world has become far too sophisticated.
The role of social media.
Social media has radically altered the way buyers get information and how they use that information to make decisions. And if you’re thinking that your buyers don’t use social media, I say, “Your buyers don’t use social media YET.” This trend is one of the most significant and fast-moving to impact buyer behavior in years.
In the days before Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, we would probably have asked a banker or other trusted contact to recommend an accounting firm. Now buyers have a universe of options at their fingertips. And before a potential client ever sets eyes on you, they’ve probably read up on your firm, checked out your blog, your Tweets and more. They know more about you than you ever imagined. The type and quantity of that information has a major impact on their decision-making.
The impact of globalization.
With international markets opening at warp speed, there’s a big, virgin territory out there – a global land of opportunity that you need to uncover. And it’s not just relevant to the big players. Approximately four out of 10 U.S. small businesses have international ties. This presents a vast new opportunity to expand your footprint beyond your geographic boundaries.
The rise in market competition.
As you’ve noticed, there’s plenty of competition out there for your services. The law of supply and demand is at work. Lower prices necessitate a shift in pricing strategy for many firms.
As accounting professionals we need to be asking questions about how work is delivered and how we can maximize the profitability of our offerings. And we need to be willing to take action.
For example, a small traditional audit practice that’s been hammered with a 50 percent decrease in pricing for audits may need to radically shift its attention to outsourced internal audit. Financial statement audits may continue to be part of the service package, but more as an accommodation than as a focused growth strategy. Finding less-crowded sectors can also affect your personnel decisions. So instead of hiring a not-for-profit audit specialist, you might invest in someone with risk management experience.
The regulatory explosion.
New standards and regulations are being promulgated at an ever-faster pace. And with each comes an opportunity to discover new buyers and areas of specialization.
Proactive firms in the market for new lead opportunities seize on new regulations. IFRS is an example. Its arrival is probably not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when,’ and its impact is without question. Some visionary firms have been cultivating an IFRS strategy for a year or longer, establishing thought leadership and finding early markets to practice their skills. Too much pondering and evaluating in the face of new regulatory opportunity can be risky. While other firms are waiting for certainty, your firm can be busy becoming the go-to IFRS firm in your market. Get focused and get ahead!
The brain drain.
As the first of the Baby Boomers cash their Medicare checks, our profession faces a challenge that’s occurring across all industries. Thousands of experienced senior people are retiring, and most firms are not adequately prepared.
Complicating the matter is the fact that, while older partners possess high-value technical skills and knowledge, many do not know how to mentor in this brave new world of lead generation. Young people don’t want to hear about banker breakfasts and lawyer lunches. They’re all about social media and market specialization.
We need to be teaching them how to make a Research CallSM and identify channels of distribution in their chosen market.
This changed dynamic requires new ways of generating meaningful leads. Here’s what I recommend:
- Get serious about specialization and organize your firm around that goal.
- Study the market and understand the complex dynamics driving it. Read relevant books like Tuned In (by Stull, Myers and Scott) and Blue Ocean Strategy (by Kim and Mauborgne).
- Immerse yourself in the concept of Research CallsSM. Interview people engaged in your target industry. Interview prospects. Interview your competitors. Interview thought leaders. Interview likely buyers. Learn more about how to conduct a Research CallSM.
The world around you is shifting. But you’ve got the power to leverage the changes to craft a focused, purposeful growth strategy with specialization and innovation at its core.