This week I’ve been at the MSCPA’s Practice Management Conference. There have been some really great presentations so I wanted to share a few of the best ideas with you. (more…)
“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely” said E. O. Wilson, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize born in 1929. He’s living proof of his own theory as he is also a 2007 honoree of a TED Prize in 2007 – still notable and modern at 78 years old! Well done, sir!
Professional services firms need to embrace this idea of being “synthesizers” of information for clients. Robotics and AI are taking over the data dumping and basic analysis. And thank goodness! We have more data than ever, and the pace of data creation continues to increase. Clients feel the data overload and just want someone to help them get to the point so they can make good decisions.
Instead of marketing the final deliverable – an insurance policy, financial statement, or estate plan – focus on helping the client understand the critical thinking process that goes into the creation of the final deliverable and promote the knowledge sharing that follows your information synthesis. After all, you started with a pile of information (hopefully using robotics and AI in your favor), and then sorted, evaluated, considered, questioned, analyzed, prioritized, synthesized, and finally understood the critical factors so that you could deliver a document that is easy(ish) to understand and share with others. That’s powerful! If you’re promoting the final document, you made it look too easy! And people don’t want to pay for easy.
Promote what the client will be able to do as a result of having gone through this process. That’s where the true value lies! Insurance policies, bookkeeping reports, and estate plans (etc.): Done right, they are the synthesis of information, critically examined based on years of experience in a specialized field, delivered with careful communication so clients can understand their options and make wise choices. Your marketing should promote them this way! People will pay for this! Don’t be bashful!
Here’s the tough part – it’s a training process for your prospects. They’re going to market looking for “insurance” or “bookkeeping” or “estate planning” so, of course, we need to make it seem like this is what we provide. But when we get the chance to talk with them, it’s important to then change the dialog to center around the “synthesis” of information. Think of it as “data in, knowledge out.”
Information synthesis is why a marketing strategy based on differentiation and specialization (niches) is so important. Your clients want to know that you understand their business better than they do so that you are able to bring them new ideas and perspectives. You can’t do that if you’re spread too thin or the Jack of All Trades (Master of None)!
Information synthesis is why your proposals are so important. A proposal is the final document a prospect receives. It’s intended to convince someone that your firm is best suited to helping meet a need and that your fee is justified. Be clear that it’s justified because of information synthesis!
Information synthesis is why your consulting practice should get your primary attention – and why you should bill for your ideas. In your firm you’re surrounded by people who have very similar levels of intellect and knowledge. I think professional service providers often forget that they really do know a LOT more than the average person in their area of focus. This has value when shared! Don’t give it away!
Information synthesis is why you need a robust thought leadership program (blog/newsletter) to showcase your knowledge. Gen X and Millennials are tech-confident self-educators so they will review what you have (or haven’t) written about and make a judgement about your knowledgebase.
Most importantly, information synthesis is why professional services firms won’t be eliminated by robotics and AI. Firms should focus on providing elevated services using robotics and AI as tools when needed. In fact, by promoting your use of robotics and AI, you’ll differentiate your information synthesis from their data sorting. Client will then understand the difference and remain willing to pay for it.
CPA firms (and very likely other professional services firms) are devoting 10% of their marketing budget to charitable giving. I’m frankly baffled by this as a strategic move as the expected ROI has to be near zero. Let’s discuss why this happens, how to rein it in, and how to say Yes or No to a request.
Undoubtedly you have non-profit clients. They will, as they should, ask their service providers to participate in their fundraising efforts at some point during the year. When presented with this request, you dutifully review the sponsorship levels for the gala/golf tournament/dinner, and start the internal discussion about participating in the event.
Let’s unpack that from a marketing perspective. In the Pro column, you are displaying your firm’s culture as one that has a commitment to the community while supporting a worthy cause and/or client. This will be attractive to Millennial and Gen Z employees. To me this isn’t how I would spend 10% of your marketing budget. In the Con column, your spending is unlikely to result in any positive ROI in the form of new clients. That’s a big deal.
So, what should you do? There are a few paths forward.
- When bidding on a NFP client, describe your firm’s decision process or expectation for charitable giving so that everyone is on the same page from the start.
- Create a charitable giving committee internally that reviews all requests. It can be really tough to be the one who says No. Having a committee lets you “pass the buck” in a polite way when you get asked. Tell the person that your committee reviews all requests and that by design partners have no sway.
- One step further than the committee is to create a charitable foundation for the firm. Employees can contribute and vote on where the funds go.
- Develop a Corporate Social Responsibility platform that will align your giving (and volunteering, etc) with your firm’s purpose.
- Volunteer in addition to or in lieu of giving a monetary gift.
The most important thing to do is to put a lid on spending. It can be really really hard to say No, especially when it’s a client request. But saying Yes to a gala at $5,000 or $10,000 means saying No to something else. And $10,000 goes a LONG way in marketing. Consider making charitable giving 5% of your marketing budget instead of 10%. You may not get ROI from your gifts, but your reallocated funds should, and that’s better. I know that non-profits need our help. If you don’t want to reduce your overall giving, then I think that’s great. But please reduce/remove that line item from your marketing budget and put it into another bucket. It’s not fair to ask your marketing person to be responsible for ROI if you’re not giving him/her the choice on how to allocate spending.
Large firms are already being highly strategic about when to say Yes to charitable giving requests. They view charitable gifts as brand awareness and relationship marketing and they expect a lot for their dollars in the form of visual recognition, press releases, special treatment like intros to a guest speaker or early access, etc.
Start saying Yes to fewer organizations, but make a meaningful and lasting relationship with that charity. Both sides will see it as a two-way relationship instead of a single transaction so that unexpected perks like a board seat, an invite to sit-in on a pitch with a government official, or something else may come along.
I hope you’ll at least reconsider your charitable giving as a result of reading this. If you want help thinking through what path forward to take, please contact me.
Marketing is one word that means a lot of things. And marketing takes on a lot of responsibility in a professional services firm from branding to online marketing to coaching to revenue generation and client retention. Some marketing activities take a lot of time but don’t cost much money and some are expensive but are easy to execute. This latter bucket is where a lot of professional services firms get into trouble. Don’t fall into these five traps that will spend-down your marketing budget without much to show for your investment. (more…)
Next month I’ll be presenting on the topic of How the Fastest Growing CPA Firms Spend their Marketing Dollars at the MSCPA’s Practice Management conference. If you’re a CPA, I’ll hope you attend!
While the research this article (and presentation) is based on is from CPA firms, I believe the basic principles are true for all of professional services firms, so everyone, please, read on!
Professional services firms often serve their clients for multiple years, so client retention is something that deserves intentional focus. Fostering relationships with clients at a time when you’re not “on the clock” is one good way to do this. Here are a few ideas for client appreciate events for professional services firms: (more…)
What is a brand?
Basically, your brand is the total of what makes you, you. Your brand is comprised of the messages, visuals, and experiences that collectively represent your firm. (more…)
What will you do when something happens and it’s not “business as usual”? You’re going to feel like you’re jumping hurdles… as soon as you’re over one, another one is right in front of you. It’s exhausting! Here are seven ideas for you to consider when your firm experiences some negative attention from a lawsuit, a client problem, an attack from a competitor, or something else unforeseen. (more…)
As I have written about and expressed many times in conversation, one challenge of professional services marketing is that most of your clients and prospects don’t understand what you do or how you do it. If they were being honest, they don’t want to know, they just want to have trust that hiring you help them reach their goals.
Since they don’t want to become subject matter experts in order to determine the quality of your work on its merits, they are forced to make a partially illogical leap between what they can see and understand, your marketing, and the quality of your work.