Recent economic conditions have caused us all to refocus on our marketing and business development strategies. It used to be that firms struggled just to keep up with the work that they had and were more focused on recruiting staff than generating new opportunities. The tide has certainly shifted and marketing and business development are more crucial than ever before. But, since there hasn’t been a tremendous need to “drum up” new business until recently - many accounting professionals are out of practice when it comes to carrying out networking, marketing, and sales strategies. Others were never expected to develop new business and economic conditions are causing them to learn how for the very first time.
In either case, generating new business is a matter of going “back to the basics” of business development. Let’s explore three business development basics to help re-energize your marketing and sales efforts. Dedicate time in your schedule each week to participate in at least two of these three areas to start seeing an increase in new business opportunities.
1. Network in your “Social Sphere”
Your social sphere encompasses a wide variety of groups, associations, and activities including clubs like Rotary, networking groups, professional associations like the AICPA, your local state CPA society and the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) as well as special interest groups, exercise groups and clubs, sporting clubs and teams, PTA and other children’s groups, church groups, Toastmasters and many more. When you interact with people in these settings, you may not always be in “work mode,” especially if it is not a formal networking group or professional organization. But no matter what the setting, you should always be networking and building your sphere of influence and connections. And, remember to always carry your business cards – as you never know who you’re going to run into or where. You may meet the contact for your next big engagement while watching your child’s soccer game or attending your spouse’s company picnic!
Your social sphere is filled with potential prospects that could benefit from the services that your firm has to offer. Your neighbors and the parents of your children’s friends, for example, are all potential individual tax and/or financial planning clients, and they may be corporate prospects, too. Focus on finding out more about the people that you come into contact with to build relatedness and gauge whether or not they may be a candidate for your services.
The number one way to uncover opportunities within your social sphere is to be curious. Ask people questions like:
· What does your organization do?
· How do you like it?
· How long have you been there?
· What role do you play there?
· Who does your accounting?
· Who does your corporate tax?
· Who does your tax personally?
· Who is your auditor?
· Who is your CPA?
· How do you feel about the service you are getting?
· How are they doing for you?
This list of questions isn’t meant to be asked serially, in some rapid-fire and overly inquisitive manner, but instead a few of these questions may make sense to “slip into” a conversation you’re having with someone you have begun to build personal rapport with or with someone you have met in a professional networking setting.
Also, don’t hesitate to share the services your firm offers with your family members and close friends and then ask them if they have any ideas for referrals. Ensure that everyone you know knows what you do and the difference you make for the people you serve.
Don’t hear me as suggesting you turn every personal conversation into a self-serving business one! Instead, if you haven’t educated those close to you on what you do and enrolled them in supporting you, doing so once and then reminding them once per year will be just about right.
And don’t forget to engage in online social networking as part of your overall networking strategy. If you haven’t already – check out the most popular business and social networking sites, including LinkedIn and Facebook! These sites are rapidly gaining in popularity and provide a powerful way to build a network of connections – be sure to connect with me on LinkedIn!
2. Uncover Cross-Selling Opportunities Within Your Existing Client Base
One of the fastest ways to generate new business is to look within your existing client base. Client satisfaction surveys consistently reveal that most clients wish their CPA would be more proactive or that they would hear from the CPA more often than just around “service time.” Being proactive is not simply trying to sell your client more things – rather you are uncovering real needs waiting to be met. Cross-selling is also a great client retention strategy because clients tend to be more likely to stay with their CPA firm the more services that the firm is providing for them. Making your firm a “one-stop service provider” helps build client retention and loyalty.
I recommend having at least one meeting per week (either by phone or in-person) with an existing client. You can start with your “A” clients or your largest clients and eventually contact all of them. Use the meeting as an opportunity to simply “check-in” and see how you and the firm are doing for them. Then, ask a few questions to help you assess whether or not the client may be a candidate for other services.
Assuming the client is satisfied with the quality and level of service that they are receiving, you can also share that the highest compliment they can pay you is the referral of a friend or colleague to your frim. Ask them if they know anyone who is looking for a CPA or who could benefit like they have from your services - and make sure that they know you’re not “too busy” to accept referrals or to do more work for them.
3. Build Referral Source Relationships to Generate New Business
Establishing mutually beneficial relationships with referral sources is another great way to help keep your pipeline full. If you already have some strong referral sources, you may want to reach out and schedule an appointment to meet with those referral sources if you haven’t met for awhile. Then, commit to continue meeting on a regular basis, perhaps as often as quarterly, to make the most of the relationship. If you do not currently have any referral sources, begin looking for potential bankers, attorneys and other service professionals to partner with. These types of individuals are sometimes looking for a great CPA to recommend to their clients and you should be top of mind.
Start by visiting your local bank branch and asking to speak with their small business banker. Let them know that you would like to talk about the possibility of getting to know each other better because you would love to be able to make recommendations to your clients who may require their services as well as serve as a reliable and trusted resource for them to refer their clients to. Although asking for these types of meetings can feel somewhat awkward at first, it will start to feel more natural the more practice you get. Local networking groups and online communities such as BNI and LinkedIn are also great places to find potential referral partners.
Keep in mind that you may need to have a couple of meetings before you find the right fit with someone. If it doesn’t feel right or you wouldn’t feel confident referring people to the prospective source, simply thank them for their time and move on to other sources until you do find the right fit. Referral sources are long-term relationships where mutual respect and trust are present. You only need a few real ones to really generate opportunities, so be particular about who you choose to partner with.
If you dedicate time to at least two of these three activities per week, it will be difficult not to generate some new business. Which activities can you commit to engage in on a regular basis? What one specific action can you take this week to further your chosen strategies?