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Building rainmakers: CPA firms must seek out or create the kind of business development partners necessary to compete in the 1990s.

New business is the lifeblood of every CPA firm. But do people become CPAs to spend their careers marketing and selling professional services? Probably not. I certainly didn't. After a career in outside sales, I became a CPA specifically to avoid having to sell anything again.

Most CPAs are a lot like me: somewhat reserved and frequently critical by nature. Only about 10% are natural salespeople (fewer in some firms). The rest of us were attracted to public accounting for numerous reasons: perhaps because we were task oriented; we wanted to think for a living; we were craftspeople at heart; we liked being challenged and helping people. But usually the reason was not because we enjoyed selling and marketing.

Most firms go out of their way to hire the brightest accounting majors right out of school. Many of these graduates have spent their nights and weekends studying rather than interacting with their peers in social settings and outside activities. Many firms built by entrepreneurial founders hire technicians to do the work the founders brought in--technicians who have little talent for or interest in becoming marketers.

This staffing strategy served CPA firms well until fierce competition arose in recent years. Some firms are stumped by the challenge of funding their entrepreneurial founders' retirement when the remaining partners aren't skilled in or thrilled by practice development.

In addition, our profession has been experiencing radical changes. According to Bill Pruitt, managing partner of Arthur Andersen & Co.'s Miami office, "Some products are getting old--we have to go into new ones. To introduce new products, we must market them. We as a profession are forced to learn the market better."

There are four basic ways for CPA firms to hire and create the right kind of entrepreneurial partner and manager to help firms grow in the 1990s: They can provide mentors for them or acquire, hire or develop them.


Many firms have had success in merging or acquiring practices. To improve marketing efforts, firms might look to purchase practices in which savvy marketing partners are still actively involved. Bringing proactive partners into a firm not only builds a practice but also can provide a good example for existing staff and partners and inspire them to invest time in marketing.


Firm rainmakers traditionally have been shown the ropes by a veteran marketer. The best training involves observing an experienced partner, being tutored in methos and approaches and having initial efforts nurtured and encouraged. Of course, this approach requires rainmakers willing to take younger colleagues under their wings.

At Blackman, Kallick, Bartelstein in Chicago, "we have a member of our marketing staff who works with the managers and supervisors to help them develop their networks," says Dan Fensin, managing partner. "He makes introductions for them at banks."

In addition, "partners meet with staff regularly. Every staff member is assigned to a partner. We call it the 'One-on-One' program. We have lunch with them and talk to them about our own experiences in building a practice. I've told people there's nothing more exciting than that prospect calling up to say you have the work. It's the greatest feeling in the world."


Marketing problems can be avoided by choosing people right for the firm. "It all starts in the recruiting phase with the kind of person you hire," according to Steven Messing, partner in charge of tax at KPMG Peat Marwick in Miami. Here are some ways to improve the chances of recruiting a future entrepreneur:

* Be direct with prospective employees. Let candidates know the firm wants more than staff accountants. They should be told that every employee is responsible for building the firm's business. Inform them that becoming a partner depends on building a powerful referral network and bringing in a material amount of work.

Yes, this method will mean losing some attractive candidates, but these people would never have brought much business into the firm. The natural rainmakers, however, will be enticed by this farsighted approach to managing an accounting practice and by the emphasis on growth and opportunity. Also, being direct from the first helps avoid disappointments and unrealized expectations later and sets the firm apart from every other campus recruiter.

* Choose the right people. To get entrepreneurial partners and managers, stop hiring people who lack social skills. Hire people who are likable immediately, because personalities are hard to alter. If someone has spent 21 or more years of his or her life being introverted and shy, don't expect a rapid change.

Stop looking for only good future technicians and start seeking people with personalities. Those of above-average intelligence can be trained to be good technicians. Recruiters should concentrate on outside activities and social pursuits as well as positions of leadership on or off campus. Search for people who will take action, not wait to be told what to do.

"We don't hire people who are good with a pencil and can't open their mouths," says Fensin. "We look for people-related experience in students--the person who worked in a bank versus the one who did construction. If they can communicate, there's no reason they can't market or sell accounting services."

Since his firm expects that each new hire one day may become a partner, "we look for the skills it will take to become a partner in the 1990s," says Messing.

* Interview the real candidate. To get to know what someone is really like, it's best to remove him or her from the formal interviewing process to observe interactions with others in casual social settings. Is the candidate gregarious? Friendly? Shy? How does he or she treat a spouse as well as potential colleagues or employees?

* Ask the right questions. What is the candidate's idea of fun--reading a book or being involved with other people? Get a realistic idea of how he or she feels about being responsible for bringing in business.

Candidates' enthusiasm and ambition are important factors, too. Will they invest in their own personal skills in order to get ahead? Are they able and eager to meet clients and referral sources on their own time? How do they feel about using personal time in order to build a marketable new area of expertise?

What are their real ultimate career goals? Do they intend to stay with the firm for the long term? Do they want to be in business for themselves?

* Have firm rainmakers conduct the final interview. It takes one to know one.


There are a number of ways firms can nurture marketing skills in existing staff.

* Train professionals to be more entrepreneurial. The staff should understand and commit to their responsibilities for the client relationship, even if they are only seniors. Give staff the authority to meet and build relationships with their client counterparts on an audit or project. Tell them that getting ahead means building their own book of business for the firm as if they were in business for themselves. Strongly suggest they read industry journals on their own time to enhance their knowledge of client's businesses.

* Encourage business-building behavior. From the very beginning of their careers, staff should identify and join powerful organizations that include their counterparts in other professions as well as prospective clients. Hold staff responsible for taking visible leadership roles and developing a marketable expertise.

Inform staff of the business--and personal--benefits of these activities. "Some of the best friends I've made have come from business contacts. That's one of the major benefits of this profession," says Messing. "Many times I'll run into somebody at a social event who'll say, 'Steve, I was thinking about you. I need to call you about some tax advice and I'm glad I saw you. Let's get together next week to talk about it.' I hate to think that if that person had not seen me, I wouldn't have gotten a call."

* Hold people accountable for business development. "If you make a partner responsible for a piece of the total office business--an industry, for example--you'll be surprised how quickly they learn how to market," reports Pruitt.

Everyone in the firm--partners, managers and staff--must be held accountable for marketing or nothing will happen. There should be sales management function and reporting system to oversee and control business development activities.

* Nurture human assets. "At Arthur Andersen, marketing is part of someone's training," says Pruitt. "We have ongoing marketing training, with monthly sessions for seniors on up, just like monthly technical sessions. We supply the tools; it's up to them to carry their weight."

Regular training is important to marketing success. CPAs crave information; the more they know and understand about something, the more comfortable they are with it. Marketing acumen should be built in the same way the firm develops expertise in a new technical practice area.

* Provide the right support system for practice development. "We give our people a lot of encouragement to sell," says Fensin. "We tell young people to stay in contact with friends who may not yet be in a position to be referral sources because they'll mature in their professions. You should start building relationships when you're young with attorneys [and other professionals] that you know." Blackman, Kallick, Bartelstein gives staff members expense accounts for business lunches with friends or acquaintances who could be future referral sources. The firm also publicizes staff efforts--even introductions that lead to new business--in memos demonstrating which efforts the firm values.

Marketing success is enhanced by making heroes out of those who make contacts. Their efforts should be supported through articles in internal newsletters and the local press. They should be called on in regular firm sales meetings and asked to mentor struggling prospective rainmakers.

Firms should acknowledge even the smallest effort and be realistic about the process. Most important, they should allow for failure while aiming for early successes and small improvements. The focus should be on productive effort; an emphasis on major achievements will only discourage fledgling marketers.

Rainmakers should be given the support staff and freedom from detail work they need to do what they do best. There should be no excuses for failure to market, even during busy season.

* Tie compensation to new business successes. Blackman, Kallick, Bartelstein demonstrates its commitment to proactive growth with tangible rewards. "We have a practice-sharing concept that allows staff who bring in business to share in the benefits," says Fensin. Another firm achieved a radical change in firm members' marketing philosophies by tying a significant portion of every partner's compensation to new business brought in.


"Competent people act on their perception of what's important to the leadership," according to Pruitt. "If you are very visible in marketing, staff will make it part of their program, too."

Messing believes staff people base their understanding of their responsibilities on partners' examples. "If they don't see partners bringing in business, they're not going to think it's part of their jobs," he says. "They have to see partners out and about in the community, involved in organizations and bringing in business themselves."

There are several effective ways to infuse a firm with the energy and expertise necessary for marketing success. However, the most important steps are those taken by firm leaders. No partners can expect staff and managers--or even fellow partners--to make contacts and secure new business if he or she isn't doing the same.

ALLAN S. BORESS, CPA, is president of Allan Borress and Associates, Ltd., Coral Springs, Florida, a business development consulting firm that specializes in helping CPA firms expand their practices.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Institute of CPA's
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Boress, Allen S.
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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