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Marketing your practice: intra or inter marketing?

Like most businesses, accounting firms have been challenged by the slow economy and many have modified their management and practice development activities to survive. Many accounting firms actively implemented inter- and intra-marketing approaches and proved to themselves that they could do it--they could survive a recession when some of their strongest clients and service competitors were struggling.

This exercise in determination, ingenuity and organization has now given accounting firms throughout the world the marketing knowledge and drive to be much more competitive in the marketing arena.

During a recessionary period, client expectations seem to change and the need for "intra-marketing"--activities and programs directed toward clients and employees--is imperative. According to many accountants, these high client service expectations will remain at that level long past the recession. According to Grant Wirth, CPA, with D.G. Sisterson in Pittsburgh, "Our clients' service expectations have changed in the respect that they seek greater value for each dollar spent on accounting services. They tend to seek more cost saving suggestions and will more carefully weigh the cost/benefit implications of our suggestions." Wirth says they have been able to give clients extra value for the fee by developing more creative solutions to their business problems.

Clients expect their accountant to be proactive in developing creative solutions to problems, keeping abreast of changes affecting them and giving more and better services so they too may thrive during the next economic downturn.

During the recession, accounting firms learned to be more conscious of cost and service than ever before. With clients continuing to expect this higher level of service for the same or less fees, accounting firms need to remain technically competent and more efficient than before.

The Basics of Intra-marketing in the '90s

Take more time to build client loyalty.

* Take a personal interest in your key contact by developing a "Personal Information Profile" of pertinent personal data.

* Support clients' special projects/charities.

* Offer to attend a joint meeting with the client and his/her banker or attorney at no charge to the client (this will not only build loyalty but will help you develop new referral sources).

* Take an extra 15 to 30 minutes with the client. Let them know it's "on the house."

* Provide networking contacts to clients (preferably contacts who are clients of the firm).

* Do business with clients and/or offer referrals. Follow up on all referrals given and received.

* Ask clients to give you recommendations on how you can better meet their expectations, provide quality service and expand services offered.

Armstrong Watson & Co. of Carlisle, England, hired a full-time marketing manager to handle all aspects of client service and marketing. According to Armstrong Watson & Co. partner Bob Chey, "Now we can anticipate client needs instead of reacting to them as in the past. We have established 'client care' programs at all levels from senior partner to junior staff person."

Be more visible

* Be more accessible to clients. Offer clients expanded hours (example: 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. Monday and Wednesday) or flexible hour options (on an individual basis).

* Host an open house for key clients and their employees. Hire a photographer to take photographs of the event and then send participants copies of the pictures along with a thank-you note.

* Host an informal get-together for your employees and client company employees (picnic, volleyball, softball tournament).

* Visit every client at his or her place of business. Visit "A" clients two to three times per year.

* Contact your top ten clients on a monthly basis. Follow up your conversation in writing at least quarterly (thank-you note, summary of conversation, networking names, etc.).

* Contact your top 50 clients on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. Follow up your conversation in writing on a semi-annual basis (thank-you note, summary of conversation, networking names, etc.).

According to Grant Hally of Prince & Partners, Auckland, New Zealand, the partners and staff of his firm are spending much more time out in the community and business environment making contacts promoting a new service. "We developed 'Business Budgeting and Forecasting Service' for small and medium businesses. We made the service affordable, fast (24-hour turnaround) and easy to promote. Our brochure that describes this service is distributed by banks and at our business seminars." Prince & Partners is currently researching another new service called "Be Your Own Boss."

Barry R. Rubin, CPA, of Schweitzer Rubin Karon & Bremer in Minneapolis said, "Our marketing efforts have increased. We placed a full-page ad in a local business magazine offering a free one-hour consultation, developed a new firm brochure and have involved our firm in specific industry marketing activities such as trade show displays and membership in trade organizations."

Be a business advisor and partner to your clients

* Be proactive in finding new opportunities and creative ways to increase client profits.

* Look for research regarding accounting problems and opportunities that may face your clients. Talk to your clients about these changes on a frequent basis.

* Be a proactive listener. Listen for problems, opportunities and challenges. Analyze the possible consequences and offer probable solutions to help the client benefit from or avoid problem situations.

* Read business and trade periodicals that relate to key clients' businesses; ask them to lunch to discuss key issues or send copies of articles to them.

* Ask your professional staff to talk to clients' staff about the business, problems, challenges, changes, etc.

* Look for cost-saving opportunities and help the client take advantage of them. Whenever possible, train the client to be responsible for more tasks themselves. This will help save them money and give you the opportunity to spend time evaluating the information and advising them on management matters. Save travel time by meeting at your office.

* Look out for the client's best interests. If your client needs a business contact or associate, offer him or her at least two names of reliable contacts.

* Recognize new service ideas and develop those services for clients and prospective clients.

Grant Hally of Prince & Partners states, "Our clients are doing more of the simple work themselves. This helps reduce the accounting fees while allowing us to provide a higher level of service."

Juan Domingo Ratti of Chiarino & Ratti, Montevideo, Uruguay, said, "When our clients request special services that are not conventional accounting services, it's our job to do the best to provide them with that special business service or find someone else who can." In addition to creating new services, Chiarino & Ratti have increased the number of mailings to both clients and prospective clients in order to improve communications from the firm.

Involve everyone in marketing the firm

* Develop a firm marketing plan and give individual marketing responsibilities to everyone. The firm will become everyone's responsibility when you make this transition.

* Initiate a marketing committee or designate a person to be responsible for facilitating and directing marketing efforts.

* Reward marketing efforts, and ask your people to develop the reward system! Example: Congratulations letter included in personnel file; marketer gets 10% of collected billings from new clients; etc.

* Hold annual marketing CPE sessions. Phil Scissors, partner at Hochschild, Bloom & Company, hires an accounting marketing consultant to present an annual eight-hour CPE session on marketing to all partners and professional staff. In addition, all partners and professional staff have developed individual marketing plans.

D.G. Sisterson stepped up their marketing efforts. Even though partners and managers retain most of the responsibility for marketing-- especially in making sure that current client needs are being identified and satisfied--they added a section to their policy manual that spells out staff marketing responsibilities as well.

Inter-Marketing in the '90s

Inter-marketing involves developing strategic marketing activities targeted to non-clients locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Develop an organized and strategic marketing plan that involves everyone in the firm.

* Develop a marketing plan that supports the firm's business goals and plans.

* Give everyone marketing responsibilities and organize a method of follow-through on all marketing activities. Install networking and tracking software and hold everyone accountable.

* Utilize a variety of targeted marketing activities to meet marketing goals. Once you know some demographic (age, sex, income, etc.) and psychographic (attitudes, opinions, etc.) information about your target market, use strategies that will effectively and efficiently communicate your message to them.

* Be open and develop new services for clients and prospective clients.

* Develop at least two new referral sources or networking contacts per month. Prioritize the top ten referral sources and contact them on a regular basis (meeting, telephone or in writing).

At Uiberall, Leib, Blockman, Perry, P.C., of Memphis, Tennessee, a part-time marketing director was hired to develop a more aggressive marketing strategy. In addition to pursuing referrals and referral sources, the firm developed a direct mail campaign for new incorporations and hosts monthly luncheons where they invite potential clients to hear a speaker.

Pursue national and international opportunities

* Look for and pursue accounting opportunities in other states and nations.

* Join an accounting association or networking group where you will have the benefit of knowing accountants throughout the world.

* Participate in activities where you will meet growing businesses.

* Take CPE sessions dealing with international accounting and business. Then let clients know you can help them pursue their international business goals.

Edward Nightengale, CPA, partner with Brock, Schechter & Polakoff in Buffalo, New York, said his firm has increased marketing efforts directed toward working with chartered accountants in the Canadian market. They have designated specific partners to spearhead the efforts of this well-organized marketing program.

According to Natalie Richards, commercial director at International Venture Consultants (IVC) in Madrid, Spain, her position was developed to oversee current and prospective client activities in Spain and abroad. She oversees the production and distribution of mailings to companies in specific sectors outside Spain that have been identified as interested in establishing an office in Spain. In addition, IVC produces a quarterly professional newsletter to clients and contacts outside Spain and sends informational bulletins to clients in Spain regarding specific laws, regulations and issues that affect their specific sector.

D.G. Sisterson instituted follow-up contact programs following business development seminars and modified their direct mail efforts by expanding their geographic reach yet placing greater emphasis on the quality of the individual contact.

Intra- or Inter-Marketing: What's the Answer for the '90s?

The '90s will prove to be the decade when accounting firms fine-tune intra-marketing programs while actively building an inter-marketing focus. The future is bright for firms that survived the recession by venturing into inter-marketing territory. They will continue to be the leaders in the (hopefully) "normal '90s."

Tammy A. Linn, president of Tammy Linn & Company, Scottsdale, Arizona, is a marketing management consultant who specializes in assisting accounting firms in directing their marketing, management and client service strategy. She is marketing consultant for IA International, an international association of over 100 independent accounting firms. All accounting firms interviewed for this article are members of the IA. For more information, contact Tammy A. Linn at 602-994-0007.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Society of Public Accountants
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:accounting practice
Author:Linn, Tammy A.
Publication:The National Public Accountant
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Previous Article:Time management for accountants.
Next Article:The purpose of marketing.

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