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Tracking a firm's marketing achievements.

I didn't study accounting to become a salesperson." How often in the past several years has that phrase been repeated in the hallways of public accounting firms, both large and small?

Most CPAs are keenly aware that modifications in the 1970s on CPAs' use of advertising and self-promotion created a new competitive dimension and placed added demands on practitioners. Today it is the aggressive accountant, the skilled communicator, the rainmaker, who is highly valued and, often, most highly compensated within the practice. Unmistakably, selling is part of what it means to be in public practice.

How does a firm rewrite its ground rules and its reward system to place a strong emphasis on new business acquisition and delivery of high-quality client service? McGladrey & Pullen set out to do this both in its national strategic plan and through local office implementation. The firm's experience demonstrates how to launch a simple, easy-to-implement, sales-contact tracking system proven to increase sales in direct proportion to contact frequency.

This article describes how the firm's southeastern region tackled the change in professional culture in a way that showed bottom-line results. It addresses how to define goals and expectations for accounting professionals' performance and covers the sales-contact tracking methodology. It also discusses how to analyze program productivity and how to evaluate and reward CPAs' business development efforts.

ASSUMPTIONS

We began with eight assumptions in our plan to enhance marketing and sales effectiveness:

1. Key firm leaders must accept their responsibility for expanding the practice, be willing to try an organized approach to marketing and sales and be personally accountable for the effort and results. It is doubtful whether any marketing or sales initiative can be successful if key practice unit leaders don't support it.

2. Sales should be given a higher priority than other aspects of marketing, such as public relations and advertising. We decided it would make the greatest impact on the bottom line in the current fiscal year if, instead of working to implement an elaborate marketing plan, firm members stuck to a simplified sales program.

3. Partners and managers must be responsible for selling the firm's services. Since professional-services clients want to build relationships with the people delivering those services, the professionals are the people who can most effectively close the sale.

4. Partners and managers must be responsible for prospecting, as well as for proposing and closing the sale. We decided not to hire a professional salesperson for two reasons: If we could mobilize partners and managers, significantly more people would be involved in prospecting, which increases opportunities. Also, partners and managers could capitalize on existing relationships with referral sources.

5. The prospecting program should be based on the simplest of strategies: Get up from behind your desk and go out and meet people. We called this a calculated shotgun approach. While the contacts are somewhat random, or "shotgun," the firm calculated that the sheer increase in contact frequency would create opportunities.

6. Partners and managers should be encouraged to meet with people they already know. Many CPAs are reluctant to make "cold" calls but are far more comfortable reconnecting with people with whom they have relationships: bankers, attorneys, other business leaders, current clients, etc.

7. Each partner and manager must have specific goals for increasing gross and net services. Practice units could opt to break out sales further by new client acquisition versus extended services to current clients and by annual versus one-time engagements.

8. There must be a simple, quantifiable tracking method. The more contacts made with business referral network sources, the greater the likelihood new work will follow. Therefore, the tracking method must show contact nature and frequency. (Contacts were defined as anything from information mailed to a meeting.)

IMPLEMENTATION

There are four simple steps to implement the sales program:

Set attainable goals. We established dollar goals for gross and net services growth for the practice unit as a whole and for each partner and manager. When possible, we estimated potential percentage of growth from extended services to existing clients and from new clients. Partners and managers evaluated the best possible sources of new work and mapped out a prospecting strategy. A key factor was to set contact goals, including desired frequency of contacts with targeted clients, prospects, bankers, attorneys and other influential business people. The partners and managers aimed for a contact volume that would be a challenge but would not be unrealistic or unattainable.

Stick to easy-to-use tracking torres. Professionals logged contacts on a simple check-off sheet that was turned in with time reports (see exhibit 1 on page 63). Administrative staff logged contact and new business data into a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet and produced reports on contacts by client, prospect or referral source type and dollars booked for each time period (see exhibit 2 on page 63).

Maintain status checks. Each partner-manager meeting started with a review of contact reports (see exhibit 3 on page 64). This status check was extremely important for three reasons:

* It allowed professionals to share information about prospects and other network relations to improve coordination and strategy formation.

* It provided an analysis of the most productive contacts. By examining how time was spent versus the source of the work, the professionals were able to decide on a method that would enable them to strengthen contact initiatives.

* It applied a healthy dose of peer pressure. If someone failed to initiate contacts, it was glaringly obvious.

Make fair sales performance evaluations. A key to the program's success was a fair evaluation of effort and performance. The quantifiable contacts record was one important piece of information on who was making an effort. The new business logged onto the contact report showed who was getting results in the current period. To promote team effort in identifying, proposing to and serving a new client, we introduced a "business summary" evaluation sheet, which provided a more qualitative evaluation of partners' and managers' roles in acquiring new work, as judged by their peers. The leadership team evaluated one another's contributions in identifying possible clients, taking part in presentations and proposing on and closing new engagements. Both the quantitative contacts report and the qualitative participation summary figured into partner and manager performance evaluations.

RESULTS

What happened? Three things.

1. Firm members' energy levels shot up. A focused program meant partner and manager efforts were no longer fragmented. There was a healthy comparison with other practice units and with the unit's own past performance. More was achieved because the professionals tackled annual goals one day at a time.

2. Prospecting became easier. By keeping in closer touch with people they already knew and expanding the network through introductions, the partners and managers got better feedback. Often, a referral source would call with a lead saying, "Glad we had lunch together last week it made me think about you when this opportunity came along."

3. The results in new work booked were clear. In fact, an analysis of total contacts* to-bookings showed an uncanny parallel between the number of contacts and the dollar value of new work, taking into consideration a 60-day lag between contacts' and bookings (see exhibit 4 on page 66). One should not infer, however, that it takes only 60 days to turn around a sale. In reality, some of the leads had been several years in development. What can be concluded, based on partners' and managers' observations, is the frequency of contact and the effort to get out and see people often tipped the balance in favor of a new engagement.

Was this success just a flash in the pan? No. The contacts tracking program has consistently proven to increase sales in both new client acquisition and extended services. One of the greatest testaments to the program's success was the region's mandate to continue it. When offered a somewhat less regimented program, the southeastern region partners elected to stick with the contacts tracking method because it forced them to make contacts, and that brought results.

Since the initial program was introduced three years ago, there has been one significant variation on the theme. For practice units in more tightly knit markets, a targeted-contacts tracking system follows contacts with prospects, clients, bankers, attorneys, brokers and others, rather than with everyone in the business community. In these smaller communities, we found it more profitable to emphasize contacts with specific individuals rather than with the business community in general.

How has the program changed firm culture? First, all partners and managers know they are individually and jointly responsible for practice growth and each will be held accountable for personal growth goals that contribute to the practice's overall expansion. This expectation translates into personal and financial incentives. Financially, the achievement of the gross and net services growth goals is an important factor in partners' and managers' annual evaluations and compensation. Each partner and manager knows at the start of the fiscal year when goals are set that lack of growth carries a financial penalty. Marketing and sales systems, such as the contacts tracking program and personal practice development plans for each partner and manager, are considered important tools to achieve growth and client service goals.

Next, firm members understand that marketing and, yes, selling are here to stay. Staff are recruited with a keen eye to interpersonal skills, not just to academic proficiency. Partners encourage staff training in communication skills. In some practice units, staff set contact goals (but not dollar goals) to encourage the development of networks appropriate to their level. Some practices provide staff bonus programs for identifying new work opportunities.

Finally, the "calculated shotgun" approach's success at getting out and circulating within networks has laid the foundation for more sophisticated approaches to industry niche marketing. Marketing programs have a far greater chance of succeeding because they aim to encourage CPAs to meet prospects and sell proressional services.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

* ONE FIRM'S SOUTHEASTERN regional offices set out to change its practice ground rules and reward system to emphasize new business acquisition as well as delivery of high-quality client service. It launched a simple, easy-to-implement sales-contact tracking system that increased sales in direct proportion to contact frequency.

* THE PROGRAM WAS based on the premise that key firm leaders would accept responsibility for expanding the practice by finding prospective clients and then selling them the firm's services. Partners and managers were assigned goals, and their contacts in the business community were tracked on a sales-contact report form. Contacts could include anything from sending literature to an interested party to a social outing.

* CONTACT REPORTS WERE reviewed at partner-manager meetings to allow professionals to share information, to provide an analysis of most productive contacts and to apply a healthy dose of peer pressure. Both the quantitative contacts report and a qualitative participation summary figured into partner and manager performance evaluations.

* THE SALES-CONTACT tracking report program raised firm members' energy, made prospecting easier because of the organized approach it offered and provided quantifiable results. TABULAR DATA OMITTED
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.

Article Details
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Author:Dalpe, Margaret P.
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Words:1823
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