As technology continues to evolve and software providers cast a wider net and offer a broader array of subscription services, rumblings that computers will replace humans grow ever louder. But how does all this affect accounting? Is there any risk that Siri, Alexa, and Cortana will form an accounting firm and balance everyone’s books in real time? Probably not.
Even if things aren't that extreme, it’s good to be aware of and reactive to technology and industry changes. Making a point to know what competitors are advertising to your current clients will help you differentiate yourself. It will also help your firm continually prove its worth as an worthy ongoing business investment.
To effectively market your firm and retain clients, you also need to be aware of modern consumer behaviors. Knowing how your clients search for accountants and understanding their decision-making process is essential to your success.
Keep reading to learn how technology and consumer behavior are impacting your business, and what you can do now to ensure a prosperous future.
How to Reach Today’s Savvy Consumer
The good news is, as long as there are books to be balanced, businesses to be run, and taxes to be filed, your services will always be in demand. But how do you reach modern consumers?
Today’s consumer is inundated by nonstop ads.
Eventually, it all just becomes noise. So the real question is, how do you advertise to people who are burnt out on ads? Simple. Make sure you have a rock solid web presence and help them instead of selling to them. Here’s why it works.
Five Traits of Modern Consumers
1. Google is Their First Stop
Regardless of what consumers are looking for, search engine queries are nearly always the go-to starting point. This is true when a Googler wants DIY instructions on how to tackle an accounting task and when they're seeking a service provider for hire. Publishing well-written educational content for leads in your area is a great way to introduce your company as a helpful resource on a crowded internet.
2. Referrals are Critical
Once a consumer identifies a problem and confirms that they can exchange money for a solution, they are likely to ask friends and family for referrals. This is especially true when seeking out a service. Positive experience referrals from friends and family generally get ranked higher on the consideration list than options found elsewhere. Asking clients to refer you to their network on a semi-regular basis can help you take advantage of word-of-mouth marketing.
3. Comparison Shopping is the Norm
Thanks to online shopping, people have developed a habit of researching, narrowing to two to four options, and comparing their options to make a final decision. This stands true for products and services alike. Being able to explain why you’re better than known competitors is extremely valuable, so make an effort to differentiate yourself. One of the best ways to do this is by creating client case studies and using real data and success stories to help potential clients see your value.
4. Peer Reviews Carry a Lot of Weight
To earn the trust of strangers, it's essential to make sure your firm is well represented on popular review sites and that you have great testimonials on your website. It's equally as important to be responsive to negative reviews. This shows potential clients that your firm pays attention to customer feedback and takes it seriously. When responding, just be sure to keep it respectful, even if the reviewer isn’t fully honest about what happened. The way you react says a lot about how you do business.
5. Traditional Sales Tactics are a Turn Off
Do you like being inundated with a dozen emails from one company? How about getting ten sales calls in a two-day time span? Chances are, the answer is no. Today’s consumer likes to be in control of when and how they talk to a person on the phone. Aggressive tactics, like asking for tons of information up front and beating down the door with limited-time offers are not nearly as effective as they used to be. Be mindful of today's empowered consumer before you start implementing old-school marketing techniques.
So how do you turn the above information into marketing that will help you attract new clients to your accounting firm?
- Build rapport by speaking their language
Pay attention to questions potential clients ask when they contact your firm, and create content in a variety of formats that tackle those questions. You can use drip email marketing campaigns (from a human, not a brand), blog posts, eBooks, web copy, an FAQ section on your website, webinars, and more. This type of content will help you establish rapport and build trust with potential clients who are asking Google for answers to their accounting questions.
- Be prepared to set your firm apart from others
This ties into the point above but needs to be considered more thoroughly. Since comparison shopping is the new norm, being a standout provider plays a huge role in swaying people to spend their hard-earned money with you. Write informative comparison pieces that show the difference between various services (for example, Intuit’s monthly bookkeeping service or a local competitive accounting firm) and your services.
Be sure to make any comparison content broad enough that it’s not just a lengthy sales pitch for your firm, but feel free to add calls to action to your post to capture interested readers’ information. If at any point you require site visitors to give you information, keep it as minimal as possible to increase entries. For example, if you offer a free download, consider asking for just an email address or email address and first name to access the download.
- Stop selling; start helping
Write and publish informative content that positions the people behind your firm as approachable experts and thought leaders. One of the best ways to highlight your expertise is to provide insightful commentary on current newsworthy topics that impact your ideal clients. For example, if you know state taxes are going up after a local election, write a blog piece that discusses the impact you anticipate those changes having on small business owners and provide information on what they can do to prepare. You can also offer your take on industry news or any other relevant content that has the potential to interest and impact your ideal clients.
- Offer no-brainer solutions to common pain points
If you continually write content that explains how to simplify common business pain points; like building an effective profit and loss statement, accurately managing payroll, or taking steps each month to prepare for year-end reports, you’ll build trust with your ideal clients. You’ll also begin to develop a resource library of content you can use to help nurture leads that come to you seeking answers as they work to determine if you’d be a good hire.
Providing potential clients with well-researched, well-written content that answers their questions in detail will help you make a fantastic first impression. As an added bonus, if you’re publishing this content on your website, having fresh posts will help you rank better in search results, which will generate organic traffic.
Social media marketing, when done well, can generate qualified leads that convert; especially if your efforts are executed in tandem with well-thought content marketing.
- Tackle tough questions and provide thorough answers
Once you’ve answered the basic questions, start diving deeper with your content strategy by providing answers to complex issues that impact your ideal clients. Let’s say you like to work with local restaurant owners. They’ll often search Google for information on very specific questions, like how much allowable spillage and spoilage their restaurant can report on their state taxes. There aren’t many articles on the web on the topic, so if you take the opportunity to write one and make sure it's full of relevant, well-researched content, you may be surprised at how quickly your post starts driving people to your accounting blog and website.
- Defend and differentiate yourself from software solutions
Recently, there’s been some fear mongering when it comes to the potential for software tools to replace human accountants, but that’s a silly sentiment at this point. There are hundreds of reasons why having a dedicated bookkeeper as a partner in success makes a lot more sense for business owners than hiring a service with limited abilities. But the question is likely to come up, and you’re likely to have potential customers say something along the lines of, “Oh yeah, my software does that for me.”
Be ready to confidently explain the difference between hiring a CPA and working with accounting software, and don’t be shy about using examples of actual cost savings you helped customers achieve, financial disasters you helped them avoid, or growth goals you helped them meet and surpass.
- Incorporate front-of-mind marketing into your routine
Any time you work with a client and they have an excellent experience with you (whether it’s one-time for taxes or an ongoing relationship), you have an opportunity to nurture that relationship. When you onboard a new client, make it your goal to be the first person your clients think of when someone asks if they know a good accountant, financial advisor, tax preparer, or bookkeeper.
Here are a few techniques you can use:
- Keep in touch with existing customers
Send snail mail! This is a quick and easy way to generate referral business. Add client's birthdays, business launch date, kids birthdays, anniversaries, or other milestones and send a card with a handwritten note and a token of appreciation. Your effort will really stand out!
- Offer a discount for referrals
Nothing helps generate referrals like a little incentive! Consider offering a free month of service for every customer referral who signs on and sticks with you for at least three months.
- Join a networking group
Many communities have business networking groups, and many of those groups recruit professionals from various industries to take a place at the table. Joining a local group will give you the ability to regularly connect with small business owners who are new to the scene. Answer their questions, get to know other members of the group, ask for referrals, and position yourself as a valuable resource.
- Join community and small business Facebook groups
These groups don’t have to be related to your job or background. Just join local groups that interest you. Perhaps a group focused on bringing book lovers, live music enthusiasts, or movie buffs together. Don't see one that fits? Start your own!
People often ask for referrals for accountants and financial service providers. While many group administrators will allow you to respond, they may have rules in place that specify what information you're allowed to provide. When in doubt, send a private message to the original poster with your contact info and respond to their post to let them know you sent it.
Hopefully, this post got you thinking about the best way to market your business to today’s savvy consumers and gave you some actionable ideas on how to get started today.