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Marketing For Accountants – You gotta Know the Territory

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A lot is written about the marketing of accounting and tax services, both here and in the major industry publications. Hot new ideas pop up, shiny new toys are brought to market, new buzz words are bandied about, and well thought out pronouncements are made.

 

There is one concept that is core to any marketing, and as an accountant, this is one you really need to remember. It is the one that Professor Harold Hill sang about in the Music Man: ‘You gotta know the territory.’

It’s an age old concept, and one that is epitomized by the classic accountancy marketing technique of not marketing, while sitting and waiting for prospects to find you.

Of course, even before 1979, accountants really didn’t wait for clients to come to them, they found other, less crass methods of marketing, and it was called ‘networking.’

Well, the days of being limited to networking as the main marketing channel are supposedly long gone. Or are they? What was the allure of networking, and why did accountants so willingly adopt networking as their main form of marketing.

Does it have something to do with Professor Harold Hill’s approach to the market, knowing the territory?

If you know the territory, then you know the market.

You know the different segments, and their potential. You know their needs, and wants. You understand the channels it takes to reach them, and their fit with your practice.

If you’ve got that all in hand, you most likely have a stable, professional, growing practice.

But, if you don’t, then you struggle to fit your marketing to your prospect segment. You might wind up pitching low cost leader messages to complex or consultative prospects and clients, when those prospect types are not you average price shipper and Walmart impulse buyer. Or, you might be highlighting your tax planning and preparation skills to someone who is price shopping for a fast refund and quick turnaround.

If your message is not hitting the mark, then you don’t know the territory.

And, your practice is probably not aligned with the markets needs.

To begin, you have to first realize that there are three main categories of prospects and clients, transactional, consultative and complex, and there are four basic strategies for marketing your services. You can become a low cost leader or a low cost leader with a core focus, or apply market differentiation or market differentiation with a core focus.

A marketing strategy that does not resonate with your target market category is wasted dollars. Click To Tweet

A transactional client who is interested in meeting only their basic obligations of reporting, is not going to be looking for a tax preparer who wants to help them with tax planning. A consultative client who needs assistance in ensuring that the IRS obligations are met and that they will not face any ‘surprises’ along the way, is not looking for a rapid refund, or a close partnership with their tax preparer. And, a complex client who is looking for tax, estate and financial planning from someone who is willing to spend time not only on the business front, but also socially, is looking for more than basic tax preparation and reporting.

Knowing the territory, means knowing your clients, and matching your services to their needs. Click To Tweet

If you are targeting folks who are comparison shoppers, they will most likely be transactional clients and in addition to attempting to negotiate the price of your services, they will try to maintain control of the transaction, whether explicitly or implicitly. Once they have made their comparisons, they will make a quick decision on whose services to choose.

In this case, your best strategy might be to embrace the market and compete on price.

But, and this is a big but, you absolutely must have systems and procedures in place in order to minimize the effort required to serve a large volume of low margin clients. You must be able to position yourself as a low cost leader, and be prepared to invest heavily in tech and systems to replace the labor you need to eliminate.

If you find your client or prospect base is seeking an adviser and attempting to have a particular problem solved, then you are most likely working with a consultative client who will typically spend some time getting to know you, and will foresee receiving a benefit by having their want or need satisfied.

In this case, your best bet might be to use the ‘branding’ of your practice and yourself as a differentiator.

In this case, you might be served to do a bit of minor differentiation by selecting a niche service to focus on if your market is such that it can support the segmentation that will follow.

If you find your clients are looking for strategic guidance and a custom solution to their needs or wants, then you may be looking at complex clients who will base their engagement on a long term trust. These clients will expect you and your service to adapt as they adapt to the changing market.

In the case of complex clients, they will expect you to engage with them in a consultative relationship, and be able to exchange valuable information which can lead to the establishment of a trust based ‘partnership.’ Marketing to this type of client goes beyond basic differentiation of ‘good,’ ‘better’ and ‘best,’ and includes service or practice specialization, such as focus on a high need, high end, profession.

Each type of client has its own unique needs, and approaches a practitioner with their own demands. You must be aware of the type of client, and be prepared to match your level of service to the type.

You gotta know the territory.


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Best to you and yours,

kirks-sig

 

Kirk

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