There’s a session we do at Boot Camp where we talk about the issue of differentiation in the context of positioning and ask participants to list the services or activities their firm offers that represent customer value propositions.
Predictably, the list is long but we rarely see anything on it that other firms don’t do, could not do or represent something of real value to a client. People buy, or are at least interested in, differences and yet the typical menu of services offered by accounting practices in print or on the web reflect sameness. How can you expect a prospect to think about switching to your firm if you are not different in a way that is likely to be more valuable than your current service provider?
I recently saw the following advertisement (names and contact details have been removed to respect anonymity) in a local paper. Take a critical look at it and ask yourself what message about the firm is this advertisement sending? If I was a client of this firm how would I feel? If I already have a CPA would it motivate me to think about switching? Does my own firm’s “ad” reflect a better positioning of our value proposition?
The first thing I noticed was the exclamation marks! I suppose they serve the purpose of giving emphasis, but to what? Anyway, that’s probably no big deal. I removed the name of the firm to ensure anonymity but there is no physical address although there was a phone number on the bar at the bottom with the web URL.
I think what this copywriter is attempting to do is reach out to a business owner who wants more than a tax return – interestingly, I saw the ad just before tax season started in the US (Feb 15). Now, suppose there are a few of those prospects out there, they’ll take a look at the bulleted services offered by this firm and I suspect they’ll conclude they’re the same as those their own CPA firm offers. What do you think? Maybe the “human resources” might be a point of difference but what does that mean? It’s got me beaten — human resources could mean anything and I doubt that I’d use that phrase and CPA firm in the same sentence.
If I was already a client of this firm I would not feel too good about the free one-hour review being given to prospects. This is really rubbed in by the sub-note that says “* Only for new clients”. If I were a client of this firm I might say …
Wait there …. I’m paying these people and someone they don’t even know is getting an hour of their time for free, I’ll rank them with my phone company on customer service and if a beter offer comes along I’m out of here.
This ad sadly reflects how so many CPA firms position themselves. I say “sadly” because they have so much potential to create (and capture) much more value but they’re communicating that potential incredibly badly. As a business owner myself I can see absolutely no reason whatsoever for thinking about, let alone wanting, to switch to this firm.
But what if we made a few changes to this advertisement and it looked like this …
The differences between the two advertisements is important. First the QR code in the top right corner gives a reader an opportunity immediately on seeing the ad to use a smartphone be directed to page on your site that talks specially about the valuable services you have tailored for business owners including testimonials and free downloadable content. People who do not know what a smart tag is or don’t use a smartphone may not be the type of business clients you want to take on board.
The headline for the ad points to a benefit for the business owner, namely a free BPR and planning session. Some people might look at this and think I can’t afford to give away free meetings with clients and prospects. But stop and think about it for a minute.
In relation to prospects, how often do accounting firms invest the equivalent of one year’s fees to buy a book of business only to find half of it is rubbish – OK so you may have a recourse clause in the purchase agreement but you’re still investing a lot of money in the business you do keep in order to acquire it. What I’m suggesting here is invest and hour or two of your time to explore the potential of working with a new client. What is really important, however, is that you use this opportunity to determine whether there is a got fit with this client and firm that you must have robust client selection criteria.
When a prospect calls to schedule a meeting ask them to bring in their financials for the past 2 years. Explain to them “the way we do it here is look behind the numbers to find opportunities to create greater shareholder/owner value” etc. Then ask them if your associate can run their numbers through GamePlan so you can have a conversation on the 4 ways to grow their business. While that’s being done, ask the prospect about themselves, what they they hope to get from their business etc …. these are all questions that build undersand and empathy and give you and your prospect an opportunity to get a sense of ‘good fit’.
Your associate should be able to give you an Annual Business Performance Review within 20 minutes and you’ll be able to get the prospects GamePlan file up on your screen to play with the Profit Improvement Potential model. This is where the real fun starts. In the time you spend with this prospect you’ll learn if there is a good fit personally, you’ll also have a sense of what the financial upside is for the prospect and hence for your firm. Both of these issues are critical for growing a profitable practice — the big point I want to make here (and it relates back to my client selection criteria) is that the fastest way to grow your practice is to partner with growth orientated, successful clients in respect of whom you can add value.
Now, let’s return to my opening paragraph. Does what I have just described from the wording on the Ad to the process that it forms part of differentiate you in a way that might be seen to be valuable? It;s important to understand that sales and marketing go hand in hand. The ad is intended to get you some qualified leads but you then need to have a sale process to back it up.
What about your existing clients? Everything I have said about prospects applies to your existing clients. Factor in the value of the post-tax return business performance review as part of your fee – fix the fee up front. If clients are not wiling to take part in this review then perhaps you should consider letting them go! It will be incredibly hard to grow your firm on the back of clients who should probably be getting H&R Block to do their taxes unless you have a business model that matches the H&R Block model. These clients consume time that you could be investing in more fertile fields.
One final note, the ad I have illustrated above focuses on a business development type of service offering. You could also use a similar theme to promote a compliance style of service if that is the type of practice you want to develop. I will explain what such an ad might look like in a later post.