Good marketing is a long game
ACCA Think AheadWednesday, August 04, 2021
by JaSON BALL
Only a third (34 per cent) of accounting and financial services firms describe their marketing efforts as successful, and just 11 per cent are highly satisfied with their ability to track the performance of their marketing and business development efforts, according to a recent global survey by LexisNexis and InterAction.
So what's going wrong? First, let's be honest, firms have a tough job when it comes to standing out. Bound by compliance, they mainly do more or less the same things, often for a similarly broad type of client.
With such a large playing field this makes it harder to be laser-focused and highly relevant in their marketing efforts. And that's before we consider the level of competition from the legion of other firms offering near-identical services.
The same survey also reveals that accountancy firms tend to direct their marketing spend towards social media, e-mail and customer relationship management (CRM) — a tell-tale sign of a predominantly short-term, lead-generation approach.
But lead generation doesn't work in isolation, especially in industries heavily driven by relationships and knowledge. The pandemic has also made uncovering new clients even more pressing: the survey discovered that almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of firms found their business development and sales to be more difficult because of COVID-19.
Think about why clients change accountancy firms. It's not about the excitement of something new. It tends to happen only when they've been disappointed for some time. At that point, the right approach at the right time from another firm can tip the balance. But a simple e-mail or social post from a rival firm looking to reel in a new client is unlikely to do the job. This isn't a consumer purchase.
It's why brand and reputation are so important, and why every firm should devote as much time to brand-building as they do to lead generation.
So what does this mean in practice? While every firm is different, overall you should be looking to:
• grow your share of voice by engaging in outbound communications that go beyond the contacts in your CRM;
• aim for a roughly 50/50 mix of brand or reputation-building activity and demand or lead generation;
• target all potential clients, so think carefully about segmentation — not too narrow, not too broad;
• be distinctive by aiming to become famous for something within your market.
Spending decisions should be based on what will best help you achieve the above, given your available budget and overarching business strategy.
Beyond the specific approach, there is also the issue of data quality. Firms in the LexisNexis/InterAction 2021 Marketing & Business Development Report cited data quality as the biggest hurdle to successful marketing.
Businesses tend to measure what is easy to measure (or what martech tools seduce them into thinking they can measure) rather than the most important thing of all, which is the business impact of your marketing.
Precisely what you should measure will depend on your goals. If you're looking to grow your client base over time, measuring first meetings stemming from an initial marketing touchpoint is one metric to chart.
If your problem is that leads are plentiful but tend to drop off before you get to close them, then you might decide to measure sales velocity or time-to-close. Fundamentally, however, you should always measure outcomes rather than inputs or vanity metrics such as likes and shares.
Some firms will use 'intent data', which flag leads giving off signals that they are in-market (ie actively looking for services your firm sells), and then hit them with programmatic ads. But this data can be of variable quality, resulting in underwhelming prospects for your business development people to follow up on. Plus, there's far more work to be done beyond gathering leads for a healthy sales pipeline.
The sticking points tend to be further along the client journey, when warm leads can rapidly and unexpectedly turn ice cold. If you're not doing a good job of converting leads, you'll need to work on reducing friction from the middle and later stages of the journey rather than play a numbers game and force more leads into the top of the funnel in the hope that some will stick.
Time for a rethink
Ultimately, if you're one of the 66 per cent of firms unhappy with your marketing efforts, it could be time to regroup and rethink your approach. Professional services marketing is overwhelmingly a long game. Success tends to come from building a powerfully distinctive reputation over the long term, and combining this with specific tactical approaches and high-potential prospects delivered consistently over time.
While there are no quick fixes, the fact that so few get this right presents a clear opportunity for those who can.
Jason Ball is founder of B2B marketing specialist Considered Content and managed content service Prolific
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