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Can marketing make all the difference?

03/10/2017

​As ‘differentiating’ your business features high on the accountancy profession’s agenda, we take a whistle-stop tour of good marketing practice.  

How should you consider all aspects of your practice, to differentiate your firm and gain a competitive edge in a busy, competitive global marketplace? And why bother if you’re already busy?

For Jack Welch – CEO of General Electric in the 1980s and 90s when its value rose 4,000% – it was existential: “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”

AccountingWEB places ‘differentiate yourself’ high on its list of marketing tips, and insights from their Practice Excellence judges suggest it’s crucial.  “Differentiation was one of the keys to success. Financial success and growth was clear to see across the entrants, and so the firms that stood out this year did so by highlighting their blend of technical and softer skills.  The mix of complementary financials and non-financials proved a winning formula.”  

And it was Praxity participant Forrester Boyd – Large Practice of the Year winner – that they were talking about. “The importance of soft skills is woven into the practice culture, which underpins a steady stream of new service offerings and bold marketing initiatives.”

Mixing it up 

The marketing process is central to the business performance of all companies. It’s about understanding the competitive marketplace and ensuring you can tap into key trends to develop new services and reach new customers.  

The ‘marketing mix’ – how a company influences consumers to purchase its services – is about putting the right product in the right place, at the right price. It’s about understanding the people you’re working with and selling to, and helping you promote it in the right way.

These are often regarded as the ‘Ps’ of marketing.  There’s debate about how many Ps there should be, but for firms participating in the Alliance we’d suggest there’s always at least one more – Praxity.

Product – The perfect product provides value for the client. This is in the eye of the beholder — we must give our clients what they want, not what we think they want.  Research can help. 

Practice Excellence Awards judges say the firms that shine present new insights and approaches to accountancy practice.  The winning products are those successful initiatives and best practice that other firms can follow.

BKD’s Outcomes Compass report won Best Collateral and Content Marketing: Publications and Newsletters at last year’s AAM awards.  Outline Compass was, according to director of growth and development Greg Cole “a unique and innovative project valued by clients”, and used sophisticated data analytic techniques to prepare health care clients for Advanced Payment Models.

Price – A product is only worth what clients are prepared to pay. Price needs to be competitive, but this doesn’t mean the cheapest – small businesses can compete with larger rivals by offering a more personal service, added value or better value for money. 

For Asim Anil Dizdar, from Praxity participant firm Erta, price was as a client relationship tool during the market uncertainty that followed July 2016’s military coup in Turkey. “We have decided not to raise our prices in order to keep the connection with our clients.”  

The seamless access the Praxity Alliance provides to firms from other countries and specialisms means client costs are kept down, and you can use examples of how Praxity fees are reinvested to provide business support that ultimately benefits firms and clients – by identifying and commenting on general and specific sector developments, finding solutions to clients’ technical and international issues and nurturing client growth through referrals and business expansion tools.

Place – The product must be available in the right place at the right time – appropriate and convenient for the client and in any media you use to interact. 

Many of Praxity firms’ clients have international accountancy, tax, assurance and business advisory needs.  Participants talk to peers to provide coordinated responses for those clients, and source trusted local experts with up-to-date regulatory knowledge wherever they are based or want to expand. 

Advisers from Praxity member firms share a common ethos and outlook wherever they operate – to facilitate dynamic business growth.  Firms are already successful in their own technical or geographical patch and highly rated by peers and many have won industry recognition for exceptional service.  

And for clients already established across multiple jurisdictions, participants can build a team unique to their transactions and investments.  Former Praxity chair, Moss Adams’s Rick Anderson has always been clear that “Praxity’s competitive edge comes from our ability to combine resources and give clients global support”.

Promotion – Promotion is the way you communicate what you do and what you offer clients, and paves the way for a dialogue. It should communicate benefits, not just the features of a product or service. And it’s as important to communicate with colleagues about the value and attributes of your services – they pass that on to clients.

Praxity participants have been widely represented on the winner’s rostrum at the annual Association for Accounting Marketing’s awards – recent years have seen Plante Moran, BKD, Aronson, Dixon Hughes Goodman and Weiser Mazars celebrated for achievements in a host of categories, from integrated marketing and recruitment campaigns, to branding, collateral, websites and mobile apps. 

Commenting on DHG’s Accounting Marketing’s Marketing Achievement Award for Branding in 2015, CEO Matt Snow recognised how the right sort of promotion can secure the interest and support of a wide range of stakeholders: “The changes have been positively received in the marketplace and I continue to hear great feedback from clients, prospects, recruits and our people.” 

People – Everyone who comes into contact with your current and potential clients will make an impression. Many clients cannot separate the product or service from the staff member who provides it, so your people have a profound effect on client satisfaction.

It’s not just the competitive edge of individual firms that’s at risk, but the growth of accounting itself if a significant portion of the profession is not maximising its potential.  

This insight has driven much of what has distinguished Praxity firms in recent years, who have recognised that diverse talent helps address the increased complexity of business and that an inability to create family-friendly and gender-friendly environments is detrimental to the retention of both staff and clients.  

As demographics in the marketplace are shifting, proposals require more diverse teams and recent research has confirmed what many have long suspected – that retention and promotion of those already working in accountancy firms, rather than recruitment, is the most effective way of improving the diversity, balance and capability of the workforce.

BKD and Plante Moran showcased their activity in this area during International Accountancy Bulletin’s month-long celebration of Women’s Day 2017.  

What difference does Praxity make?

Praxity firms are independent specialists in their fields – collectively they represent an unrivalled global resource and knowledge pool, helping clients explore and prosper in uncharted business territories, on all continents in every strategic market.  

Praxity’s ‘truly local, totally global, trusted advisers’ strapline makes clear the Alliance represents some of the strongest and most skilled global accountancy minds in our profession, to which all the industry awards and accolades testify.

In a business environment that is increasingly global and digitally enabled, the independent firms that participate in Praxity provide a dynamic and innovative way to better serve businesses on an international level.  

In contrast to a network, an alliance also offers members a greater flexibility, fewer bureaucratic restrictions and a global platform to collaborate on assignments and share best practice without losing their sense of identity and distinctive brand.  

Praxity participant firms access to advice about the distinctive compliance requirements in every territory provides regulators, investors and critical stakeholders greater assurance that cross-border risks have been considered and addressed. And Praxity firms can leverage individual expertise when needed, which can ultimately minimise client costs and accounting and tax liabilities.

Now that’s a difference we can all be proud of.

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