Being at the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) 2022 Summit was invigorating on many levels. Outside of it being the first in-person conference in over two years, there were a number of key takeaways for those in business development (BD) roles. Here’s a look at some of them.
The Business Development, Marketing, and Client Experience Lines are Blurring
When it comes to client experience, picture a Venn diagram with three overlapping circles representing user experience (UX), client experience (CX), and employee experience (EX). The intersection of these experiences creates a client journey framework consisting of awareness, selection, onboarding, service, and loyalty. Accounting marketers and BDs would traditionally operate within the confines of the first two categories. However, this is changing as marketers and BDs should take an active role in this entire ecosystem.
Business Developers Should Contribute to Buyer Personas
While there were many marketers who identified as having developed buyer personas for their firms, few had input from BDs. This lack of input could be because relatively few firms have dedicated BDs. However, for those firms that do not have BDs, partners are typically responsible for practice growth. Input from the practice growth partner or niche leaders could be invaluable in helping to align marketing and business development efforts for the firm and for developing client personas.
Pruning Clients From a Business Developer Perspective
Pruning is the process of evaluating B and C clients and deciding to proactively disengage them or raise fees. With the Great Resignation, the opportunity cost of serving a low-margin client, a client who is slow to pay, or a client for whom you only bill a 1040 is extremely high. One firm that implemented a pruning program put a BD in charge because of their abundance mindset and their ability to close new business. In the end, some clients left, but 90% stayed with the firm and accepted fee increases.
Know What Prospects to Avoid
An element BDs do not often discuss is which buyer personas and clients to avoid. Whether your CPA firm is a top 25 firm nationally or a local firm of 50 people, understanding who is not a fit for your firm is as important as understanding who is a fit. The cost of disengaging from a non-ideal client, the opportunity cost of working with the wrong client, and the negative employee experience and collateral damage of engaging the wrong client can be high. If your firm can avoid the wrong personas and attract and engage the right clients, it’s a win/win.
Implement Quarterly Business Reviews
Unlike Information Technology Managed Services Providers, CPA firms have been slow to adopt the quarterly business review (QBR). QBRs provide an opportunity for clients and service providers to regularly assess service delivery and quality while exploring pain points and probing for new or incremental opportunities. Some of the tools mentioned to help with this process were CRM, Power BI dashboards, Zoom Info, and LinkedIn Sales Navigator.
Key Account Management Needs a Team Approach
BD professionals believe a team approach to managing key account relationships is important. Instead of the legacy approach, which focuses on a relationship manager or engagement leader, a team-based approach to managing the client relationship focuses on introducing an account team to the client. That team may include an executive sponsor; a niche or industry expert; subject matter experts from consulting, tax, and specialty practice areas; and a project manager. This integrated approach means that experts from across the firm are listening to client needs and pain points and focusing on finding solutions instead of focusing on who gets revenue credit.
Sales Needs to be More Client-Focused and Solution-Oriented
The intersection of the new marketing and sales funnel and building a content program means that our sales process must be more solution-oriented and client-focused than business developers have grown accustomed to delivering. Prospects can learn a great deal about your organizations, your services, and your service providers before they connect with a business developer. A different approach is needed to be successful.
About Ed Warren
Ed Warren is a Partner Development Manager for Sage Intacct. An experienced sales and marketing executive, Ed has over 30 years of sales and marketing experience as both an individual producer and a leader. Prior to joining Sage Intacct, Ed work for Dinamis, a provider of outsourcing support to bookkeeping, client accounting services (CAS) firms, and CPA firms. He also worked as an independent consultant, helping small and mid-sized CAS firms source new business.