In business, as in life, the things that hurt us the most are those that we believe to be true but are really false. Such is the case with CPA marketing.

Every day we talk with accounting firms that are held back by partners with outdated views of marketing.  Managing your firm based on faulty assumptions can be a profound drag on growth and profitability.

So we decided to take action and identify the most destructive and pervasive CPA marketing myths. You have probably heard many of them before. Perhaps they were cited as reasons for inaction.

Well settle in. It’s myth-busting time.

Rethinking Referral Marketing

1. It’s All About Relationships.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when this was probably true. If you knew enough of the right people, you could build a thriving practice.

And when you ran out of personal contacts you head to the country club or join the Board of a local charity. Sound familiar?

In this scenario, the role of marketing is to arrange the networking event and have a few brochures available when they are needed. Well times have changed and personal relationships are no longer the only game in town.

In fact, one of our recent studies of buyers of accounting services shows that better expertise or specialization was more likely to tip the scale in favor of the winning firm than was an existing relationship.

This doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with developing personal relationships or even that they cannot bring in new business. They clearly make a difference.

But if you are relying on personal relationships alone, you are like the man hopping on one foot. Not a very efficient way to get where you are headed.

2. I Know Everything I Need To Know About My Clients.

You work with them every day and know the financial status of their business inside and out. They share everything with you. What more do you need to know?

Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Our research into buyers and sellers of accounting services shows that there are big gaps between how clients see their situation when contrasted to their accounting firm.

For example, there is the role that education plays in attracting potential clients. CPA firms underestimate it’s importance. What about the importance of cost? Here the accounting firms are overestimating its importance. These gaps have tremendous implications for CPA marketing.

Closing these gaps can have a tremendous impact on firm growth and profitability. Figure 1.1 shows that firms that do even occasional (less than once per quarter) systematic research into their target client group grow faster and are more profitable. That impact is even greater when the research is more frequent (at least quarterly).

The more you know, the faster you grow.


3. My Clients Would Never Look Online For a CPA Firm.

On one level this myth is almost true.

Our research shows that potential clients overwhelmingly (87% of the time) turn to friends and colleagues for suggestions on firms to consider. The second most frequent place to look (at 10%) is online.

But that is only the beginning of the story.

How do the friends and colleagues know about your firm? Unless they just happened to be a client of yours, it probably involves knowledge of your firm that is based on your reputation. Often times a referral source or staff member has come across your firm online.

As the pace of online communication grows it is shortsighted to believe that CPA marketing is immune from this trend. Even if your client decision makers are not online you can be sure that their staffs and influencers are.

SEE ALSO: The Future of CPA Marketing

4. Potential Clients Are Looking For a Trusted Advisor.

As you build up a relationship of trust with your clients and they see that you have their best interests in mind, they will turn to you for a growing range of business advice. At that point you have earned the status that Charles Green calls a “Trusted Advisor.”

This major benefit of working with a CPA firm was expressed by 31% of the clients we interviewed. And there is little question of its value in maintaining client loyalty.

Given this finding, it seems logical that potential clients would be looking for a trusted advisor when they go shopping for a new CPA firm. Why not position your firm as a trusted advisor?

Many firms have done just that. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

When it comes to selecting a new CPA firm, seeking a trusted advisor isn’t even in the top ten considerations. Similarly, it rarely is cited as a factor that tips the scale to one firm or another.

What you are likely to see is prospects looking for industry expertise, a good cultural fit, competence, and an excellent reputation. Of course, if they believe that your firm can’t be trusted, that will clearly kill the engagement before it has a chance to start.

Why is that the case? On some level we all realize that trust is something that is earned over time. It is assessed by how you behave, not by what you write in a proposal.

5. Referrals Are The Only Way To Get New Clients.

Referrals are clearly a great way to get new clients. It’s where potential prospects turn first when looking for a new accounting firm (see 3 above). As such, a formal program for stimulating referrals should be a part of any CPA marketing plan.

But just because it is a good way doesn’t mean it is the only, or even the best, way.

Our recent study of 500 professional services firms showed that firms that generated 40% or more of their new business leads from online sources grew 4X faster than those who generated few online leads.

Further, as firms did more online lead generation, they were also more profitable. So if referrals are a good way to generate new clients, a healthy mix of both online and traditional techniques is even better.

Old Myths Die Hard

It’s rarely easy to change long held beliefs. This is equally true when the topic is CPA marketing. Most partners went into public accounting because of their love of the work, not because they love marketing.

But take heart. Share the data. Then when you have the opportunity, deliver the results at your firm. Nothing will turn a skeptic into an evangelist faster than positive results.

Additional Resources

How Hinge Can Help 

Hinge has developed a comprehensive plan, The Visible Firm℠  to address these issues and more. It is the leading marketing program for delivering greater visibility, growth, and profits. This customized program will identify the most practical offline and online marketing tools your firm will need to gain new clients and reach new heights.  

Online Marketing for Professional Services Book: How to use online marketing to drive growth and profits