Acquire, Retain or Expand? Adapting BD Strategies to Market Trends
Growth. It’s a common term in conversations about firm strategy, but the context can vary widely. It might refer to the growth of firm revenue, growth of a practice team, or the growth of one’s career.
As marketers and business developers in accounting firms, growth is most often associated with bringing in new business. However, given the changes that have been impacting the profession over recent years, many are having to adapt their strategies to approach the concept of growth differently.
We are living through a truly unique period of history. Firms of all sizes across the country are dealing with challenges that are unprecedented – or at least rarely experienced in our lifetimes. These include, among others:
- Remote and hybrid work environments
- Record-high inflation
- Generational shifts creating leadership gaps
- The “Great Resignation” and resulting talent crisis
- Technology changing how firms work and serve clients
The pressures of this change are driving many to slow the drive for new business, with the rationale that they can’t handle any new work as they are struggling to effectively serve the clients they already have. This can put marketers and business developers in a quandary as they wrestle with how to deliver value to their firms while adapting to this new reality.
Some historical perspective may help. Those who have worked with the profession long enough can recall key events over time that have had a significant impact on accounting firms – enough to alter their strategic focus, particularly when it comes to growth.
For example, recessions such as those in the early ‘80s and early ‘90s shifted the attention of firms to preserving the business that they had. Clients had less discretionary spending and appetite for non-compliance-oriented advisory projects. Client price shopping escalated, and thus firms competed more heavily on fees, causing profits to suffer. Then milestone events like the Enron/Anderson scandal in the early ‘00s led to a mass cascading of clients down from the remaining Big Four to second-tier firms and so on as firms scrambled to snap up as much of this new business as quickly as possible.
While the emphasis has shifted around amongst new business, client retention, cross selling, and other areas, the key takeaway is that growth has always been important. It’s the perspective and context that change, which ultimately drive strategy.
So rather than be discouraged by your firm pulling back on its support of bringing in new business or the concern over how new work would be accomplished with such scarce resources, adjust the perspective and lead your firm in pursuing strategies that fit the current environment.
Imagine that you have a control panel with three levers that you can adjust to balance your firm’s growth strategies. You can’t have all three levers at full throttle or you risk burning out the growth engine. And if you drop them all to low, the growth engine stalls out. You must find the right balance and continually adjust it to fit what is happening in the market. These levers are:
- ACQUIRE new client relationships. New client acquisition strategies in the current environment will likely focus on gaining clarity on the profile(s) of desired clients so that you can ensure that any energy or capacity available for this part of the effort is centered on only the most desirable opportunities.
- RETAIN existing business with existing clients. Client retention strategies should involve an analysis of the client base to determine which clients may no longer fit the desired profile. An initiative to “prune” (is there an article on this we can link to?) undesirable client relationships on the basis of a set of objective criteria will free up more capacity to acquire new, more desirable business and elevate the service provided to “A” clients.
- EXPAND new services with existing clients. Expansion strategies are particularly powerful as part of an effort to shift from a narrow focus on traditional compliance services to a broader, more holistic advisory approach. Becoming effective at this usually requires the development of an advisory skillset that includes the ability to facilitate effective discovery conversations, lead collaborative problem-solving meetings and demonstrate to clients that you have their best interests at heart.
Approaching the growth conversation with your firm’s leadership in the context of these three levers can be an excellent opportunity to demonstrate creative yet pragmatic leadership through challenging times. The result can be an overall growth goal that becomes actionable by breaking it down into three strategic areas and balancing them in terms of the level of effort and investment warranted given the circumstances. With diligent planning, this clarity can cascade down to the team and individual level, making implementation and accountability easier to manage and more effective.
About Scott Moore
As Owner & Chief Operating Officer of The Rainmaker Companies, Scott is dedicated to helping professional service firms across the country optimize their ability to grow. Over his 30-year career of leading integrated marketing and business development programs, he has developed a holistic perspective of strategies and tactics that drive growth. Prior to joining The Rainmaker Companies, his experience includes having served as CMO for a Top 20 U.S. accounting firm where he led marketing and business development initiatives that helped drive 12-fold revenue growth over 14 years. He enjoys contributing to the industry through collaboration, leadership, and knowledge-sharing. He has served as President of the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM); was named among the “Top 100 Most Influential People in the Accounting Industry” by Accounting Today; and was recognized as the “Accounting Marketer of the Year” by the CPA Practice Management Forum. In 2019 he was inducted by AAM into the Accounting Marketing Hall of Fame.
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