CPA Growth Trends, Marketing

Business Development: The Value of Including Marketing and BD Professionals in Strategic Planning

Let’s face it. The accounting profession has changed substantially in the past several years, only to be catapulted into true disruption throughout and after the pandemic. In many firms, some changes are for good (flexibility and an increased culture focus), and some are less desirable (isolation, exacerbated talent, and communication issues). Changes in the profession force firms to rethink strategies for success. Accounting firm leaders are navigating a new reality that impacts their plans for the firm’s future.

Strategic planning can be a polarizing topic as some leaders don’t agree with the need for one, and some rely heavily on their plans to appropriately direct priorities, investments, and resources. So whether your firm has an established process for planning or is just getting started, the planning process should look different than it did in past years.

Interviews and discussions with top industry leaders and voices over the past several months as part of the Amplify! podcast series on strategic planning have reinforced some ideas on what is working and what needs to change. One big takeaway from recent conversations is the theme of inclusion in the planning process. Gone are the days when firm leadership holes up in a room for a two-day retreat and walks out with a solid plan. The lack of input from all areas of the firm creates a gaping hole in the perception of strategic priorities, confusion and lack of clarity and buy-in for firm talent. Most would agree that a lack of buy-in at the leadership level can send any initiative to its grave. What better way to get buy-in than to strategically include more stakeholders in the process?

Leaders sometimes need to consider the incredible value of including those not historically involved in strategic planning in the conversation. It’s time to change their minds. Consider what the firm addresses in strategic planning. Firm direction and growth are significant components. Firms that are not growing are declining. How do they grow in the best way possible where they increase profitability and focus on valuable and rewarding work? How do they go about the expansion of services, markets and niches? What are the best strategies?

Consider the importance of maximum client retention and employee experience, team member recruiting and retention. One of the most significant issues in our profession today is the talent pipeline shortage. Firm leaders are grappling with how to recruit the best and retain top talent. How do they provide support for passing the CPA exam? How do they develop and strengthen an environment of inclusion where diversity is the result and not only the starting goal?

Where can they find non-traditional hires like those in data analytics? Marketing and HR work hand in hand to support firms’ goals in this area as they are perfectly positioned to do so. What makes a firm a destination workplace? What do potential recruits find enticing when it comes to selecting a firm? What elements of culture and communication set the best firms apart? These are questions that marketing professionals can speak to with authority. You better believe these initiatives are in the top firms’ strategic plans, so why put a plan together in a vacuum?

More firm leaders are buying into the concept of inclusion regarding firm decision-making. So why has this taken us so long? Business development and marketing talent bring firms much insight, skill and value. From understanding market position to uncovering shifting client perceptions and needs, these professionals provide needed information to strengthen their firm’s strategic direction and plan. Unfortunately, the issue in many firms for many years is that this talented group of professionals has yet to be at the table regarding planning which is a missed opportunity.

In addition to the pipeline shortage, firms are grappling with focusing on the best clients and providing the desired and expected service. Furthermore, firms need help with client-culling decisions and communicating these decisions in a way that doesn’t damage the professional or firm’s reputation. Business developers’ and marketers’ excellent communication and writing skills can be an asset in these situations. They can provide insight into clients’ needs and how to improve their experience.

Most firms are on the move from primarily compliance work to advisory services. This shift requires more than technical acumen to provide advice. It requires a mindset shift and the ability to communicate with clients differently. Marketers and business development professionals can help remove their blinders and open conversations to position themselves as holistic providers. What about merger and acquisition integration strategies? Many firms are expanding in this way. Firm leaders must consult with talented professionals who can assist in navigating these opportunities and challenges.

The above examples only scratch the service on the benefits of including marketing and business development professionals (and other disciplines) in the firm’s strategic planning process. When leaders have different perspectives and voices in planning, everyone wins.

About Angie Grissom

Angie Grissom serves as president of The Rainmaker Companies, a leading provider of alliance, consulting and training services exclusively for the accounting profession. She is passionate about current and future leadership in the accounting industry and pushes firm leaders to build firms that empower people and have strong future leaders and unmatched client service. She can be reached at [email protected].

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