CPA Growth Trends, Marketing

Business Development: Use Data to Guide Business Development

Written by: Heath Alloway

Imagine one of your very best friends purchasing a new boat that could go fast. Your friend was so excited about how fast it could go, you find yourself speeding across the water. Suddenly, you realize the boat captain never looked back to see who was falling off the inner tube. Although different, this description is what it may feel like for a firm that is growing too fast and lacks the people needed to keep up with the work they already have.

Let’s look at the data. The single biggest issue facing firms right now is people – how to find, hire, engage, retain and develop enough of the right people. Many partners feel the market for business development is as good now as it has ever been and they pumped the breaks on marketing and business development because of the people capacity issue.

While growth is vital to the success and longevity of a firm, bigger does not necessarily mean better firms. Growth for the sake of growth is almost always a foolish plan. Top-line growth is good, but if it doesn’t improve profitability or create a better firm, what’s the point?

The marketing and business development discussion has changed – how do we intentionally generate healthy and profitable growth that attracts people instead of adding to the problem? You need to understand the answer to this question to ensure you are bringing in the right type of work for your firm. This is where data helps.

Data will not solve every issue, but it can help guide you as to where to invest valuable time, energy, and focus to get the right things done at the right time with the right resources.

Let’s explore three critical data points that should be considered as you target future prospects for the firm. Probe these areas to see what specific data points will help you make the biggest impact.

1) Client selection and management

While many excellent strategies exist to build a successful firm, few things will help more than choosing, growing and retaining the right clients. Data can help the firm upgrade the client base annually.

When considering what data to use here, ask yourself:

  • Have you reviewed practice management data? This will help you understand where the majority of firm revenue is generated to identify your very best clients.
  • To which existing clients are you only providing one service? Win rates will be significantly higher with current clients than prospective clients. This is a cross-selling opportunity.
  • How can you better understand potential client needs? Identify the marketing resources, technology, or survey data points you can access to answer this question.
  • Do you have access to client survey data? Surveys are a great data tool to retain clients at risk of leaving, gain insight into cross-serving opportunities and powerful marketing data for clients to tell your firm story. It can help you understand how to position your firm’s strengths to future clients.

2) Understanding bench strength

There are a significant number of partner retirements happening right now. Do you know who is on the firm bench to become future partners? Marketing and business development skills will help create a faster career path for these future partners. The strengths and passions of these people may shape the types of businesses and services you sell today.

Ask yourself the following questions to understand how these future partners are looking to make their mark:

  • Does the bench understand what marketing and client data you have access to? You can use it to refine individual strategies for both clients and prospects.
  • How are these future partners growing client relationships outside of just accounting-related matters? Marketing and business development can help educate and build confidence here.
  • In what areas(s) are these individuals looking to become “famous”? Look to marketing data for information about what they have written or presented and where they are involved in the community and use it in any discussions with them around their targets.

3) Prospective client data

The only thing worse than chasing a D-level client is landing a D-level client. More firms have strategically relocated D-level clients in the last two years than in the previous 20 years.

Make sure you are not prospecting those D-level clients by asking:

  • Are there external data resources to help better understand markets and ideal clients? For example, if your firm serves car dealerships – how many are within a 120-mile radius? How many are clients, and which ones can we proactively target?
  • What marketing technology do we have to help guide prospect outreach and discussions? It could be as easy as the data collected when a prospect completes a website contact us form. Marketing and business development can use these resources together to spur more prospects.
  • What opportunities has the firm bid on and lost in the past? See which ones were lost in the past three years and if they have been contacted since then. These make great prospects.

Follow the Data

Marketers and business developers often get pulled in every direction possible, which leads to reactive (not proactive) projects. If you are trying to please everyone, your to-do list will continue growing, and it will be exhausting. Follow the data. Use it to see where and how can you best invest your time, energy, and focus to significantly impact your career and firm. Start with the biggest issues (opportunities) and make wise decisions.

When it comes to data, consider what you have that will help your firm tell a different story. Use it to attract the best clients – intentionally, healthily, and profitably.


Heath Alloway’s Bio: Before joining Upstream Academy, Heath spent well over a decade in a unique role in one of the top accounting firms in the United States. In this role, he led a multi-disciplinary team of 20, focusing on multiple areas of firm strategic growth. His leadership style has been influenced by numerous leaders in the profession. His mission is to share those experiences and lessons learned to help people, firms, and our profession achieve their most meaningful goals and discover the belief that the best is yet to come.


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