CPA Growth Trends, Marketing

Hot Topic: Summit Takeaways

Nearly 400 accounting marketers, business developers and growth professionals attended this year’s AAM Summit in Salt Lake City. It was 2.5 days of learning, networking and making new friends because, really, accounting marketers tend to make fast friends! Here are some of the attendees’ best takeaways.

Erica Reagle, Marketing Communications Specialist at Clayton & McKervey and Summit first-timer

  1. AI isn’t going away, but use ChatGPT and similar tools with caution.
  2. You don’t need a full production crew or large budget to implement video into your marketing strategy.
  3. Consider consultants an extension of your team.
  4. You need approximately 13 touchpoints with MQLs before they become a client.
  5. SEO is a long-term investment.

Joe Kovacs, APR, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Councilor, Buchanan & Mitchell, P.C. (CBM) and AAM’s 2023 Volunteer of the Year

  1. Michelle Golden’s keynote on pricing strategies was as high-level as you can get. Well done!
  2. Dine and Connect was a fabulous opportunity to reconnect with friends and meet newer AAM members.
  3. The panel session on how to drive growth strategies at your firm when there is no formal growth leader provided fantastic insights.

Katie Tolin, President at CPA Growth Guides

  1. “It’s seldom that the price was too high; the worth was too low” – Michelle Golden. I like how she equated value with cheap (thanks, Walmart), and how we should quit focusing on time and, rather, seek out what we’re going to really solve (asking “so that”).
  2. “A new leader is not an order giver” – Scott Moore. He talked about how facilitation allowed for real collaboration, and how that’s what people, including buyers, are looking for. The way you sell reflects on the way you serve, he said. And then he walked everyone through a facilitation process that can be used in selling, client service, firm management and more.

Rosy Reyes, Marketing Content Specialist at GHJ and Summit first-timer

  1. AI could be a great tool if we learn how to use it correctly (with a well-written prompt). Learn how to position AI as extra value to our firm vs. replacing people.
  2. Regardless of firm size, many of us are going through the same challenges! I knew this in theory, but hearing someone on a team of 40 and someone on a team of 2 mention the same challenge feels validating.
  3. Even though my job is literally learning how to position and market our firm’s subject matter experts, our marketing team is not very good at bragging about ourselves. Hearing about what other firms do was helpful, not only in the ideas shared but also in how they were shared, and having the realization, “wait, we do that too! I’ve never even thought to tell anyone about it, but it does sound impressive.”

Laura Metz, Senior Growth Manager at HCVT

  1. The AAM-MAAs this year were outstanding…the presentation of the awards via movie trailers was so inventive and fun! I felt engaged and excited for what came next. I was also so excited to see our Rookie of the Year, Volunteer of the Year, Marketer of the Year and new Hall of Fame inductee acknowledged. These awards are such great ways to recognize the hard work our members put into their firms and the association!
  2. One of my key takeaways from Kimberly Ellison-Taylor was “fail faster.” In an ever-changing environment filled with AI and other external forces, we have to use technology to streamline complexity. And if we fail, we have to fail fast, learn from it and grow.
  3. One of my key takeaways from Michelle River was the art of active listening. We need to expand from being “order takers” to problem solvers, and in order to do that, we need to hear what our clients and prospects are saying, rather than what we might project or assume they need. It’s one more example of how growth professionals need a seat at the table.

Courtney Kiss, Chief Growth & Development Officer at Johnson Lambert LLP

  1. As I heard a couple of presenters say, “AI won’t replace professionals, but professionals who know how to use AI will replace those who don’t.”
  2. Your brand is an incredibly valuable asset; as such, you should be strategic with it for every internal and external touchpoint.
  3. Growth professionals deserve a spot in guiding the firm’s strategy; we have the knowledge, vision, and skillset to influence smart growth.

Denise Asker, Director of Marketing and Practice Growth at Clayton & McKervey

  1. ChatGPT is a hot topic of conversation with many ideas on how best to use – and not use.
  2. Video continues to trend, and there are now accessible ways to produce it, whether in-house or through vendors.
  3. M&A needs to be on our radar because firms are active in this space. There are many elements of consideration for marketers throughout the process.

Jeff Scalzi, Content Strategy Leader at BPM and Summit first-timer

As a first-time attendee, but with 20+ years of legal marketing experience and deep involvement in LMA, I was extremely impressed with Summit and look forward to getting more involved in AAM. I met so many smart, motivated people. One of the things that stands out as a highlight is Kimberly Ellison-Taylor’s keynote to kick off the conference where she talked about what we can do to reinforce trust, and invoked Simon Sinek’s quote, “Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them.” This means a lot to me joining BPM just a couple months ago and already seeing this at play every day – a sharp contrast from the last firm I was with in legal. It’s nice to see the accounting profession embraces this – and other – important values.

Kayla Juba, Senior Marketing Specialist at Brown Schultz Sheridan & Fritz (BSSF)

  1. Think creatively with how you use AI! AI can be used for everything from blog posts, to award nominations, to proposal content, to speeches, to webinar Q&A, to job postings, to bios and more. You can even use AI to create professional headshots! It’s important to not just use AI-generated content at face value, but it’s great for coming up with an outline or tweaking specific sections of content that need to be rewritten.
  2. Start adding “so that” behind tasks in proposals to show not just the services that will be performed, but the IMPACT those services will have on the client.
  3. Consider creating interactive brochures – essentially PDF brochures with hyperlinks/anchor links that link to digital content. That way, you only have to update your content in one place.

Ty Hendrickson, Training & Development Director at Inovautus Consulting

  1. My biggest takeaways all had to do with the AI discussion at our roundtable session.  It was so intriguing what people were using AI for.
  2. ai is introducing headshots from selfies, which I’m excited to explore for some of our clients who are hiring more remote employees these days.
  3. Using AI for certain types of manual data analysis like list deduplicating, etc.
  4. Looking into training on how to create the best prompts to get the most out of AI integrations.

Jen Lemanski, Senior Manager, Practice Growth at PKF Texas

  1. The client culling process is as important as the business development process right now. You have to be able to take on more profitable clients, but capacity constraints will hinder this if you don’t make room for them.
  2. We need to move quickly on AI and not wait for it to happen to us.
  3. Simple is better, and the basics are the basics because they work.

Alex Drost, CEO of Connection Builders

  1. Investment during a downturn can lead to a 2x return on growth. There is a likely downturn (or at least a slowdown in year-over-year growth) on the horizon; firm leaders should continue to invest in growth initiatives despite these conditions.
  1. Building buyer personas can help create client alignment. Client personas are often viewed as solely a marketing initiative, but the process of creating these can be highly impactful for building alignment within firm leadership.
  2. Pruning clients can free up resources and time to focus on the best clients. The number one pushback on “growth initiatives” is that there is already enough work. The counterintuitive truth is that by investing more resources (time + money) into growth initiatives, firms can shift their focus to the “best clients” and let go of the less-than-optimal clients.
  3. It takes ~13 touchpoints with a prospect to convert into a client. We know that marketing and BD can be a slow (delayed gratification) process, but when you consider that it takes, on average, 13 touchpoints for conversion, it emphasizes the importance of consistency over time.
  4. Proposals should have a clear value proposition for the client/prospect. All too often, firms focus on communicating their value proposition, using the lens of “Here is why we are the best for the job.” A more successful approach is shifting the focus to communicating the value proposition for the client/prospect, using the lens of “These are the challenges that we see, and here is how we can help you overcome them.”
  5. Account management should be part of the sales process. Professional services is, at its core, a relationship-based business. If you want to retain clients and build a market-leading reputation, relationships with your clients must be maintained and nurtured. Therefore, the “sales” process should not stop when the engagement letter is signed; it should be an ongoing element of client success.
  6. Cross-selling and client retention should be incentivized in addition to new business. It is human nature for incentive structures to drive behaviors. Therefore, if firms want to accelerate their growth, they should develop incentive plans that reduce the emphasis on new business and increase the focus on cross-selling and client retention.

Caitlin Simpson, Marketing and Communications Manager at Baker Tilly Catalyst and Summit first-timer

  1. Start building an AI roadmap. Integrate AI into your work, and watch as it constantly evolves.
  2. Work to create more video content.
  3. Everyone is facing similar issues, reach out to other AAMers.
  4. Go for more walks. 😊
  5. The pool is not too cold for Canadians.

Chris O’Day, Director of Marketing, LGA

  1. Having too many unattainable goals can hurt your marketing team. Use a goals matrix to strategize on what you should focus on and what you should let go.
  2. Invest in people and technology. Have the tough conversations with management if you are being stretched too thin.
  3. ChatGPT can be your friend, but don’t let it be your master. Use it as a tool, but don’t become overly reliant on it for everything.
  4. Bonus: Each Summit, it gets harder and harder for me to hang, and I went to bed the earliest this year!

Jessica Hekmatjah, Chief Marketing Officer, BPM

  1. Networking – Loved seeing all of my AAM’ers and meeting new ones!
  2. Inspired – From AI, value pricing and more, the topics left me energized.
  3. Future forward – Evolving role of marketers and our responsibility as growth leaders.

Jenna Ward, Marketing Manager, MMB + Co

  1. Video is a powerful way to share content. You probably already have what you need to get started. Start small, show ROI and scale up from there in time.
  2. Work-life balance is important. Business + Balance = Bliss. Being both empowered in the workplace and maintaining happiness in your personal life is the key.
  3. Your largest expense is your people. Employees are your most valuable brand asset, and shifting your marketing mindset and viewing them as a unique target audience is important. Position your firm as an employer of choice and invest time in the recruiting process.

Nicole Sterling, Director of Communications and Marketing, RSW

  1. CAS is still on the rise and will be for a while
  2. Building your AI road map for your firm is an absolute must. And this should be a live document – always changing with the newest AI trends.
  3. There is no reason the professionals leading your growth strategy like your CMO or CGO shouldn’t have a path to partner.

For more insights, check out this article: https://insidepublicaccounting.com/2023/05/were-headed-for-star-trek-and-other-insights-overheard-at-the-aam-summit/. As always, Summit was a great time to refresh, reenergize and come back ready to help your firm grow. Kudos to the AAM Summit Committee of volunteers who spent countless hours planning, organizing and creating a fantastic event. What are YOUR takeaways? Join the discussion in the Open Forum by sharing what you learned.

About Rachael McGrew


Rachael McGrew is the Business Development Director for Landmark CPAs, one of Arkansas’ largest accounting firms. In her role, she wears many hats, including overseeing the firm’s marketing and business development strategy, managing internal and external communications, maintaining the firm’s social media and web presence, planning and executing firm events and community outreach programs, assisting with M&A, coordinating recruiting campaigns, and serving on industry association committees. Within AAM, Rachael leads an AAM Circle focused on HubSpot. She is a graduate of the Leadership Fort Smith program and a 40 Under 40 honoree by both the Arkansas Business Journal and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. She is also a member of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Arkansas’ Western Council. Rachael holds a Bachelors of Business Administration in Marketing with a minor in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Central Arkansas and a Technical Certificate in Graphic Design from the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith. She is married to an outgoing entrepreneur she’s known since junior high, and they have a witty teenager they follow around to volleyball practice and tournaments.

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