Manage the Message: Supporting the Shift to Consulting

At this moment, clients will use technology if it’s easy and less expensive than a service provider. Some clients say they want proactive guidance and a back-up opinion, but mainly they don’t want things messed up and expensive. This is a time when marketing can really change the conversation about the value of CPAs.

Technical skills can be taught in school and applied to technology, but consulting skills are earned. The consultative CPA brings value by addressing the client’s desire for confidence in business operations and advancement of results.

Marketers can leverage this moment in the industry. Help firms successfully transition to a consulting model (and also mindset) that leverages technology and isn’t run over by it. Here’s how:


Think like an owner

Owners develop and manage people. They make decisions independently, anticipate the next step and measure their results.

Help all team members think like owners. Create a process or internal campaign to communicate how their work matters to client results and the firm’s growth. If they bill 25 hours, how did that make a difference to the client beyond an invoice? This might include client success stories or survey comments, which are beneficial for marketing the firm’s consultative process as well as helping professionals define the difference they make.

Consider a marketing kick-off meeting for 15 minutes on key projects to determine goals beyond providing an efficient audit or business valuation. What will the client do with that information to make business decisions? Use that data in web content to translate how an engagement improves the client’s market position or productivity.

Firms can also develop internal scorecards to measure the value of the work to each client, outlining tangible changes that might include, “helped client hire new controller” or “saved $15,000 in multi-state taxation by addressing payroll and filing processes.”


Market ‘knowledge’ rather than ‘experience’

Bios are often written from a historical perspective and about job roles. Instead, market the knowledge of key professionals by highlighting ways that each individual solves problems, innovates and anticipates change for clients. Be more specific. Maybe ‘Jane’ recommended a change in accounting method or an equipment purchase that will result in a cleaner balance sheet or thousands saved in leasing. Capture those career highlights and share them in internal news as a record for when it’s time for a bio update! This will also help the professionals have this list handy when it’s performance review and promotion time.

Some CPA firms are now recruiting non-CPAs to build a natural consultative approach to their services. Beyond a new hire announcement, include that expert or consultant in thought leadership, webinars and networking.

Whether writing a bio, press release, service content, social posts or testimonials, seek concrete consultative details that resonate with clients and potential clients. This will help professionals think more about the value they deliver beyond a job description or engagement.


Get out there

More than ever, marketers need to be in touch with prospective clients and really understand their pain points and service expectations. For one firm, that meant developing a national employee benefits report. Although they don’t formally work with human resources, a firm partner learned (by asking) that developing this resource is a way to help clients gain access to information they couldn’t get anywhere else.

To identify these opportunities, attend non-marketing conferences and interview respected referral sources to hear about trends that could be addressed in blog posts or added into sales conversations. Consulting extends beyond a project. It’s about helping clients find more success.

While this might first appear like adding time to an already busy schedule, some of it is more about a change in mindset than extra work. Whether it’s updating the website, networking, gathering testimonials or doing a survey, seek more data that validates consulting that the firm is already doing. Through new questions, identify new ways that the firm can add value.

For one firm, clients and referral sources were happy to report on upcoming challenges that they believed the firm could support going forward. The marketing director just had to add that question in their survey and phone interviews. They identified levels of satisfaction, for sure, but also predictive data to support future consulting needs…right from the source.


By Dawn Wagenaar, principal of Ingenuity Marketing Group, LLC. 

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About Dawn Wagenaar

Dawn Wagenaar is Principal of Ingenuity Marketing Group, LLC, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Ingenuity works with accounting firms across the country on branding, research, marketing and growth to make their professionals famous. Dawn is past chair of the AAM Conference Committee and Virtual Education Committee and past member-at-large for AAM National Board of Directors.

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