Business Dev/Sales

Using KPIs in Growth Planning

cpa business development

AAM Minute: The Seasoned Marketer 

By: Kristen Lewis, EisnerAmper LLP


There’s certainly an art to making marketing and business development initiatives work. But the intersection of that art with the science of data is where the real magic happens. In this article, learn about the many key performance indicators you can use to tell the story of your practice. Included are some categories of metrics, and how you can put them to work as you build growth plans.

There’s certainly an art to making marketing and business development initiatives work. But the intersection of that art with the science of data is where the real magic happens.

When it comes to planning for the growth of your firm and evaluating initiatives around budget time, there are many key performance indicators you can use to tell the story of your practice thus far, while deciding what the next chapter will hold. Here are some categories of metrics, and how you can put them to work as you build growth plans.

New Business Reporting: This predictive information is probably the most basic and direct measure for growth activities, but by tracking the right data, you get a multi-layered view of what is selling, who is selling it, and how that correlates to your marketing budget. Take a look at the services and industry groups, both by themselves and matrixed together over a period of years.

Is your technology group hitting it out of the park selling tax consulting? How did they get there, and what elements do you need to change or continue in their marketing plan to keep them growing? If a service line with a robust marketing budget is not doing well over time, this information gives you some “science” to support trying out new ideas, or even changing gears and decreasing certain investments which are not yielding returns.

Pipeline Reporting: Firms use pipeline data to track opportunities from the initiation of the dialogue, through the proposal process, and then the final outcome. Proposal win and loss rates offer an interesting window into the effectiveness of your team’s approach strategy. While selling professional services is a lot more complicated than pushing widgets online due to the relationship factors, win/loss can help you evaluate the success of sales teams, pricing structures, and even proposal formats if you really get into the weeds. If you can track the aging of opportunities (how long they take to close), you can also use that data to encourage a more rigid follow-up schedule on proposals.

One useful application of this data is tracking referral sources. Where are your leads ultimately coming from? You can review the results at pipeline meetings to ensure that those valuable referral sources are being thanked (and referred to) in an appropriate fashion. As a growth professional, you can help identify trends and create initiatives to support your strategic goals. For example, you could determine that large regional banks have not been providing enough referrals to reach your goals. Taking that information, you could build an outreach program to enhance relationships at the top three banks working with your target clients.

Pipeline information can uncover how engaged your team members are, not just how successful their efforts are. Identifying rainmakers is important for supporting their efforts and including them in the process of mentoring and developing your next gen rainmakers. You can review the quantity of opportunities coming in from different team members or practices to establish benchmarks for success. Are you looking to increase engagement across levels and get more people involved in growing the practice? You can also set a goal for the number of team members bringing in or working on opportunities in the pipeline.

Billings and Collections: The mere mention of these words sends a shudder through most marketers as they traditionally lay outside of our realm of expertise, but there’s no need to fear them. This data is particularly powerful because it is already accepted as a true measure of the firm’s performance. Tapping into that information to illustrate a marketing concept or make the case for an initiative or budget spend changes the nature of the conversation. To put it simply: when you factor in B&C, you’re speaking their language. And people tend to listen.

To get started, ask your finance colleagues what they can show you, including breakdowns by service line, industry, geography, and more. Depending upon how your firm codes data, you may end up with some additional work to fill in any blanks. There’s a wealth of information to mine from these numbers. You can potentially review and analyze billing and collection data to accomplish several goals:

  • Evaluate the overall health of a practice and detect trends over time.
  • Determine which services bring in the most money and matrix that information over industries.
  • Identify top clients across practices for targeted retention campaigns.
  • Compare the size of your industry practices with budgets and assigned talent to better align internal resources.
  • Identify potential growth opportunities, including the creation of formal practice groups or product offerings.
  • Set stretch goals for industry and service practices for size and makeup of client base.
  • Prioritize your marketing activities to better support growth drivers.
  • Understand the true makeup of your client base.
  • Determine key client personas and thresholds for prospective client pursuit/acceptance.
  • Target cross-selling activities on specific sectors or services.

Add this step into your research preparation for strategic planning sessions to give your suggestions context and power. Reviewing key metrics ahead of budget season is another must. Performance statistics can help your firm set its growth agenda and make important decisions about market priorities for the coming years.

Context is Key

In your quest to put information to work for you, it also helps to get external data for comparison and guidance. Never underestimate the power of data from the larger economy when it comes to researching your next move and defining your goals. There are many information services with benchmarking and competitive data that you could purchase for use in planning. Industry associations also often provide survey data that can help you navigate the sector in question.

Your local chamber of commerce, business advocacy group, state or municipal government may have industry-based survey information or forecasts available for your use. These reports can be a helpful addition to your planning process, as they can illustrate the size of a potential market and provide context for your KPIs. For example, if a local industry is not expected to grow in coming years and you already have a large market share, it wouldn’t make sense to make a bigger investment in new client development. On the flip side, if you uncover a trend that corresponds to an existing practice in your firm which has elements of success already present (leadership, knowledge base, strong clients), this contextual data will help you make the case for increased budgets and support levels.

It’s a cliché, but it’s true: information is power. How you apply the data you mine to build a growth plan is up to you, but having solid metrics in place makes it easier to demonstrate that plan’s potential value to your firm. Put data to work for you as you make an ironclad business case for growth!

About Kristen Lewis

Kristen Lewis is the President of the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) and the Director of Marketing for the Philadelphia office of EisnerAmper LLP. Kristen has been an active volunteer for AAM since 2004, serving on various committees and task forces over the years, as well as a member of the Board of Directors. As AAM’s current President, Kristen has been heavily involved over the past two years in the planning and implementation of the organization’s Vision 2020 strategic plan. In 2009, AAM honored Kristen as Volunteer of the Year at the organization's Annual Summit. She serves her local community as an employee campaign chair for the United Way of Southeastern PA. Kristen also serves on the Marketing Committee for the annual PACT Capital Conference.

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