In the second of a three-part series on the expectations CPA firms should have for targeted personnel within their operations, Ira Rosenbloom, chief executive officer for Optimum Strategies in Spring House, Pa., explores the function of the CPA firm marketing professional. Rosenbloom details their need to be data and research savvy, persistent, and results-driven.
By: Bill Hayes, Pennsylvania CPA Journal Managing Editor
In last week's first episode of this three-part series on CPA firms’ expectations for targeted personnel within their organizations, we talked to Ira Rosenbloom, chief executive officer for Optimum Strategies in Spring House, about what a firm needs from their operations managers. Today, we will explore the expectations firms should have for their marketing professionals with a fresh top five list.
As we said, we're going to talk about the top five expectations a CPA firm should have for its marketing professional. The top five for this episode is persistence, connectivity, results-driven, self-starter, and data and research savviness. First up is persistence. Why is that important for a CPA firm marketing professional?
[Rosenbloom] I think it's important for any marketing professional to be persistent because marketing is heavily about getting the message out and it takes many tries to get the message out. A marketing professional, wherever they may be focused, whether it's a law firm, an accounting firm, etc., has to be prepared for a program with many touches. Whatever their campaign is, it's got to be something that is an active and continuing type of program. At the same token, the persistence has to be something that's also applied internally, so that the resources internally that are affected by the campaign or related to marketing are continually reminded of the benefit of their participation and the need for them to participate in the way with which they can participate. Oftentimes, CPA firms look at the marketing team as the sales team, and that is a very inappropriate way to look at them. Marketing are the people who get the messages out to support the sales cycle.
It's important to remind management and all the team members of the true purpose of marketing so that the marketing group is not held accountable for something that is inappropriate, and that comes from being persistent as well. The more their job function is handled with continuity, with excellence, then the more the message of marketing is going to pervade through the organization.
How about connectivity. Where does that come into the equation?
[Rosenbloom] This is a very interesting requirement. Marketing people are generally not accounting-and-finance savvy. They have respect for it, but they are the bridge between the accounting firm and lay people, people who are not focused in the metrics and finance and business consulting arena. It's very important for the marketing professionals to orient the accounting team to their need to speak in terms that would be relevant and comfortable for people who are not accountants. They connect the accounting world, for a lack of a better way to put it, to the outside world and the greater the level of their connectivity, namely the different communities that they may have access to, so that somebody in the chamber of commerce may be comprehending things one way, somebody in the banking world can understand things a different way, and someone in the technology world, again, for example, would understand it also in another way.
Connecting and sensitizing the accounting professionals to the outside communities that are relevant to them, who will actually open the gates or even hire them, is something that is really important for the marketing professionals to be able to do. At the same token, being able to connect the ownership group in the CPA firm to the aspirations of young people in the organization who have an inclination or an interest in marketing and connecting and grooming that particular potential is really a necessary role for the marketing professional. A marketing professional is not somebody who is going to be a wallflower and focus on the written material. They've got to have all kinds of communication skills so that they connect the various constituencies.
The idea of being results-driven seems like it would be good for most professionals, but why in particular does it apply to CPA firm marketers?
[Rosenbloom] Here's the thing: Going back to the comment earlier about the unfortunate view of a marketing person as sales-generating. The accounting community and the ownership needs to have some type of criteria/data with which to understand the performance of everybody in the organization. When it comes to the marketing group if it's not sales, what's it going to be? The marketing group and the management group have to agree on the priorities and the essentials, and then what should the results be for that particular initiative or that particular set of actions and the better the results, clearly the happier management will be, and ultimately the better funding of the top line that will take place. If we're running a program where we're looking to distribute information on a particular topic, whether it be PPP or EIDL or the potential new tax law, how many hits are we looking to get in that campaign?
Then management might say, "Great. We do all this writing. We send out all this stuff, but how do we know how effective we're going to be?" They have to be able to hold these professionals to some type of performance criteria and it's got to be a practical, but yet reachable, result that they're looking for. In that example, it might be that we're looking to get an open rate on our outreach in terms of an email or a newsletter of 30%, and if we're not at 30%, why not? The results are going to be agreed upon in terms of the goal, but then achieving those results is the job of the marketing crew.
How vital is it for a marketing pro to be a self-starter? How does that benefit the CPA firm itself?
[Rosenbloom] Here again, I think that it's really tied to what the culture and the disposition of your prototypical accountant is. Most accountants are not oriented toward the marketing process. So, while they may have a bottom-line focus and goal, they don't know how to direct the marketing people in terms of the kind of functions that should take place. The marketing team has to set the stage and they've got to come and make the recommendations and support their case. Some of the things that they're looking to do require money, and some of it requires next to no money, but it's a requirement of time and it's a requirement of priority. You can't rely as contrasted with the accounting and the tax and the consulting functions where the leadership of the firm has been groomed to handle that kind of focus.
The most ill-prepared function for most CPA firms and CPA leaders is the marketing and the sales function. Therefore, in order for there to be prosperity in the marketing function, you need to have self-starters, otherwise management is going to lose confidence and retreat from the marketing function, which is vitally important. It would be great for emails to come in unprompted and the phone to ring off the hook looking for some type of help. It may happen seasonally, for example, around tax season when people are looking for an accountant, but the majority of the year, it doesn't happen that way. So, marketing is important and the competition is using marketing in some way. It's really important for the marketing people to get everybody's engine going and to do the things that are comfortable and convenient. The more that the accounting staff has to take responsibility, there's probably going to be more pushback, but the easier the responsibility is the more inclined they are to participate.
What role does data expertise and research savviness play in a marketing professional's success?
[Rosenbloom] At the end of the day, the firm needs to have a client base that makes sense to the firm. Now, in some cases, the firm is planning for its future and they want to grow a particular niche. They want to grow a particular line of service. They want to grow a presence in a particular geographic area. The marketing group would be charged with the responsibility of figuring out how much opportunity there is for that expansion or that development, and then further researching the refinement of those opportunities. So that if we're looking for clients that meet certain attributes, whether it be the number of people who are employed, whether it be the volume of the business, whether it be the nature of transactions, whether they be domestic or global, this is going to be relevant toward how the marketing campaigns and the marketing efforts are channeled and the ability to dig deep and get that kind of data so that intelligent decisions can be made and frequency can be established for which efforts are going to be made is something that accounting firms rely on their marketing individuals to take care of.
Oftentimes, the marketing people may work hand-in-hand with the technology group so that they can trigger some type of process that might gain information or position a reaction. But knowing what you want your firm to be, the business plan of the firm, and being able to be scientific and being as explicit as possible about what makes for a sweet-spot type of client or sweet-spot clients is going to allow the marketing function to be very, very surgical and ultimately much more successful.