Accountants, It is Time to Think Like a Marketer with Kate Colbert

Thinking like a marketer can be difficult when most of us — well, think like accountants. Marketing isn’t a space in our brains; we use that often. Sometimes it’s because we don’t want to, or don’t feel like we need to. Other times, it’s because we don’t even know where to start. 

Luckily, I had a guest on the podcast who’s expertise is in just that. Kate Colbert is the author of “Think Like a Marketer: How a Shift in Mindset Can Change Everything for Your Business,” as well as the owner of Silver Tree Communications, a full-service marketing company. 

Kate has (thankfully) broken down how to think like a marketer into five simple steps — which we can all apply to our businesses. Without further ado, because, as Kate says, “the perfect time to start thinking like a marketer is now”: 

1. Communicate for connection and meaning, not just to transact sales.

Communication should be the top priority for anybody doing business, whether you’re in the accounting world, retail, restaurants, or publishing. Communication is about adding meaning and value to potential customers – not just trying to snag a check from them. 

For example, most people only hear from their accountant around — you guessed it — tax season. They get a simple email reminding them to make their appointment, and maybe a follow-up or two. However, outside of that season, customers typically aren’t getting much year-round value from their accounting firm. Also, it doesn’t have to be that way. Blogs, podcasts, and newsletters are all great ways to engage your clients (present or future ones) and add meaning to your relationship, without asking them for a sale of some kind.

When a change in the tax code occurs, accountants need to reach out to their clients who will be impacted by this change.  For example, “There is a change in the tax code, and I would like to have a conversation on its potential impact on your business.  Can we meet for cup of coffee to discuss?” 

“The accounting professionals who are finding ways to create meaningful conversations are the ones that are creating sustainable businesses for the long haul,” she said. “And (they’re) capturing a lot more value to the bottom line because they can raise their prices because they’re [bringing more value to their clients].”

2. Live and die by your client’s insights.

Are you paying attention to what your clients are saying? What they like and dislike, what they want to see more or less? If not, you’re leaving tremendous marketing opportunities on the table. 

“What’s interesting to me about financial professionals is that, here’s a group of subject matter experts who are all about the data, right?” Kate said. 

However, how many accounting firms are invested in the data of what their customers think? What’s your net promoter score? How is it trending? 

Give a survey, or set up a focus group — you glean your information is up to you. Make this a priority in your marketing strategy. Otherwise, you’re not going to know where to go.

“Once you have those clients insights, you know what pivots to make in your firm to be able to grow,” Kate said.

3. Market in a way that’s strategy-religious and tactic-agnostic. 

So many companies — accounting and otherwise — take the opposite approach than this. They’re all over the place with their strategy, but married to one tactic, just because they think that’s what the rest of the industry is doing. 

The trick is in the opposite approach: Be married to your strategy (once you do the front-end work to come up with a robust one). Try a little bit of everything when it comes to the tactics — aka the vehicles by which you deliver your strategy. 

Maybe the tactic is a video series, a workshop, a television commercial, or a newsletter series. Perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above. However, the trick is to experiment with a variety of approaches and see how best to deliver your strategy. Where are you seeing the most engagement, or the most leads coming from where? Pay attention to the numbers, and start devoting resources to the tactics that are producing results (and pulling resources from tactics that don’t).

“It’s about being willing to try new things,” Kate said. “And then walk away from new things.”

4. Create cultures and processes that align with your brand.

If your firm has a brand associated with never surprise-invoicing people, then you should, as a firm, build billing processes and packages around that core value. According to Kate, structure your pricing in a way that there’s some cushion. Just in case people call and ask for further advice, you don’t feel like you’re giving it away for free. 

Also, if you have a brand focused on being accessible and comfortable, and not nickel-and-diming the client, then build a culture surrounding that. An example Kate used is Southwest Airlines. This is an airline that’s built its brand around never being late, and not putting more costs on the customers’ shoulders. When a Southwest plane lands, all the crew going around and cleaning so that the aircraft can be used again for its next flight on time. Southwest built a culture in its employees around its “never late” branding, and that shines through in their marketing.

“What are we willing to do differently to deliver on the story that we’re telling the marketplace about what makes you a better accounting firm than the accounting firm down the street?” Kate asked.

5. Do everything in service of maintaining a virtuous cycle of creating value for the client while capturing value for you. 

This last marketing value is related in a way to the first: It’s all about creating value. Kate states, “that might mean giving things away for free. If giving something away for free is going to land you even more business eventually, then it’s a good cycle to get into.”

“It’s about can you create value for people, not just upfront when you’re trying to win them, but continuously, how do you keep creating value?” Kate said. “But how do you capture it back? We’re all in business to stay in business. So it’s not about giving it all away for selling it for too cheap. It’s really about figuring out how do you make sure that you’re pricing yourself right.” 

Much of this value comes back to the concept of “delighting.” How do you not just serve your clients, but delight them? Whether that’s the atmosphere, you create within the office, the gift that you give a new client, or that phone call informing the client of a tax law change.  How do you delight your client enough to where they not only want to keep coming back, but they also want to bring you quality referrals? 

Strategically doing this — in a way that eventually brings money back to your bottom line — is how to create a winning marketing strategy (and business). 

“You can’t create more value for your clients, or future clients, or associates, or whomever you serve if you’re not capturing money back to the bottom line,” Kate said. “If you’re constantly working your marketing, your business is going to be around as long as you want it to be. Then you can retire and go buy a yacht.”

Click here to listen to the entire interview

Networking: The Power of Knowing Someone

Watch people’s face when you bring up “networking.”  You’d think someone said a bad, offensive word.  Most people’s reaction to the idea of networking can be nothing short of loathing.  Of course this isn’t everyone, but many of us are not enthusiastically looking for the chance to strike up conversation with “random” people. 

Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of BNI, Ivan Misner gave four reasons in an Entrepreneur article as to why people avoid networking opportunities despite its obvious benefits for professionals.  Individuals tend to fall within one or more of the following groups: they’re not confident, too busy, too impatient for results, and/or they don’t want to sell or be sold to.  

I tend to agree with these categorizations.  When attending business conferences, I frequently sense that people are reluctant to introduce themselves and chat with others. Why? They perceive the other attendees as strangers—and mother always said, “Don’t talk to strangers.” But these don’t tend to be the type of strangers she was talking about. These are people you need to meet—so how do you meet them? You stick out your hand, tell them your name, and smile. Simple as that.

There are those that ruin the idea of networking for the rest of us though.  I have actually walked away from people when they were looking over my head for their next victim and really not listening to what I was saying. They’re appalled, and so I ask them: “Can you tell me the last three things that I said?” They don’t know, because they weren’t listening to me. If I cannot look people in the eye throughout a conversation—for example, when they approach me as I’m packing up after a presentation—I reassure them that I am still listening. Networking, communication, sharing: it’s a matter of respect.

Improv Is No Joke Podcast Episode 4: Ed Mendlowitz Show Notes

Ed Mendlowitz is a long-time CPA and a partner of prestigious Withum Smith+Brown. He’s also a member of many CPA societies and has taught financial and accounting courses for 11 years. He’s a firm believer in CPE and uses his CPE training opportunities to network with other CPA’s from around the world. He’s full of wisdom and insights and he shares many great nuggets with us today. If you would like to listen to the entire episode, you can click here, or you can download the episode on iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play.

Ed considers himself the last of the “expert generalists.” He started his firm a long time ago and the only way he could grow was to never say “no” and to do anything that came his way. He grew his first practice from two people to fifty before finally merging with WSB years ago.

WSB does something that many other accounting firms don’t do; they create unique, fun and fresh videos that they use to promote their brand on the Withum1 YouTube page. The videos started as a way to chronicle their yearly ‘state of the firm’ meetings and to excite the staff. This has also had an added benefit of being a recruiting tool for new talent just emerging from their accounting education.

WSB does a lot to wine and dine great prospective employees, just like how many companies wine and dine prospective clients. Where many companies fall short though, is they start by doing anything they can to land the client, then once they’re on board, they eventually forget about these existing clients.

“If they paid attention to existing clients with the same effort and interest that they do to get a new client, they’d get a lot more business from existing clients and the firm would grow and their clients would do all their recommending and referrals for them.”

Through his love of CPE, Ed attains over 100 credits per year. Most of this is through going to LIVE CPE events. He prefers these over online CPE because of the human interactions that come from these events. He meets about 40-50 new people at each event, often times inviting the lone person to join him for lunch or dinner. His networking skills have earned him referrals from all over the world.

Personal connections have always been a part of Ed’s business, but many other accounting firms just don’t do a good job with it. They often think that doing the client’s taxes and meeting commitments is developing a relationship. It’s not. It’s when you reach out with a personal touch that really matters. When you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and say “hi.” This creates availability and clients love when their CPA is available.

Ed recommends returning phone calls promptly, and if there’s a problem you need to let them know ASAP. You should precipitate phone calls with questions and suggestions for the client. These build your client relationship and will often lead to referrals. “The referrals you get from existing clients are the way you can tell if you’re doing a good job or not.”

Creating a comfortable environment for your employees is another relational aspect to accounting that every company needs to work on. Within committees or groups, create an atmosphere where people can spitball ideas that can turn into something great. “Bad ideas lead to good ideas, no ideas lead to nothing.” Innovation and crazy ideas have led to many successes in every aspect of life, so don’t miss out on this opportunity within your own company.

Ed truly delivered with some great nuggets of knowledge and insights into networking within the CPA community. You’ll hear from Ed again in the near future on the podcast, so stay tuned.

You Never Know Where It Might Lead…

You Never Know Where It Might LeadEvery day we come in contact with a number of different people. Some interactions are brief and others unexpectedly change the course of our lives. You never know what kind of chance opportunities you may come across when interacting with others. It’s like coming across the secret prize in the classic Cracker Jack boxes – it’s exciting! However, reaping the unexpected rewards of those interactions requires you to actually interact – or open the box and start eating.

But, I Don’t Wanna…

In today’s commercial airline industry, planes are rarely left with any seats available – meaning everyone is packed in like sardines. Depending on the duration of your flight, you are guaranteed to be sitting closely to at least one individual you don’t know for at least one hour. Oftentimes people go into the situation with headphones in ears, books or electronic devices out to make a clear point of “don’t bother me.” But, what if you decided to take opportunity to at least engage a bit? You could be sitting next to a famed athlete, a first-responder with amazing stories, a high profile chef that owns three restaurants in Las Vegas, a popular musician, or an elderly man/woman who can speak to events of the past…the possibilities are endless.

You just never know what might happen when you meet somebody. At times we turn away from such opportunities. “I don’t want to do that,” we tell ourselves. “I don’t want to go out there.” When I was chair of the executive board, I got a call from the Ohio Society staff asking me if I would take three speakers out to dinner who were in town to deliver a seminar the next day on international accounting and global standards.

My gut reaction was that I didn’t really want to do it. “I don’t know these guys,” I told myself, “but I might as well, because you never know.” I told my wife that the dinner was at 6:30 and I’d be home by 8:30 at the latest. However, what I didn’t expect happened: we had a great time. We didn’t know one another from Adam, and yet the comfort was immediate, as if we were old friends. The conversation gelled immediately. We laughed and shared stories until closing time.

It Will Always Pay Off

One of those gentlemen became a client of mine. A nice revenue stream opened. It never would have happened had I shirked away from putting myself out there and doing something not completely in my comfort zone. We all reach that point in time when we ask, “Do I have to go? Do I want to go?” We hem and haw (just like the two characters in Who Moved My Cheese) and risk missing out. I just know that I’m glad that I went to that dinner and met those gentlemen. Not only was it a good time, but it was time well spent.

The clear pathway to business may not always be there and that’s ok. You need to focus on building relationships. You need to step out there, into new territory, and get to know people. That’s what leads to friendships, which are important in themselves. And, of course, friendships often open the door to opportunities. When you shake a hand, start a conversation, you never know where it might lead.

Learn more about how you can more easily and comfortably seize these with the “yes, and…” approach and other improvisation principles in my book, Improv is No Joke.

The Importance of Speaking Simpler

Blog 2 PhotoWhen I start hearing buzzwords, I quit listening. After 20-something years in the CPA profession, I have heard all of the jargon and after a while it all seems to get jumbled up. How many times have you heard someone say something along the lines of, “Let’s set the bar high by going the extra mile to reach out and enlarge our bandwidth with new potential clients.”

I hear, “nothing but empty words that won’t keep my….oh, look – squirrels. What was I saying? Oh yea, keep my focus.”

There is no focused direction. It is a complex way of saying something vague. You might think that you sound smarter, but it can be difficult for your team to understand what you’re trying to convey. No one has any direction on next steps to take, priorities, or goals. When Warren Buffet sits down to write his letter to his shareholders each year, he writes as if he was speaking to his sisters in language they would understand. When leaders begin to speak in simpler and more precise terms, we can see the path to growth.

So let’s try this again:

“Let’s start a conversation on ways to reach more clients. I want to hear from everyone on areas we can expand into and how we can improve the relationships with our current clients who will generate more referrals.”

This version cut out the buzzwords and replaced them with effective communication. In doing so, you begin relating more to what your employees are looking for from a good leader. Speaking simpler doesn’t just make the direction you want to go in clearer, it also inspires creativity and participation from the very people you depend on day in and day out. They begin to get excited because there is real thinking and less room for personal interpretation as to what “going the extra mile” is. When the goal line is made clear, team work towards that goal takes on a renewed energy

Are you ready to launch the course of the general conversation in the workplace towards more positive results? Download a free chapter from my new book, Improv Is No Joke to catch the vision of speaking in simpler terms or I can come speak at your next event.