Accounting Website Marketing
The sales process can be arduous when you have a steady flow of leads coming into your office and plenty of existing work sitting on your desk. Between the appointments that stand you up and unproductive consultations, many accountants get discouraged with the process and wonder how to perfect it.
Conceptually, the sales process is an upside down funnel (a.k.a. inverted pyramid) that has several layers which your prospects must go through. In other words, you start with a wide base of leads and the prospects work way down the funnel to a tiny spout at the bottom when you close clients and bring them into your practice.
Much to my surprise, most small accounting firms struggle with separating the wheat from the chaff (e.g., qualifying leads), how long it takes close prospects, and then wonder why diamonds are not dropping thru the spout of the funnel.
Breaking your sales process into individual steps makes it much easier for non-sales professionals to appreciate how the process (or dance) works. Below is an illustration of twelve steps that you can take to capture more diamonds.
Step 1 – Define your target audience into monthly buckets – Rather than target businesses based on proximity to your office location, target businesses by industry sector (e.g., restaurants, lawyers, manufacturing, wineries, etc.).
Step 2 – Build your “field of dream” – To establish yourself as a subject matter expert, develop a niche website which establishes your firm as having an expertise within an industry. Build a compelling story to address their pain points. To overcome their skepticism, acquire certifications and/or become a member of an association which gives them the confidence to hire your firm over their current “generalist” accountant. In other words, the niche website should become the needle in the haystack they are searching for…
Step 3 – Craft a targeted message – Develop a direct mail letter that speaks to your target audience. You want a letter that is compelling and identifies with the problem that keeps the prospect up at night and how your service helps to solve this problem. The most effective message will have emotion and passion wrapped into the letter, not industry jargon.
Step 4 – Send a follow up message – Develop another letter that builds upon your first letter. If need be, break the target audience into sub-targets (e.g., break general construction into HVAC, electricians, painters, roofers/siders, etc.). Craft a letter targeting this specific subsegment (e.g., HVAC/plumbers), not to the general construction industry. Hit this audience 3-5 times within a six month period.
Step 5 – Qualify ALL leads generated – As the leads come into your office, ALL leads must be pre-qualified by answering a series of questions before you agree to a meeting. Start the selling process on the phone before meeting in person.
Step 6 – Add ALL prospects to your LinkedIn profile – Add each new lead to your LinkedIn profile.
Step 7 – Add ALL leads to your email newsletter list – All existing clients and prospects should be getting your email newsletter. This will add value to your relationship and educate them on the breath and depth of your services and keep your firm top of mind. Even if they don’t come on board after your initial consultation, keep them on the list. They may come on board many months later or refer someone to you.
Step 7 – Keep a running list of all leads generated and status on a spreadsheet – Every lead that comes into your office should be recorded onto one spreadsheet with the source of the lead, date, contact info, service requested, quote, and next steps.
Step 8 – Send follow-up letters to promising leads from 1-3 months ago – For those consultations that are pending and getting cold, it’s time to warm them up and send them a letter that keeps them luke warm. Customize it around their situation and why they should get started now.
Step 9 – Call the luke warm prospects again – Make a follow-up phone call to your prospects that are still on the fence (e.g., prospects you met 2-6 months ago). Try to identify why they haven’t taken a step forward and address their fear. Try to make the move risk free for them and address their inertia. Get them to take a baby step forward.
Step 10 – Invite the old prospects to meet you for coffee – Send an email and invite the fence sitters from 6-12 months ago to coffee. Create a compelling reason to get together and mention that you have something to share with them (e.g., free book or special report) that is relevant to their business and can help them improve the quality of their life. Soften up the approach and use the meeting as a vehicle to discuss their business in this economy. Operate like a business coach trying to help them oversee their business, not an accountant.
Step 11 – Send invitations to clients and prospects for upcoming events – Create a prospect event that is informational in nature. For some events, you can be the presenter and others can be done by outside professionals. The more you make the event specific to their industry, the better off you will be in getting them to attend.
My point is that the selling process is ongoing because some prospects take 1-3 years to close while others are instantaneous. Yes, the courting process takes ongoing effort to remain top of mind and overcome their inertia. The challenge is to recognize that the process is not transactional, it’s evolutionary and takes a series of steps to capture more than your fair share of new business.
Have you considered “unbundling” your marketing message to attract more leads?
Over the past ten years, many industries have begun unbundling their services into smaller bite size nuggets to generate more inquiries for their services. Sometimes, this change is forced upon them and other times, it’s opportunistic to generate that initial discussion, which leads into multiple engagements down the road.
Unbundling has been huge for the music industry. In the olden ages, the music industry would bundle together a batch of songs (e.g., album) and sell the bundle for higher price. With the digital age, songs are now unbundled and purchased a la carte. As a result, the barriers between music artists and genres has lowered thus creating over 1,000 bewildering microgenres.
In the restaurant business, have you found yourself getting sucked into ordering tapas which end up costing you more than buying one comprehensive entrée? This is what unbundling your services can accomplish for your accounting practice.
To illustrate my point, have you considered delivering your services in the comprehensive manner that you’ve always done but also offering them in smaller pieces? In other words, breaking a full service, comprehensive set of “we do it all” generalist message into smaller micro websites which break the message into smaller, more meaningful a la carte pieces.
In addition to your main website which communicates you are a CPA Firm in Raleigh serving all types of businesses, have you developed micro websites which break your marketing message into smaller bite site messages which make it appear that your firm is dedicated to a certain type of client who is searching for more expertise? Here are examples all from one accounting firm:
Real Estate Accounting – This website is designed to attract property management, real estate developers and construction firms. It paints a picture for the prospect that we understand real estate accounting so the prospect is more inclined to call Gomez CPA.
International Tax – This website is designed to attract interest from companies outside of the US doing business in the Raleigh Durham area ranging from manufacturing, import export, to distribution businesses of all types. It also generates leads from expatriates and local residents with more complex filing requirements (e.g., foreign bank accounts, multinationals, etc.) seeking international tax expertise.
Dental Practices – This website is designed to attract leads from pediatric dentists, orthodontists, oral surgeons, and general dentistry across North Carolina. The visual images and content are focused on dental practices who are looking for a Dental CPA Firm.
Try the best of both worlds to maximize your lead generation. That’s right, you can position yourself as both a local generalist with the one stop shopping approach, and also break your message into smaller bite size pieces like tasty tapas.
In today’s online world, 85% of consumers say that they read online reviews about local businesses as part of their decision making process. Whether this is looking online for a movie, restaurant, contractor or hiring an accountant, we all use online reviews to lower our risk of a bad experience.
There are review websites that rate contractors, employers, products, doctors, and all kinds of professional services. These online review websites make the world more transparent for buyers and shoppers of all kinds. Eventually, it will be very hard to hide underneath the online review radar screen.
Focus Your Efforts
Because obtaining reviews takes a concerted effort, we recommend that you focus your efforts on the review websites that will give you the highest return. Typically, this means trying to obtain reviews from your clients in Google, Yelp, and Intuit Find-a-ProAdvisor. We would recommend skipping things like Angie’s List, Judy’s Book, and smaller review websites. For our industry, they just don’t have enough market share to support the effort.
What Is Taboo
The review websites take reviews to heart and go the extra mile to protect their brand. For example, Yelp actually reviews nearly all of your reviews and looks for patterns to filter out fake reviews. Google looks at your IP address to see if the review is the same IP address as the business and filters this out. Here are some of the things that are taboo in this new online review world:
- Placing testimonials on my website – In today’s jaded world, most website prospects will tend to ignore your carefully crafted testimonials on your website. That’s because most realize that you ignore the negative reviews, only show the positive reviews, and probably wrote the review for your client. Quite frankly, negative reviews often are very enlightening and helps the buyer more than you realize. For example, Amazon has made this into a major selling point for their online reviews (e.g., best/worst review).
- Asking clients for reviews – Yelp has a policy of discouraging businesses from asking clients to post happy reviews. One way that they spot this is if your accounting firm has 0 reviews for years and then all of a sudden, gets a few in one day. To avoid getting filtered out, space out your reviews over time so they appear more organic. However, it is fine to make customers aware that you encourage their feedback and online reviews. Yes, this is a subtle difference.
- Fake reviews – This is a major no no and has consequences. In 2013, Samsung was fined over $340,000 for building fake reviews. In NYC, there was a major sting operation called Operation Clean Turf and fines totaling over $350,000 were dished out to 19 companies for fake Yelp reviews.
Process We Recommend
The process for Google, Yelp and Intuit are very different. Below is my recommendation on how you can proceed down this path and develop a 5 star reputation online. I will assume that your back office is worthy of 5 star reviews and seldom has complaints.
- Local Listings – To obtain reviews, you must “claim” your business in Google and Yelp.
- Google – To obtain reviews in Google, the person posting the review must have a Google account of some kind (e.g., Gmail, Google+, etc.) to authenticate who they are. While a pain, we all have to play by Google’s rules given their market share. Their intentions are valid because they want to validate your identity before posting your online review on their review service.
- Yelp – Given the filtering process that Yelp has created to weed out suspicious reviews, we recommend posting a few reviews of your favorite restaurants. After posting 3-4 online reviews, then you should post online reviews for business clients that you genuinely support and recommend. Pace this out gradually at say 3-4 per day. Start with business clients that will appreciate this the most like restaurants, retail outlets, fitness trainers, subcontractors, etc. In other words, pay your clients a compliment forward by scratching their back before asking them to reciprocate for your accounting practice.
- Intuit Find-a-ProAdvisor – If you want more QB clients, then create a profile within Intuit’s Find-a-ProAdvisor website fully and support the profile by obtaining QB Certifications. Then, create a list of satisfied QB clients. These reviews will be the easiest to get posted.
Having a solid online reputation generates leads, increases your conversion rate on prospects, and creates word-of-mouth advertising benefits that benefit your practice in ways you never anticipated.
Generally, 98% of visitors to your website never take that next step. In other words, they read a couple pages on your website, may like what they see, but don’t call or register on your website. If you think about your own behavior, this probably makes sense to you as a prospective buyer. In other words, you like to browse online for tons of information and prefer to shop online incognito.
As a business owner, what proactive steps should you take to increase the number of inquiries and target your advertising to people who are actively shopping for accounting and tax services? Have you considered behavioral retargeting?
Behavioral retargeting (aka – remarketing or retargeting) is a form of online advertising targeted to consumers based on their previous internet shopping behavior. In other words, suppose you were shopping online for an SUV and noticed that you were all of a sudden seeing lots on ads for SUVs. In fact, the ads were for Jeep and Ford Expedition, all of which you were seriously considering. Is this a coincidence that you were seeing tons of online advertising after visiting the Jeep and Ford Expedition websites? No, this would be an example of behavioral retargeting where these brands have placed a cookie onto your browser after you visited their website, and they are now targeting ads based on your potential interest. This is behavioral retargeting, at its best.
Another example might be Salesforce contact management. You may have visited their website to better manage your marketing and realize Salesforce is advertising everywhere you visit online. This is retargeting and they are trying to raise your awareness of their brand, seeking to influence your perception of them, and encourage you to return to their website.
Amazon uses retargeting as well. It’s very cost effective.
Basically, retargeting is serving ads to people after they left an advertiser’s website. Retargeting pinpoints advertising to prospects soon after they visit a website and is very effective. Retargeting helps companies advertise to visitors who leave without making a purchase – which is approximately 98% of all website traffic.
How We Do It
Build Your Firm is combining the power of pay per click advertising (aka – PPC) from Google Adwords in conjunction with organic search engine optimization to drive prospects to your website. After these prospects visit your website and browse elsewhere on the internet, they will soon see online ads for your accounting firm, in an effort to raise the brand awareness of your firm and seek to motivate them back to your website so you ultimately obtain a lead. Within the accounting space, Build Your Firm (BYF) is the only marketing firm providing this combined service to maximize your lead generation.
The availability of BYF’s combined service of pay per click campaign management along with retargeting advertising is limited on a market by market basis. Call Nita Sabo x156 to see if your market is available and the projected costs.
Build Your Firm is a certified Google Adwords Premier Small Business Partner and has been providing pay per click advertising services since 2005.
Here is one example where a accountant has effectively used an free book offer and a free consultation to generate leads galore. Yes, the website is optimized in the search engines and is easy to locate but what makes the difference is that this website speaks to the website visitor so quickly. It’s simple, to the point, and extremely effective.
If you truly want more leads from the internet from small business owners, consider the free book offer approach that will motivate small business owners to give up their contact information and meet with you 1-on-1. This approach is a classic direct marketing technique that dates back to the old record clubs (Columbia House, CBS, etc.) and Time Life Books. Yes, I am dating myself just a little bit but many of you know the reference.
This particular example is a CPA Firm in Baltimore that is using a paperback book focused on marketing tips.
Consider the free book offer if you want to get in front of more prospective clients. Yes, it takes work to write the book or get one that has been ghost written, get it printed, and fulfill it but if you understand our industry model, it works in the long run.
About ten years ago, you would win the website marketing race by having a well designed generalist website. Heck, it worked well and the return on investment (ROI) was a no brainer.
As more accountants eventually caught on five years ago, it became more challenging to stay ahead of the curve and still get more than your fair share of website leads. That’s when the general public became aware of search engine optimization and pay per click advertising. The ROI was still very attractive but you had to spend more to acquire the same number of leads.
Today, it is harder and harder for a single, generalist website to be placed towards the top of the search engine results pages for all of the services provided in your practice. And if you operate in multiple geographic markets, it is even harder to be towards the top because your message to the search engines is more complex and watered down.
As more accounting firms have integrated blogs, social media, pay per click advertising, retargeting advertising and reputation management, it becomes more competitive to dominate the online lead generation game.
While there is no single solution, many savvy accounting firms have deployed a multiple website strategy to obtain dominate search engine placement for a limited set of keywords. Essentially, search engines scan your website and look for patterns which identify what you do, where you are located, and compare your website against a set of criteria within their algorithm. The more you do to support the website using their best practices and the more consistent your message, the higher placement you will receive within Google, Bing and Yahoo which translates to more leads.
Secondarily, the multiple website approach enables you to tailor your message to the prospect to create that aha moment for the prospect. In other words, some small business owners are searching by location and others are searching for a type of accountant (e.g., bookkeeper, enrolled agent, CPA Firm) and others are looking for a specialist (e.g., restaurant accountant, non-profit accountant, etc.). There is no rule that says you accounting firm can only use one website to deliver your message to the community.
In the example below, we have a sole practitioner CPA Firm in Jacksonville FL that is very small in size. However, to accelerate their lead generation and acquire a disproportionate amount of high quality leads, they are using five (5) websites. The first website is a generalist website trying to target small businesses based on location and leverages two office locations. The second website is a QuickBooks Certified ProAdvisor website and attempts to attract business owners searching for a CPA that works with QuickBooks users and is certified. The next website focuses on church accounting and faith-based organizations. And the last two websites focus on real estate accounting and dental accounting because there is an audience out there looking for a “specialist.”
The business rationale is that websites are relatively inexpensive and the value of each small business client is very high over the lifetime value of that relationship. Net, each website is a profit center and generates an attractive ROI if done properly.
Here is the goal for each website:
- Attract leads from small business owners searching for a CPA Firm in Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra and surrounding suburbs.
- Attract leads from small business owners who use QuickBooks and searching for an Intuit QuickBooks Certified ProAdvisor nearby.
- Attract leads from churches in north Florida and south Georgia searching for a church accountant.
- Attract leads from real estate businesses in Jacksonville looking for a real estate accounting specialist.
- Attract leads from dentists in north Florida and south Georgia looking for a dental accounting firm.
If you are serious about website marketing in today’s competitive environment and want more than your fair share of leads, then you should develop a multiple website marketing approach to improve your marketing.
All business owners love inbound marketing when it works effectively because it brings motivated prospects to our front door. However, we hate the work required to get the end results. As Americans, we are lazy and want the results without all of the hard work.
The fact is that prospects for your accounting services search online for solutions to their problems. To become the firm (or person) best suited to solve their complex issues, you need to create a presence on the internet which motivates the prospect to call you. In other words, all roads direct them back to your firm, or you.
Blogging first started in the late 1990s as a unique way for people to share ideas, experiences, thoughts and opinions. Today, everyone from mom-and-pop businesses to Fortune 500 companies utilize blogs to increase their visibility online, improve their reputation, develop a following, and generate new business.
Here are the reasons why having a blog integrated into your website is imperative.
- “Google says” – Google has a voracious appetite for fresh content. They reward websites and individuals for providing unique content by elevating your website in the search engine results pages. They especially like blogs because the content is easier to index and is date stamped so they know how fresh or old it is.
- Showcase your unique talents – A blog is a wonderful platform to demonstrate your knowledge base for a boutique type of service and create a following. Rather than blog about general accounting and tax related topics, which are too broad, we recommend that you narrow the range by developing a niche within your accounting practice, have a niche website developed around that niche service, and then add a blog within the niche website. By narrowing the range of topics and constraining the subject matter, you can now laser focus on blogging about your expertise.
- Build trust and create a brand identity – Now that you have a niche website along with a themed blog to support it, the stage has been set to create an identity and establish trust. The next challenge is to write 3-4 blog posts per month which help your followers and demonstrate the depth of your expertise. If you do this successfully, you will eventually create an identity as a subject matter expert who prospects reach out to when they need help.
Occasionally, accountants are willing to take their marketing efforts on the road for a trade show to fish where the fish are. In today’s case, Mark Feinsot, CPA went on the road to a trade show for private aircraft owners, plane manufacturers, and various aviation professionals. Mark’s practice has an expertise for Aviation Accounting and Tax helping private airplane owners, aircraft management companies, pilots, flight crews and aviation professionals throughout the United States.
Earlier today, I visited the NBAA Regional Show in Westchester NY to witness the one day show myself. Personally, I don’t know the difference between a Bombardier, Falcon, Gulfstream or Cessna but Mark sure does. Heck, he used to be a chief pilot for a general aviation company and still teaches future pilots how to fly.
Today’s show was unique in that it was held at an airport in the middle of the airport, not a convention center. Parking was valet only (mandatory). Yes, there was continuing education sessions like most trade shows but this was truly unique.
Mark was like a kid in a candy store answering tax questions and meeting aircraft owners and pilots.
The point is that there are many ways to reach your niche audience but occasionally, it requires getting out of the office.
Most accountants tend to think of reputation management as crisis management. In other words, it’s reactive and only done after a terrible review is posted. This is the wrong position to take…
Reputation marketing is proactive and done consistently over time. In the world of small business, there is no JD Power or Consumer Reports to tell the marketplace who is the best lawyer, doctor or accountant in town. By default, your local reputation is the culmination of online reviews posted into Google, Yelp, Intuit’s Find-a-ProAdvisor and maybe a couple other websites.
We all use online reviews to make purchase decisions and avoid bad experiences. Whether it’s selecting a movie to watch, book to buy, stay at a hotel, or eat at a restaurant on the road. Some of us look at the absolute number of reviews, some look at the score, and some take the time to read the actual reviews. In today’s economy, the sum total of these reviews paint a picture about your accounting practice. It is what it is…
For accountants, you need to focus on the top two or three. Ignore the smaller players.
- Intuit Find-a-ProAdvisor
Google is a math oriented company so they push for the absolute number of reviews and score. If you do a great job obtaining Google reviews, it will make it easier to acquire new clients, reinforce your reputation with existing clients, and make it easier to hire new staff members. Yes, your reputation cuts across prospects, clients and staff members.
Yelp is more qualitative and community oriented. They are looking for passionate Yelpers to post online and share their experience and treats Yelpers like a food or movie critic. The longer and more descriptive the write up, the better.
The third player to consider is Intuit’s Find-a-ProAdvisor which is designed to help small business owner’s locate certified QuickBooks accountant.
The combination of these three reputation tools will have a huge impact on the community at large.
Here are three examples of accountants who use reputation marketing to support their accounting practice.
Chahal & Associates – 53 Yelp reviews in Northern California (East Bay) – 29 in Yelp’s filter
James Castaldo CPA & Associates – 21 Google reviews in Lake Grove NY – 15 Google reviews in Melville (two offices)
Over the past two years, there has been an emerging growth of accounting firms developing an expertise amongst the real estate industry. By real estate, I am referring to accountants who want to service:
- Real Estate Property Management
- Real Estate Developers and Investor Groups
- Commercial Real Estate Owner/Operators
- Architects and Structural Engineers
- Commercial Real Estate Agencies
- Real Estate Investment Trust Companies
- Non-Resident Property Owners
- Condo and HOA Boards
Here are several worth exploring:
- Florida Real Estate CPA Accounting – Pensacola – Tallahassee
- Real Estate Accounting – Jacksonville – Gainesville
- Real Estate Accounting – Miami – South Florida
- Real Estate Accounting – Atlanta
- Real Estate Accounting – Raleigh North Carolina
- Real Estate Accounting – Los Angeles – Orange County CA
- Real Estate Accounting – Austin Texas
- Real Estate Accounting – Condominiums – Louisville Kentucky
- Real Estate Accounting – New York City
- Real Estate Accounting – Salt Lake City
- Real Estate Accounting – Baltimore MD