Success in marketing and selling professional services such as Trust depends on knowing the market and service, planning, and hard work.
CPAs are already adept at selling compliance-related services such as audits and tax preparation. However, since the prospective client must first be convinced that Trust is beneficial, marketing and selling the service presents some unique challenges.
The first step in persuading a prospective Trust client is recognizing the challenges inherent in selling a professional service. Some background is in order.
|The Client's Viewpoint-Characteristics of Professional Services
From our client's perspective, professional services such as Trust are:
Inseparable from provider. From the buyer's perspective, the service and service provider are closely linked. Creating a good impression and providing quality service are key to acquiring and retaining clients. The positive is that CPAs enjoy a good reputation for honesty and integrity. For a system owner seeking to build up its image as trustworthy, the CPA's reputation provides value.
Intangible. Unlike a product, such as a car or DVD player, the buyer cannot touch or taste a service. As a result, some clients may find a professional service somewhat difficult to understand or appreciate. It's hard to appreciate the work involved in a financial statement audit if you have never done one. Education is the key to overcoming this concern. Another method is to establish results.
Variable by provider. Services provided by one accounting professional or consultant will vary according to differences in education, training, disposition, and so forth. Clients understand this very well. To differentiate you and your firm, it is helpful to establish a list of satisfied clients who can serve as references to address this natural concern of prospective clients.
Perishable. Services, unlike products, cannot be stored. A track record of accomplishments can be measured and recorded. Trust has proven itself for clients.
Overcoming these and other obstacles takes planning and execution. In this segment, we have provided some tips and recommendations.
|Develop a Trust Marketing Plan
Every accounting firm, no matter how large or small, can benefit by developing a marketing and sales plan. Whether formal or informal, the marketing plan should identify who you are trying to reach, how you will reach them (or instance, using advertising, public relations, strategic alliances, a Web site, direct marketing, etc.).
The firm should also create a sales plan. The plan should identify who will contact prospective Trust clients, how the firm will qualify them as potential buyers, how the firm will determine their needs, and objectives. Selling a compliance-oriented service such as an audit or tax preparation typically takes less planning and persistence than selling a service such as Trust. In developing a plan, consider using the following steps:
Step #1—Understand your Market
Key to developing any marketing plan is understanding the market. To be effective, a marketing strategy should begin with an assessment of the market for the service in the area in which your firm practices (e.g., geographic area, industry, client size, etc.). It is important to consider the entire market population and not just existing clients. Information about the market can be developed through formal and informal markets research techniques (e.g., surveying the market, talking to existing clients, and so on). The purpose of this effort is to identify organizations most likely to buy these services.
In the area of technology services, market research indicates that small and medium-sized businesses are presently under-serviced for their technology needs and are seeking outside assistance. Other studies indicate that more and more companies are relying on third party service providers and they are looking for assurance that the systems of those service providers are reliable and secure. This is one of the reasons Trust was developed.
A primary candidate for selling Trust should be your existing client base. They need the guidance and assurance you can provide. Start by identifying which clients are third party services providers or have service level agreements with other providers. Next, try to determine how many of your clients rely heavily on those third party systems - do they contain business critical information? Do they contain sensitive customer information? Help your clients understand the need to know that those systems are indeed reliable and secure. As a business advisor, you owe it to clients to help them identify ways to thrive in the new environment.
The planning process is also a good time for a little self-appraisal. You should understand your own firm's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Often known by the acronym SWOT, the process and product has proven valuable to many CPA firms. Strengths and weaknesses are internal to the firm, and they are largely under your control. Opportunities and threats are external and less controllable, but need to be factored into your plan.
Lastly, be sure you understand the competition and the positioning of Trust. Simply stated, Trust is the most comprehensive assurance service for evaluating system reliability, including security, availability, confidentiality, and processing integrity that is available and is clearly differentiated in the market as it provides independent verification that a system meets rigorous standards.
In assessing the risk of Trust engagements, you would consider the nature of the practice area, the industry, potential clients and the types of systems used. You would need to match these risk factors to your ability to manage those risks and obtain fees commensurate with the risks.
It would be useful to assess your staff's skills inventory to obtain an understanding of the existing competency pool. This would be followed by a gap analysis to determine the gap between the existing competency pool and the competency requirements of the Trust services. Once the gap analysis has been performed, a plan of training or hiring can be developed. This plan should have a timeline and budget.
An alternative consideration would involve an acquisition of qualified staff or a firm that already possesses credentials in this area.
Step #2—Identify Target Audiences and Companies
The first step in identifying potential target audiences or prospects for a Trust engagement, it is helpful to look at a number of factors that would be useful indicators of an organization's need for and readiness for Trust:
Public companies—Boards of Directors of public companies are increasingly conscious of their significant dependence on corporate information systems and the risks related to unreliable systems.
Controls conscious management—Controls conscious management may view a Trust engagement as an effective tool to inculcate an appropriate control orientation for the entity.
Complex and changing systems—Complex and changing systems are vulnerable to breakdowns in procedures; hence, entities with such systems would be sensitized to the need for a rigorous system reliability framework such as Trust.
Mission critical systems— Mission critical systems would be the obvious target for a marketing campaign due to the consequences to the entity flowing from unreliable systems.
Outsourced systems—Outsourced systems are difficult to observe and monitor. Thus, entities that have outsourced systems represent an ideal target for Trust services.
Controls breakdowns reported in media—While control breakdowns are unfortunate events for entities, studies repeatedly show that receptivity to services increases when breakdowns bring the need to management's attention and raise the urgency of a project to address control problems. Thus, entities that have experienced control breakdowns would be particularly interested in Trust services.
Current users of SAS No.70 reports —Some purchasers of services intended as third party reports related to service organizations have acquired such services because SAS No. 70 was the only reporting framework available. In many cases, where the goal is to produce a marketing document to persuade current and potential customers, investors, etc. about the reliability of an entity's system, Trust would be a preferable framework since Trust results in an unrestricted report where SAS 70 reports are restricted. In addition, if the goal is to speak to the issues of business continuity and disaster recovery, a Trust type engagement would be preferred as SAS 70 is not able to deal with those issues. No matter which engagement is performed, it is important to identify the needs of the organization and then provide the service that best meets their needs.
Step # 3—Decide on the Most Effective Marketing and Sales Approach
As a general rule, firms spend roughly 2 percent to 3 percent of their annual revenues on marketing. Whatever the budget, the marketing plan should identify the best vehicles for reaching the target audience. Sometimes, a letter to clients will suffice. Other times, you may decide to adopt a more comprehensive and integrated plan that includes elements such as direct marketing, event marketing, advertising, public relations, and direct sales.
With any approach you adopt, the marketing plan should include methods of communicating the Trust advantages:
Improves the overall reliability of systems
Independent verification of the system bolsters confidence and trust among users of the system or those that rely on them
CPAs are the acknowledged providers of assurance and trust
- International network for building trust
- Meets the needs of consumers, merchants, ASP/ISPs, and business-to-business markets
- Your budget, experience, and target audiences will guide you in the marketing planning
Step #4— Develop and Implement a Sales Plan
As part of the marketing plan, you should also establish a sales strategy and objectives to measure progress. This sales plan should include:
Who sells and who generates leads. A coordinated approach. For instance, agree that managers working at the target prospect report who is contemplating third party outsourcing of systems and set up a meeting with the partner.
A list of targets to contact. For larger firms, you can build a sales contact and activity reporting database.
Sales goals and objectives (e.g., call 15 prospects per week, sell five engagements in the next quarter, follow up inquiries from the Web site within 24 hours, and so on.)
For firms with more than one person selling Trust, identification of a periodic meeting to discuss activity, review status, and analyze changes to the sales process.
Incentives for staff and sales goals for partners.