Proximity has long been the primary driver of CPA firm marketing strategy. Pursue local clients, because they’re most likely to pursue you back. It’s the oldest play in the book.
But over the last few decades, the rules of marketing have undergone a massive overhaul. And for whatever reason, accounting firms aren’t keeping up.
It’s not that the proximity approach itself is stupid—people really are hardwired to be more trusting of companies that are physically closer to them. And it’s clearly still the best method for some markets (picture the small-time farmer, peddling his produce around town).
But any CPA firm still relying on this old-school strategy is selling itself tragically short. For large, well-established firms, in particular, proximity-based marketing is a dangerously self-limiting approach.
Stop Thinking Geographically
How many potential clients really care what your zip code is anymore? How many of them really appreciate the romanticized ritual of walking into a physical office and sitting in one of your big, leather chairs to talk business?
My guess: far fewer than you think.
Proximity-based marketing can also trigger a waterfall of other bad-for-business outcomes. For one thing, it forces firms into a small competition pool with a high variety of needs.
The result? Endless, identical “full service” accounting firms—jacks of all trades, masters of none. In order to compete on a local playing field, CPA firms are forced to embrace a huge laundry list of services and a vast breadth of expertise as their primary differentiators.
Problem? When everyone has the same primary differentiators, no one is different, and competition suffers.
At that point, clients are controlling the buying process, and firms are essentially competing on price alone, which completely undermines any true value each individual firm might have to offer.
Here’s the reality: modern, sophisticated clients are much more interested in whether you can help them solve a specific problem—and solve it well.
Instead of a breadth of expertise, do you have enough depth of expertise?
The Pursuit of Good Business (vs. Any Business)
Yes, there are many people who, when in need of accounting services, will hop on the internet and type in “accounting firm [my city].” And yes, this might lead them to you.
But you’re savvy. You know that’s not where the real money is.
The big clients with the big budgets are willing to do more than walk down the street to find a true partner. They’re more concerned with finding the right fit, regardless of zip code, and what are they primarily looking for? Deep expertise around a specific problem.
This is illustrated by the fact that larger clients no longer have just one accounting firm helping them solve their business problems. These days, companies might have five or more firms working for them at the same time, each with its own specialty—one firm might specialize in pricing strategies while another is, say, creating financial statements for credit unions.
The specialization prevents undue conflict, and most importantly, it saves everyone from all the humiliating low-brow competition that comes from competing on price.
If you want to be more than just a good regional CPA firm—if you’re ready to tackle big projects and see big dollar signs—you’ve got to start winning new business based on your ability to solve a complex problem better than anyone else.
The New Way
Start here: take a look at your website. Do you see words like “full service,” “wide array,” “measurable results,” or “local?”
If so, your firm has no market positioning. You’re just one of a sea of identical firms, and your clients might as well pick blindfolded. Maybe they’ll like your logo the best. Maybe they’ll be impressed by the fancy slider on the other guys’ website.
In that fickle world of competition, it doesn’t take much.
Remove those endlessly scrolling drop-down lists of services—everyone knows you can’t possibly be the best at everything. Get rid of that Industries tab that lists the 10 other markets you serve.
What is your specialty? What do you do better than any other CPA firm—locally, nationally, even internationally? What would people gladly reach out from the other side of the country to get your help with, even if it inconveniences them to do so?
Your clients aren’t looking for a CPA firm that does it all. They’re looking for the one who does the thing they need—and does it incomparably well.
Firms that Position Get Better Clients
Very few CPA firms position properly, which means there are huge opportunities to dominate a wide variety of untapped market categories.
If you provide a highly specialized expertise, you’ll get only a certain subset of clients—yes. But you’ll get them from all over the country, maybe even the world, and they’ll be exactly the kind of clients you want to work with.
Plus, since they recognize that you’re the best of the best in solving the specific problem they have, they’ll be ready to pay.
In fact, your clients will be so happy to have found your firm that they won’t be able to help but give you their money. And it will be a lot of money.
Leadership needs to get together and make the tough decisions about where they want to play. Either it’s in your backyard, where clients don’t value your expertise or your time, and where you have tons of direct competition.
Or, there’s option two: a solid positioning strategy, in which you have no direct competitors, and an expertise so unique that clients will travel thousands of miles to find out what you know.
Which sounds like better business to you?