Many accountancy firms have a failing communications strategy.... often without them realising it!
Nonetheless it costs them work, harms the effectiveness of their sales and marketing, and ultimately thwarts their growth plans.
Often, there is the lack of a clear strategy for the whole practice, which inevitably causes muddled or unconvincing messages.
Sometimes there is a strategy... but it is not being communicated effectively or consistently externally - and probably not internally either!
Here are 4 tell tales signals that your communications strategy is failing your accountancy firm (and costing you money).
1 -Your accountancy firm's description on the website, in proposals and elsewhere prominently says words to the effect "We're in the top 50 accountancy firms and we trace our heritage back over xx years...".
These sorts of housekeeping mentions (age of the business, number of partners, location of offices, etc.) are invariably put in when there is nothing interesting to say.
This information appearing prominently suggests a lack of relevant messages, probably through the lack of a strategy they can be based around.
You've got to grab the interest of clients, prospects and recruits immediately.
The firm’s age and number of locations aren't going to do that. But a strong vision and compelling value proposition are the starting points to fill this gap and form the basis for the heart of an effective communications strategy.
2 - When pitching you are spending the first half of a meeting explaining who you are and what you do.
This is the worst possible start.
Your competitors could already be ahead. At minimum if your prospects are familiar with your competitors’ name it gives them a strong comfort and probably means that the selectors and other opinion formers think they're experts too.
Of course, it’s not impossible to win some work in these situations. But like any motor racing driver knows, if you start in pole position, you are going to win more races than those who start as back markers.
This is a problem when prospects don't know who the firm is or how you differ from other accountancy firms. It is time to address your communications strategy.
3 - Your team describe the firm in completely different way. Why do they describe it differently? Because they don’t have one specific description!
This one is easy to test.
Get your staff together. Give them a yellow post it note and ask them to, without conferring, write down how they describe the firm when they meet people, prospects and friends.
It will be a revelation.
If all the responses are different or, if many of the responses fall foul of the other indicators above, then you have a big communications strategy problem!
What should you do?
One way is to tackle it yourself. There's no doubt a 'Communications strategy for dummies' book or one with a similar title you can use and apply the advice.
Of course, with something so important, you may want to find expert help with people who are familiar with solving such problems and knows what works in the real world with accountancy firms.
4 – Price is how you implicitly or explicitly compete
Examples of this include ‘Big Four quality without the Big Four price' or 'London quality without the London price'.
Why is this so bad?
Firstly, if you aren't one of the top London accountancy firms, people will assume you are already cheaper. What really matters is reassuring them that you can do the job.
Surely these statements tell them this factually. Yes, but implicitly they say the opposite. There's no compelling reason why they should choose you other than price (and in their mind you are cheaper because there's a big risk you won't deliver to the same level).
Secondly, are you really competing against the "Big Four" anyway?
While you would like to compete with the like of EY and PWC, you're probably competing against other similar-sized rivals.
You really must ask yourself what the compelling reason is they should choose you, compared to other similar rivals (stocked with similarly expert accountants charging similar rates and offering similar services)?
Instead, your strategy should be all about communicating what is distinctive and compelling about your firm that new clients will choose you and stick with you, regardless of the price.
This is the first blog in a series where I am tackling the subject of communications strategies for accountancy firms. Please do click the sign up button to receive these other articles that are coming soon in the series:
1. How do you know if your accountancy firm needs a PR agency?
2. Should you work with an agency on a project or retained basis?
3. How to get the best out of your PR agency
4. What can a good PR agency bring to the party?