Thirty years ago, the AICPA revised its Code of Professional Ethics to allow advertising and solicitation, and accounting marketing was born. Ever since, firms have wrestled with how to link their marketing investments to tangible sales results. Firms have come a long way over those three decades. Look across the industry and you will find no shortage of sophisticated marketers blazing trails in the discipline. However, the challenge to align the marketing and sales functions continues to perplex many growth leaders.
To align the marketing and sales functions, it helps to first understand how they are different. According to the AAM publication, Marketing and Sales Roles in Accounting, marketing is defined as the branding and lead generation activities that generate prospective client opportunities that may lead to a new client for the firm. Sales is defined as the one-to-one activities that occur after the marketing function with the goal of having them engage your firm to fulfill their need.
Notice how these definitions place one before the other in a continuum, rather than place each in its own silo. There is a sort of relay that happens, although there isn’t a clear line between the two. The two functions continually support each other. Herein lies the key to true integration: Align all marketing and sales roles and responsibilities along a single, unified client development process.
Start with your firm’s sales process – the stages and steps that each new business opportunity goes through, from when a prospect initially hits your radar, to when it becomes a healthy, growing client relationship. If you do not have a defined process, take the time to develop one. It is an essential part of a strategic growth plan, and there are numerous resources available to guide you.
Next, think through how each function can or should contribute to each phase. As stated earlier, you will find that marketing roles and responsibilities tend to be more heavily weighted toward the front of the process while sales involvement intensifies toward the later stages. However, each can contribute in every stage to some degree. This exercise is most powerful when you can bring together people from both functions to brainstorm and work on it as a unified team.
The following guide provides a starting point for you to build your own alignment model. It suggests ways in which both marketing and sales can contribute in each phase of an example sales (or client development) process. Invest the time with your team to work through this and you will be well on your way to integrating your overall growth efforts and connecting them to measurable results.
Marketing and Sales Alignment Guide
Set Goals & Strategy
Objective: Articulate a vision for the practice (a desired future state) compared to a defined current state. Establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for several measures of success. Set goals and develop strategies for how to achieve them.
– Analyze client base
– Perform market research
– Define product/service mix
– Forecast sales goals
– Review past wins/losses
– Assess anecdotal feedback
Objective: Identifying ideal target clients and prioritizing them for the most efficient and effective application of marketing and sales strategies.
– Mine client data for opportunities
– Direct marketing communications
– Drive lead generation activities
– Define ideal client profiles
– Develop referral sources
– Build networks
Objective: Engaging clients and prospects in dialogue to uncover needs and wants that the firm can potentially help address.
– Conduct research on specific targets
– Provide information on industry trends
– Coordinate sales training for pursuit teams
– Asking high-gain questions
– Listening and gaining understanding
– Facilitating initial conversations
Objective: Engage the prospect in co-developing a solution while demonstrating an advisory approach and creating a compelling experience during the buying process.
– Develop collaboration documents and tools
– Orchestrate the prospect experience
– Coach/facilitate the pursuit team
– Facilitating brainstorming sessions
– Collaborating on potential solutions
– Tailoring the approach
Objective: Help the prospect become clear, comfortable and confident in the proposed solution in order to bring the opportunity to a close.
– Manage the proposal process
– Generate pipeline reports
– Review and debrief wins and losses
– Negotiate an ideal arrangement
– Obtain all the right votes
– Close the deal
Objective: Nurture client relationships to build rapport, foster loyalty, increase referrals, and expand the scope of services provided.
– Mine the client base for opportunities
– Facilitate internal knowledge of firm services
– Assess client experience and loyalty
– Ascertain client satisfaction
– Utilize advisory approach
– Coordinate regular client reviews
Originally published in The AAM Minute, a newsletter of the Association for Accounting Marketing