Accountant Marketing: How to master client referrals and lead conversion.

How technology has changed your referral pipeline.

In an industry that is primarily built by word of mouth, tax accountants can get lost in the digital marketing landscape.

The rules have changed.

How different pieces of the puzzle fit together can be confusing and overwhelming. Doing nothing gets you nowhere fast. Wasting money with search engine marketing firms or pay-per-click can be frustrating and yield little or temporary results.

So, what can you do to position your firm to succeed in the online world?

The first step is to understand that your online reputation is the key ingredient to how you are perceived by referrals and new leads.

Prospects go through a series of stages before they become clients. We have broken these stages down into 4 distinct behaviors. Understanding the behavior and developing marketing processes around them will help you succeed.

Stage 1: Discovery

Whether a current client refers you to a friend or colleague, or a Web searcher finds you online, each buyer goes through the discovery stage. This gives potential clients the first impression about your firm.

The discovery stage funnels traffic through three primary sources:

1) Word-of-mouth referrals – This should still be your biggest source of new business for your practice. The mistake some firms make is not creating an atmosphere in which they encourage referrals from current clients.

This can be as simple as the responsiveness of your firm to client questions. Make sure your clients understand your duty to confidentiality and that you will not share information. The endorsement of a trusted contact can have an extremely powerful effect on consumers’ buying decisions.

  • Set up a related professional referral network (e.g., attorneys, estate planners)
  • Add to your email footer that your business really relies on word-of-mouth referrals
  • Offer referral bonuses
  • Have a specific referral process in place
  • Be incredibly thankful for every referral with a note or gift
  • Identify your best ambassadors and encourage them to refer more
  • Stay in touch
  • Don’t be afraid to ask
  • Feature clients on your website

2) Social media – People are talking about you online, whether you like it or not. Websites like TaxBuzz.com, Yelp and Google+ allow visitors to leave reviews about their experiences with you. Third-party validation or negatives comments will influence your prospects conversion rates. What you need to realize is Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are really modern day word-of-mouth generators. Consumers value their friends’ and colleagues’ opinion and will often ask who they use first during the discovery phase. You can control your online by establishing how you are perceived through these social properties. Having no presence at all will take you out of the game altogether.

  • Do not be afraid of reviews or of proactively collecting them
  • Positive reviews on Yelp alone can drive more traffic than unqualified website visitors
  • Yelp is one of the most indexed websites for local search
  • Develop a branded presence on the major social sites
  • Social media presence enhances your reputation and showcases your expertise
  • Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there on video, especially YouTube
  • Build your social media presence and attract followers
  • Make it easy for social media followers to engage with you
  • Inform your audience with frequent posts
  • Do not sell on social media; educate first
  • Run contests to get more followers
  • Share photos and more
  • Social media shares amplify your message

3) Web visibility – We don’t want to ignore traditional advertising. But, quite frankly, we think content marketing and your online reputation will far out-return any investment in traditional or print advertising. That said, this discussion is going to highlight the online forms of discovery. You really have only a couple of choices: using content marketing to build up your online reputation, using pay-per-click campaigns with Google, or a combination of both.

It all starts with your website.

Having a mobile-friendly, responsive website is a must. According to a recent Google study, 50% of local searches start on mobile. 1/3 of these searches occur right before a consumer contacts a vendor. Making sure your website is optimized for local search is critical to being discovered. Having the incorrect meta information can be a big detriment to the traffic your site receives.

But oh, no, now you need to worry about the rest of the Web properties.

Think of the Google search results as a popularity contest. The goal is to own as many of the results as possible. This is done by verifying that all of your online directory listings are updated and consistent. Set up profiles on other local Web properties like patch.com, taxbuzz.com, manta.com, flavors.me, and brandyourself.com. You want to crowd out the competition. Make sure your content is unique on each property.

Well what about content?

A tax accountant’s knowledge, expertise, and passion are powerful assets and should be shared with your audience. The best way to share that brilliance is through writing. Nothing will help you increase your online visibility faster than through writing and a quality blog. We always recommend finding a niche. Owning the fringes or smaller areas is less competitive and actually makes it easier to specialize.

Examples of blog verticals:

  • Same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships
  • Franchises
  • Clergy and religious groups
  • Non-profits
  • Athletes
  • Actors and entertainers
  • Restaurants
  • Investors
  • Small business owners
  • Rental property owners
  • Manufacturing
  • Expats and foreign income
  • Sales tax
  • State or city tax

Developing content can be time consuming, but will pay off. You can always outsource this side of things. You just need to budget for it.

Stage 2: Exploration

A client has referred a prospect to you. Or a Web visitor found your site.

But now what?

According to research by Nielsen, 92 percent of people trust recommendations from friends and family more than all other forms of marketing. In an infographic from Merchant Warehouse, studies showed that 90% of Yelp users say that positive reviews affect their buying choices, and 93% of people who conduct research on review sites typically make purchases at the businesses for which they search. That is what exploration is all about. Consumers will judge you not just by the referring party, but by the quality of your website, your responsiveness to their inquiry, what others say about you on social media, and in reviews.

Point blank, your online reputation is a huge part of how many prospects actually contact you once they find you.

We have proven this out for clients who concentrate on getting more reviews on Yelp, Google+, and taxbuzz.com. Firms that have exceptional online reputations get more leads from the Web. Many more. With some getting 50 + leads per month.

Ongoing communication is critical during the exploration phase.

How do you handle prospects after they contact you?

What do prospects see when they Google you and read what others say about you?

Does your firm come up on page one of search results?

Trust, and what people say about you, affects the exploration process in 4 distinct ways:

Like it or not, consumers must be persuaded that your firm is their best choice. You want a consumer to perceive that your firm offers superior services or expertise.

During the exploration stage, you want consumers to grasp what they can expect from you and their role in the process.

Communication will be shaped by the balance of power in the relationship. A firm that does not differentiate its offerings must recognize that it needs to offer other types of value to the consumer to win the business. This is especially true in commodity-driven services. Typically, the best relationship (or price) will win out.

Communication is vital to developing trust and satisfaction, though actions and responsiveness speak louder than words. The professional firm must position itself as a trusted partner that delivers on its promises.

Exceed your prospects’ every expectation during the exploration phase. Set yourself above the rest of your competition. If you treat your leads right, they will eventually buy from you. Also, don’t forget about the referrals they can send your way. They may only be at the beginning of the buying process, but they have friends that may already be more committed to buying.

Stage 3: Purchasing

So, your prospect is now ready to become a client. You need to make the onboarding process as polished as your communication during the exploration phase.

Do you have a pre-established new client process? Do you follow it?

If the new client was referred, how do you recognize the referral source?

From your engagement letter, disclosures, and responsibilities, it is important to impress and appear organized when someone chooses to work with you.

Winning a client does not equal loyalty. You need to prove to your consumers that they made the right choice and that you have earned their trust. Loyalty is something that has to be earned and nurtured on an ongoing basis. Your goal is to build successful, long-term relationships.

Stage 4: Engagement

This is the true differentiator between successful firms and those that perform poorly. Basically, how do you continue to earn your clients’ trust and help turn clients into ambassadors of your brand?

We recommend you automate much of this process.

Here are 11 easy steps to keeping engaged with clients:

1. Use a monthly (or more frequent) email newsletter. Showcase your knowledge and keep clients abreast of issues that affect them.

2. Due date reminders – Nothing is more expensive or embarrassing than a missed deadline. Set up an automated email or text reminder system.

3. Acknowledge birthdays – Nothing is simpler than recognizing clients on their birthdays. And how often does a professional reach out?

4. Anniversary cards – Whether they are emailed or printed, recognize you appreciate the long-term relationship you have with your clients by acknowledging them each year.

5. Have a presence on social media – Many of your clients are on social media. Extend the reach of your communication. You might just find that you will engage your clients’ friends and colleagues by at least having your name in front of them.

6. Missed you last year – One of the most successful marketing pieces we use for our clients is our “missed you last year” correspondence. You never know why you lost a client, and reaching out has been a huge help in reengaging with our clients.

7. Frequent meetings or touch points – Keeping in-person, voice, or online contact with your audience will help immensely in your client retention. Reach out to your clients with an ongoing strategy. Call it a loyalty program, if you wish, but spend time doing it to discover and resolve issues before they become lost clients.

8. Give thanks – Nothing is better than acknowledging clients and especially referral sources. Take the time to send printed notes, certificates, or even email to praise your brand ambassadors.

9. Invest in the right technology – Staying current with your technology offerings will not only automate your life and help save you time, but also reflect positively on you with your client base. Tools like client portals, eSign, online appointment scheduling, and appointment reminders all add to your customer satisfaction.

10.Create winning content – High-quality content is the fastest way to establish your authority and expertise with your audience. Investing in paid advertising and direct promotional material can be costly and prove little in return. Take the time and effort to create high-quality content. Write blog articles. Create a video with viral potential on your YouTube channel. It all adds up in building your online reputation.

11.Correct local directory data – Nothing is worse for a client or prospect than to find you online and can’t contact you because your data is either old or inaccurate. This includes inaccurate local data on your website, social media profiles, review site profiles, and business listings.

In summary – Word-of-mouth referrals, third-party review validation, and your online reputation are all factors in growing your practice. Understanding how to maximize technology and social trends will help your firm stand out from the competition.

Change is not coming soon … it is here now.

  • Lee Reams II

  • I am a marketing junkie who has spent the last 20 years developing and executing "best in class" word-of-mouth marketing campaigns. With over 10,000 happy clients I think we are on to something. The explosion in web marketing and social media have redefined the way independent professionals market their practices. Follow my blog to see if you can take some of our actionable ideas to market your own practice.

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