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Blake Christian
Should your firm take the shotgun or rifle approach to marketing?

As firms begin their year-end planning, they need to carefully choose their marketing weapon of choice to maximize growth.

October 20, 2014
by Blake Christian, CPA

At this time of year, many CPA firms begin to focus on year-to-date growth trends and increase their year-end marketing efforts in the hopes of onboarding new clients. But marketing continues to be an underdeveloped function at most firms.

When developing a marketing plan, firms should consider which approach is best for them. In general, firms tend to choose from two potential strategies: a “shotgun” approach, targeting a broad base of potential clients, or a “rifle” approach, in which they focus more narrowly on certain selected targets.

Shotgun marketing

The focus of shotgun marketing is to reach a large audience through a wide-ranging approach to let the audience know the variety of services offered by the firm. Such a strategy works best for firms that offer a wide range of services at competitive prices, such as bookkeeping, attest services, tax preparation, valuation, employee benefits, and general consulting.

Shotgun marketing will generally yield more leads at a lower cost per impression than rifle marketing. But many of the leads it generates are low-quality, requiring firm personnel (or the firm’s outside marketing company) to carefully vet them to ensure that the firm only follows up with prospects who fit its desired client profile.

Advertising: Shotgun advertising may involve press releases or ads on websites or in publications such as local or regional newspapers, business journals, chamber of commerce and city economic development publications, and trade group publications. It may also involve social media and online marketing efforts using broad keywords such as: “CPA,” “bookkeeping,” “accounting,” “reviews,” “audits,” “tax return,” “tax audits,” “company valuation,” and “financial consulting.” However, search engine optimization efforts with these generalized keywords can result in spotty results. While the conversion rate on these shotgun marketing campaigns may not be stellar, such advertising may still be justified if general branding is important to the partners.

Networking/board participation: Partner and manager participation in community and business groups will generally include memberships in groups that have a cross section of board members from various industries and local agencies, such as chambers of commerce; public service clubs such as the Rotary, Lions, Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, Boy Scouts, or cancer society; hospital boards, churches, and synagogues; and local universities.

Thought leadership: Partners and managers should always be looking for opportunities to speak to appropriate audiences in their service region in order to brand the firm and expand their network. They can establish themselves as thought leaders by speaking at trade conferences; participating on trade group boards or committees in their local or national professional organizations, including AICPA and state societies of CPAs; and possibly speaking at their alma maters. Publishing in print or online can also help a CPA become known as a thought leader. Local and regional papers are constantly looking for relevant business content to share with their readers and business and community service organizations are also always interested in hearing about financial and tax matters.

Good topics for a shotgun marketing campaign include general personal and business tax planning, strategic planning for business owners, formation and disposition of businesses, personal financial planning, budgeting and internal control procedures.

Rifle marketing

Rifle marketing focuses on specific, high-yield prospects. This strategy often involves the acquisition of mailing lists and working with third parties to reach a desired audience via direct mail, cold-calling, and social media.

Direct outreach to specific target markets, such as manufacturers, exporters, real estate developers, private-equity firms, restaurateurs, hoteliers, high-tech companies, health care companies, distribution/logistics firms, or high-net-worth clients will generally result in higher margin work and higher closure rates, provided a firm has the necessary expertise in the specific niche practice.

Firms employing rifle marketing will generally focus their front-end time and financial resources to narrow prospective targets. This strategy usually results in fewer prospects compared to shotgun marketing; however, the closure rate often is higher as prospects have been pre-screened as solid matches consistent with the firm’s expansion profile.

Networking/board participation: Unlike shotgun marketing, firms implementing rifle marketing will direct their networking, board participation, and advertising efforts at trade groups, banks, attorneys, and other service providers associated with specific niches.

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Blake Christian, CPA, MBT, is a tax partner in the Long Beach, Calif., office of CPA firm HCVT LLP.