I consult with managing partners in mid-size CPA firms, those with 15-100 staff. I often ask them how they feel about their website. Usually the answers are – “it’s okay” or “it looks nice” or “I guess it does the job.” But almost no one says, “we have the best website in the world; we love it and we know it’s adding real value to our firm.”
If this sounds like your organization, I have great news. Digital marketing works. Your website absolutely can drive revenue for your firm. You can know with certainty that it is helping you acquire clients and persuade them of your value. You can know it’s differentiating you from the competition. But to achieve these goals, you’ll have to re-think your approach to your website. Let me share with you how to do this.
MOST MID-SIZE CPA FIRMS PRACTICE A WEB-DESIGN-BY-COMMITTEE APPROACH AND THIS RARELY WORKS
Here is what I mean by re-thinking your approach to your website. Most mid-size CPA firm websites underperform because of how they’re built. The issues start in the early stages of the process. Most CPA firms practice a web-design-by-committee approach. This rarely produces desirable outcomes. See if what I’m about to describe sounds familiar.
The executive team forms a committee of people who have varying degrees of interest in web development. Everyone in the firm knows that you need a website and that it needs to be good so you can keep up with the competition. But no one on the committee is an expert in web design or digital marketing. After all, they’re accountants.
Often this committee is tasked with researching competitive websites and finding a web design agency to build the site. Both of these approaches are problematic. Here’s why. If you base your website on what you see competitors doing, you’ve already lost the opportunity for differentiation.
The problem with web design agencies is that they are usually domain experts in web development, but not in your business. While they might be able to build your site, they usually cannot do what is most important, which is to articulate messages that make you distinct and that attract your ideal client. Many of these agencies also have limited experience in the entire digital marketing ecosystem. They’re web experts, not digital marketing experts.
But these may not be the biggest issues. In our experience, when CPA committees are tasked with building a website, almost no one on the committee can:
- Define how the website will impact revenue.
- Describe how the website will pull new clients through a sales funnel.
- Identify what should be measured and why those metrics are important to the firm.
- Develop a strategy to leverage the entire digital ecosystem: email marketing, content marketing, social media marketing and multi-channel integration.
The end result is often websites that are undifferentiated from the competition, that look nice and say some complimentary things about a CPA firm. Stakeholders may like the impression it makes. But they have no way of knowing with certainty that their website is helping them grow. They have no metrics other than how they feel about the website and the anecdotal comments they get from clients. This is a major missed opportunity. There is a much better way.
A BETTER APPROACH
If you want a website that you can prove drives revenue, pulls prospective ideal clients your way, differentiates you from the competition and makes your value proposition distinct and clear, here is an approach that works.
- Put the ideal client at the center of the process.
- Build a website that is overflowing with wisdom and insights for your ideal client.
- Position your website as the heartbeat of your digital ecosystem.
- Deploy the ultimate digital marketing stack.
- Emphasize personal brands and team brands over the corporate brand.
Let’s explore each one of these.
YOU SHOW PROSPECTIVE IDEAL CLIENTS YOU CARE ABOUT THEM BY TALKING ABOUT THINGS THEY CARE ABOUT
PUT YOUR IDEAL CLIENT AT THE CENTER OF THE PROCESS
This may sound counter-intuitive, but your website is not about you. It’s not about your firm, people, services or capabilities. It’s about ideal clients – at least it needs to be if it’s going to drive revenue.
Yet when I look at the websites of most mid-size CPA firms, the content is almost entirely about them, not about their ideal clients. This won’t work. One major change that has taken place over the last decade is that service-buyers are now empowered. They do their own research on their own time in their own way.
This is even true of prospects who are referred to you. We often find that prospects will first click over to a website and take a look around before they pick up the phone – even if the CPA firm has been highly recommended by someone they trust.
This is why your website first needs to talk about what matters to ideal clients and then, once you’ve given them a reason to care, talk about you. There is an old saying: no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
Here is a quick litmus test you can take right now to determine whether your website is about your firm or about ideal clients. Take a look at the options in primary navigation on your website. If it is like most CPA firms, the primary navigation options probably sound like this:
- About Us
- Our Team
- Testimonials or Clients
- Contact Us
If this sounds like your website, you have some work to do.
BUILD A WEBSITE THAT IS OVERFLOWING WITH WIDSOM AND INSIGHTS FOR IDEAL CLIENTS
You show prospective ideal clients that you care about them by talking about things they care about. This dramatically improves how they come to see you. If your advice is practical and on-target to their goals, you will become a trusted advisor before they even become your client.
In our experience, nothing is more powerful than providing prospective clients advice about how to achieve goals, overcome challenges and realize opportunities. These three – goals, opportunities and challenges – really matter to them.
So when you look at your website, ask yourself what it talks about? Does is talk primarily about your firm, people, services and capabilities? Or does it talk about the goals, opportunities and challenges of ideal clients?
Do you share insights from the very intelligent and highly capable people on your team? Have you collected and cataloged the best approaches to achieving goals, overcoming challenges and realizing opportunities? Have you made it simple for ideal prospects to understand what they need to do?
Are you sharing your insights through articles, blog-posts, webinars, ebooks, white papers, reports and case studies? If not, you have a real opportunity to turn your website into a resource that ideal prospects turn to over time.
EFFECTIVE CPA WEBSITES GIVE GREAT ADVICE ABOUT THE GOALS, OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES OF IDEAL CLIENTS
POSITION YOUR WEBSITE AS THE HEARTBEAT OF YOUR DIGITAL ECOSYSTEM
A website is not a stand-alone brochure. The best websites sit at the center of something I call the digital ecosystem. The hyperlink changed the way people consume information and do their own research. With the greatest of ease, people now click from one website, email, social post and digital property to another.
This is why you have to change your approach. When we think of the way people consume brochures, we assume they start on page one and thumb their way through to the end. This is not at all how people consume digital content today.
We deploy marketing automation systems that track the entire digital footprint of prospects: every email send, open and click, every form submit, every webpage view, every media download and every social media click. This gives us tremendous insights into what we call the inbound journey – the set of steps users take as they move toward a service-provider.
We know that the inbound journey of prospective ideal clients is highly erratic and unpredictable. It is not linear. It’s all over the place. So if your website is built like a linear brochure, you’ve missed the opportunity to interact with people the way they desire.
Instead, you should think of your website as a container of rich insights. Here is the best analogy that I’ve come across so far. You use content marketing outside your website like a string of bread crumbs. But the real feast is on your website. The bread crumbs bring people to the feast. In other words, all roads lead to your website.
This approach has to do with how you structure your website and how you structure your content marketing. Let me give you an example. Let’s assume you’ve identified a big goal that your ideal clients want to accomplish and you’ve divided up your recommendations to achieve that goal into 5 key steps. Perfect. Now what?
Here is a great strategy for turning that advice into a revenue stream:
- Write an ebook that includes all 5 steps.
- Place the ebook behind a registration form on your website.
- Pick one of the 5 steps and write an article about it. Make a promise, at the end of the article, that there are even more great insights in the ebook.
- Provision your article to LinkedIn, Twitter, your email newsletter or other digital channels.
- Watch the results pour in and follow-up with those prospects who fit your ideal client profile.
DEPLOY THE ULTIMATE DIGITAL MARKETING STACK
The process I’ve just described is only possible if you’ve deployed the ultimate digital marketing stack. These days there is a lot of confusion about how to use all of these digital tools, what works and what doesn’t work.
To help you, I’ve developed a simple formula that provides clarity. The formula goes like this: CMS+MA+CRM+SMM = success. CMS stands for content management system. MA stands for a marketing automation platform. CRM stands for client relationship manager. SMM stands for social media manager.
To realize success in digital marketing today, you need best-in-class tools in each of these areas and you need seamless integration of these tools. This allows you to provision and track content, monitor behavior scores and queue up prospects for dialogue with business development people.
EMPHASIZE PERSONAL BRANDS AND TEAM BRANDS OVER THE CORPORATE BRAND
If you want your website to become a real revenue driver, you have to emphasize personal brands over the corporate brand. This can feel really counterintuitive, especially to people who’ve been schooled in a certain marketing mindset. For decades, we tried to create brand preference with traditional marketing and advertising strategies.
But the only organizations who were really able to achieve this goal were big firms with deep pockets and huge advertising budgets. That’s probably not you. The good news is that you don’t have to spend millions of dollars on advertising and billboards to achieve your business goals.
In today’s world, many service-buyers are skeptical of corporate brands anyhow. Between corporate scandals, Ponzi schemes and falsified documents, it’s no wonder people don’t really trust corporations anymore.
But they do trust people. So when you think about your website and how it will impact revenue, remember this simple statement: people like people; people follow people; people trust people and money follows trust. Highlight your personal brands and team brands and watch how the market responds.
A RESOURCE TO HELP
If you like the ideas I’ve presented here, you’ll love the ebook I’ve written on this topic. The ebook is called TEN THINGS SERVICE WEBSITES MUST DO TO DRIVE REVENUE. It provides a comprehensive approach to transforming your website from a brochure into a real revenue-generating machine. It’s free and available on our website right now.