Direct marketing has become a popular
and successful form of CPA firm marketing
with the following potential benefits:
encourages you to define a very
specific target audience of prospects most
likely to buy your services.
The format enables
you to develop a specific message
for your target audience.
You can control the
timing of when your audience
sees your message.
It is the most
measurable form of marketing as
leads, proposals and sold work can be
traced to a specific campaign.
Your campaigns can be
integrated with your other
marketing efforts (advertising, public
relations, Web site, seminars,
If it is repetitive,
direct marketing can be a more
cost-effective way to build
name recognition and position in the
market than advertising, since it focuses
on your specific target market.
Larry Bildstein , CPA, is
the president and CEO of The Whetstone
Group Inc. The Whetstone Group helps
professional service firms develop and
implement growth plans. His e-mail address
A successful direct-marketing campaign
requires close adherence to five essential
components: planning, data gathering, mailing,
telephone follow-up and tracking. Effective
follow-through on all of these steps can lead to a
significant return on your investment.
START WITH A PLAN
Noella, director of corporate strategy at
Stonefield Josephson Inc., a Los Angeles-based
firm with 162 employees (54 CPAs) and six
locations, was instrumental in launching her
firm’s “We Pay Attention” campaign. The goal was
to increase the firm’s visibility and image to
public companies and, ultimately, win more public
company business. The integrated campaign included
advertising, public relations and speaking
engagements as well as monthly direct mail with
both in-house and outsourced telephone follow-up.
In-house employees responded to public companies
that were known to be looking for a new auditor;
outsourced professionals followed up with
desirable prospects from the mailing database to
set up appointments.
“Don’t confuse action
with productivity,” says Noella. “Don’t do direct
marketing just for the sake of doing it. Have a
strategy and a plan. Conduct research, understand
your firm’s talents, and respect your audience.”
My company, The Whetstone Group, helped
Barbara Bond, CPA, a partner at the California
firm Hood & Strong LLP, develop and implement
an international tax direct-marketing campaign.
The firm, which has two locations in California
and approximately 100 employees (49 CPAs), sent a
series of letters to a target list of San
Francisco-area companies that were likely to
conduct business internationally. After the
mailing, telephone lead follow-up resulted in
scheduled appointments with interested prospects
for Bond and her team.
Bond agrees that
planning is crucial. “The key to success for
direct marketing is the initial planning and the
selection of the population to be called.”
Define the target audience.
When choosing your audience,
consider the criteria of a profitable client.
Consider the geography you want to serve, the
industry and size of the company, and the decision
makers you want to reach.
Establish objectives. Outline
what you expect the campaign to achieve. Is your
goal to build name recognition? Are you trying to
set introductory appointments? Do you expect to
close new business?
TD&T, a 55-person
(21 CPAs) accounting and consulting firm in
Oskaloosa, Iowa, opened a new location in Cedar
Rapids, Iowa. The firm developed an
appointment-setting campaign to meet potential new
clients. “Identifying our objective was easy,”
says managing principal Dick Donohue, CPA. “We
were starting from scratch and needed clients.”
The mailing can take many
forms, from a 3-D “gift” mailer, to
professional, one-page letters on your
firm’s letterhead. To increase response
rates, personalize the letter and add a
signature to make it look less like bulk
mail. Individual laser printed and
hand-stamped envelopes increase the
chances of being opened.
Consider timing. Schedule the
campaign at a convenient time for your target
audience. Harding, Shymanksi & Co. PSC, based
in Evansville, Ind., with 110 employees (43 CPAs)
between its two locations, worked with my company
to develop a direct-marketing process as one
activity that would establish and grow its
construction niche. “When our niche team
implements direct marketing with outsourced lead
generation, we always consider the time of year,”
says Randy Schulz, CPA, vice president and the
leader of the firm’s construction team. “Our
prospects are contractors, and they have seasonal
Make sure the timing is
convenient for you, too. “You and your team
members must have the time for follow-up,” warns
Schulz. “If you get too busy to follow up on your
appointments, you’re not getting any return on
Develop the message. “Craft a
very concise and compelling message to convince
(potential clients) they need to learn more about
what you can do for them,” advises D. Scott Moore,
director of marketing and business development at
Dixon Hughes PLLC, a firm based in High Point,
N.C., with 1,100 employees (470 CPAs) and offices
in seven states, which has used The Whetstone
Group’s lead generation services.
well-developed message to prospective clients
should follow these guidelines:
Ensure your message is focused on the
audience, not on you or your firm.
Address a relevant business need for
which you can provide a solution.
Make sure the message differentiates
you from your competitors.
had one prospect comment about our direct-mail
pieces, saying: ‘ I was going to throw it
away, but it was so compelling ,’ ” says
Noella of Stonefield Josephson.
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Tips for Creating a Follow-Up
initial appointment, create an ongoing
follow-up strategy to turn leads into new
Determine the appropriate
frequency of follow-up and continue to
mail them information, such as case
studies or relevant articles, to keep your
name in front of the prospect.
Differentiate yourself from
the competition by working your strengths
over your competitors into conversations.
Tell your prospects why they should work
with your firm and not the competition.
Create urgency for the
prospect to take action—talk benefits,
highlight the opportunities (reduced
costs, time savings, improved cash flow)
or potential losses (penalties, loss of
Control the next steps.
Suggest a meeting with their team or
introduce them to other members of your
Prepare for telephone follow-up.
Effective direct marketing requires
telephone follow-up. Work the phones to schedule
face-to-face meetings. This starts the process of
building relationships needed to secure new work.
In your planning phase, consider who will be
responsible for making follow-up calls, who will
represent your firm on sales appointments, and
whether those individuals have the time and skills
to work the sales cycle with the new leads.
“Your people must be comfortable with the
process, ready to commit time to the appointments
and proficient in consultative selling
situations,” says Moore.
follow-up helped Hood & Strong,” Barbara Bond
affirms. “We can close business, but we are not
great at getting the invitation in the door. It
also helped that our telephone lead generator
scheduled meetings with only those potential
clients who were really interested in our
Follow up with a phone call one
week after the mailing, and use it as a reason to
call. Try to schedule appointments with interested
prospects in the following one to two weeks. A
quick turnaround capitalizes on the prospect’s
sense of urgency in meeting with you, resulting in
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Ensure Data Accuracy
Use a targeted, focused list to
increase your chances of success. For
example, to promote employee benefit plan
audits, call those companies that have
already filed IRS Form 5500, Annual
Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan
. For cost segregation studies, call
building owners. For R&D studies, call
manufacturers who are large enough to
Lists of your target
market can be obtained in a number of
ways. One of the easiest ways is by using
the Dunn & Bradstreet database through
Make sure your data is
up-to-date. Nothing sabotages your chances
of success faster than trying to follow up
with someone who hasn’t been with the
prospect’s company in years. Call each
company on the list before the mailing
goes out to make sure addresses and
contact names are correct.
contact information is essential,” says
Randy Schulz of Harding, Shymanksi &
Co. “When you’re calling, you want the
majority of your time spent talking to the
TRACK YOUR RESULTS
sales cycle for most CPA services is long and
tracking the results of direct-marketing campaigns
takes discipline. To improve your chances for a
positive ROI, consider these questions:
What is the likely dollar value per
engagement? For example, are you focused on $500
tax returns or $10,000 audits? The cost to
implement the campaign is the same in either case,
but it’s obvious which has the bigger return.
What is your typical experience with
the sales process? Out of 10 leads, how many are
What is the lifetime value of the new
relationships? Are these one-time projects or
audits for the next several years?
guided Dixon Hughes through diverse
direct-marketing campaigns ranging from a larger
campaign directed at long-term care providers, to
smaller, more targeted auto dealer campaigns.
Overall, the outsourced telephone lead-generation
team called 526 decision makers on behalf of Dixon
Hughes and set up 38 appointments.
experience shows that once we get a qualified
meeting, we can close on an opportunity about half
the time,” says Moore.
For Hood &
Strong’s campaign, the outsourced telephone
lead-generation team called a list of
approximately 1,200 contacts over three months,
securing 51 appointments.
international tax campaign was very successful,”
recalls Bond of the Hood & Strong campaign.
“We closed a fair amount of new work and are still
closing work. Initially we closed on international
tax work, but now these new clients are asking for
additional tax services.”
yearlong telemarketing campaign eventually brought
in 54 clients for TD&T. “Our firm’s goal is to
grow 8–10% a year, and part of that growth will
come from appointment setting,” he said. “It’s a
numbers game. I know if we can get in the door
enough times, we’ll eventually land new clients.”
There are other ways to gauge success.
Stonefield Josephson didn’t track the amount of
new work brought in based solely on the direct
mail and telephone follow-up, but Lyne Noella says
the firm’s gross revenues increased significantly
over the past three years, due in part to the
integrated “We Pay Attention” campaign. In fact,
two of their mail pieces alone resulted in calls
that secured at least two large accounts.
Harding, Shymanksi & Co.’s construction
niche has implemented six campaigns since December
2001, with the outsourced call team contacting 808
names and generating 47 appointments with decision
makers. Although the team doesn’t track work sold
by campaign, they know the campaigns have
increased the firm’s market brand.
recognition is tough to measure,” acknowledges
Randy Schulz. “But if you’re doing your part to
increase name recognition and credibility in the
market, down the road when the prospect needs
help, or is ready to make a move, hopefully
they’ll think of you.”
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Calculating ROI on Direct
It’s a good
exercise to calculate your return on
investment for a direct-marketing
campaign. Calculating ROI helps you
evaluate the right target markets and
methods to promote and sell your services.
It also encourages sales follow-up and
cross-selling services to new clients to
maximize the lifetime value of the
relationships generated. Consider the
following in determining if your efforts
are paying off:
Investing in a first-time
campaign to 200 targets costs about
$6,000, including list purchase and list
cleanup (both one-time costs), development
and mailing of a direct mail piece, and
outsourcing telephone lead generation. The
typical results from such a campaign and
sales follow-up are 10–12 leads generated,
with two new engagements eventually
To determine if your efforts
truly resulted in a positive ROI, consider
your margin on the fees generated from new
engagements. Typically, CPA firms see a
25%–30% margin on their work. If the new
engagements mentioned above generated
$20,000 in fees, at 30% margin, the value
created is approximately $6,000; you’ve
essentially broken even.
If one of the new engagements
is an annual audit worth approximately
$10,000 in fees per year (assume increases
with inflation), and you estimate your
average useful life of an audit client to
be 10 years, the ROI looks even stronger.
THE BEST ADVICE
patient,” Donohue advises. “When you walk into a
meeting with a prospect from an
appointment-setting campaign, it’s going to be a
different first meeting than if it was a bank or
attorney referral. You have to be patient and
understand you’re going to have to work that lead.
We’ve landed several really nice clients from our
campaign—but it may have taken four or five
follow-ups to get them to switch.”
Marketing: Successful Strategies for
CPA Firms , a CPE self-study course
Marketing Advantage II:
New Ideas on Getting and Keeping Clients
Start Consulting—How to
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