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How to Differentiate Your Accounting Firm: 4 Steps You Can’t Ignore

Today’s accounting market is more crowded and competitive than ever, with more than 1 million accountants and auditors in the United States alone.

Whether you’re competing against one of the “Big Four” or a mid-size accountancy, in this camped field, the odds are good that you’re already competing for prospects against other firms on price, service, or product.

That’s why it’s so important to differentiate your firm and stand out from the crowd. If you want to win new business, it’s time to get creative and specific about what makes you the best accounting firm out there. Here are four steps to help you do just that:

1. Know your market

And not just your target customers, but your competitors too. If you want to differentiate your firm, you need to be able to answer the following questions:

  • What’s your sweet spot? Is your market a hub for new startups or the home of several Fortune 500 companies?
  • Which industries make up the largest percentage of your firm’s revenue?
  • What common accounting pain points do you solve?
  • Who is your main competition, for each industry, and what makes them successful?

As you do the research to answer these questions, you’ll discover opportunities to position your team as the go-to accounting firm for those target companies and industries.

From specializing in an underserved area to targeting a specific set of clients who could most benefit from your services, tailoring your strategy to the market’s needs will instantly differentiate you from competitors who aren’t catering to their audience.

2. Cultivate niche subject matter expertise

Your unique knowledge and expertise is something that your competitors do not and will not have, making it a great opportunity for differentiation. The more your clients or prospects see your firm as an accounting authority, the more they will trust you with their accounting needs.

For some market facing ideas on where you can start:

  • Become a sponsor or member of your regional or national CPA association and get involved on the association board.
  • Attend industry conferences and engage partners for potential speaking opportunities.
  • Publish thought leadership and education content on your accounting firm’s blog.

Each of these actions gives you more exposure to your clients and prospects as an accounting expert and builds your subject matter expertise.

business development playbook for professional services

3. Respond ASAP

In today’s digital landscape, instant communication isn’t just appreciated—it’s expected. In fact, the vast majority of your customers (a whopping 89 percent) require an email response within one hour to be satisfied. If you miss that mark, you can at least take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone—the average response takes more than 12 hours.

As we’ve established, responding to every email, call, or text within an hour is a tad unrealistic for most firms, so how else can you differentiate in this space? One way is to set aside dedicated times spaced throughout each day to reply to messages. Even if you don’t have all the answers, a quick response letting a client know you’re looking into their issue will show them you’re listening—and you value their time.

And if you respond faster than your competitors, not only will your swiftness stand out in your potential and current clients’ minds, but your firm can accelerate the sales cycle and leave the competition in the dust.

4. Invest in disruptive technology for your team

Growing an accounting firm in today’s competitive marketplace will require creative, outside-the-box thinking. Firms that have embraced disruptive technology have seen strong returns on their investments. Specifically, Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and automation have cut so deeply into core accounting firm services—like auditing, payroll and corporate tax—that half of accounting firm executives point to tech like AI as their biggest threat.

But as the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Or in this case, get them to join you. Seize the opportunity to innovate with new technology, like relationship intelligence automation, to improve the speed and quality of your accounting services.

Really looking to shake things up? The heavy hitter for any accounting firm’s business development team is advanced relationship intelligence. Relationship intelligence automation integrates with your existing CRM to automatically equip users with relationship insights across your network (the firm, clients, prospects, etc.). That’s valuable information the business development team can then use to improve the quality of their client interactions and drive a better understanding of who knows who across the firm.

Taking strides to improve your efficiency and effectiveness with innovative tech is a strategy that will distinguish your firm among its peers—and make sure your team isn’t left behind.

Read: 4 Ways You Can Future-Proof Your Accounting Firm

5. Bonus: Segment service offerings

Want to increase profits 25 to 95 percent? Who doesn’t? Research shows all you need to do is increase your client retention rates by 5 percent. Plus, as much as to 40 percent of new CPA firm business comes from cross-selling to existing clients.

To increase your cross-selling success, segment your customers across service offerings. Firms that land and expand their service offerings with active accounts will realize longer client  relationships—and more fruitful revenue cycles.

Finally, broadcast your differentiations via client testimonials. Consumers today trust other consumers. The stronger the relationships you have with your current clients, the more others will see you as a market leader.

The Common Thread: Relationships

The steps I’ve laid out for you are a to-do list you can’t ignore if you want to see your firm rise above the competition. And the common thread across all five is relationships—building strong, valuable connections.

Nurtured, positive relationships are what will truly set your firm—and any business—apart. They’re the way to increased client retention, acquisition, and referrals. A personalized go-to-market strategy, well-known expertise, renowned response times, and smart, supportive technology fosters those relationships with deeper trust and better client value, paving the way for your firm to get where it wants to go faster.