Growth Strategies For Data and Digital- Summer 2023

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For Data and Digital Gr wth Strategies

The Journal of Accounting Marketing and Sales Summer 2023
Navigating the Future of Intelligent Technologies 2023 VIRTUAL CONFERENCE OCTOBER 4 • 11AM-4:30PM ET Registration is Now Open - Early-bird Pricing Through Wednesday, September 13 New for 2023 OnlineHands-onWorkshop October 11, 2023 1:00-4:00 pm ET
6 AI in Accounting Marketing: A Transformative Tool with Limits Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to reshape the professional world, including public accounting and accounting marketing. 10 Digital Asset Services: A Strategic Growth Opportunity Digital assets such as cryptocurrency, stablecoins and NFTs will “dominate the future” and represent a significant opportunity for accounting and advisory firms. 14 From Clicks to Clients: Digital Strategies that Drive Growth Creating a digital culture and strategy is imperative to build scalable and repeatable methods of growth. Focus In This Issue Features Summer 2023 Growth Strategies: The Journal of Accounting Marketing and Sales is published four times a year by the Association for Accounting Marketing, Inc. (AAM). It is a benefit of membership in AAM. The views expressed in any article do not represent the official position of, or endorsement by, AAM or the author’s employer. Association membership for executive and affiliate members is $445 annually with a one-time $50 initiation fee. Association membership for student members is $150 annually with a one-time $50 initiation fee. Copyright © 2023 by Association for Accounting Marketing, Inc. All rights reserved. Article reprints for Growth Strategies: The Journal of Accounting Marketing and Sales must receive approval from the Association for Accounting Marketing. Trends and Insights 4 Partner POV 8 Take 5 9 Q&A 12 TechNOWlogy 13 Business Development 16 Consultants’ Corner 18 By the Numbers 19 AAM Headquarters 201 East Main Street, Suite 1405 Lexington, KY 40507 859-402-9769 Rhonda Clark AAM Headquarters Editorial Board Dana Bottorff Committee Co-Chair Anadon Marketing Communications 781-856-3262 Heather Kunz Committee Co-Chair FORVIS LLP 404-681-8223 Janet Berry-Johnson JBJ Media LLC Christine Downs BerryDunn Stacy Dreher James Moore & Co. Katie Funderburk Mauldin & Jenkins Jacqueline Harnevious Windham Brannon Ulrike Harrison USH Associates, LLC Hannah Kubik Herbein Eileen Monesson PRCounts, llc Christine Proulx Grzyb Lumsden & McCormick, LLP Kennady Rabe Barnes Dennig Richard Shippee Whitman Business Advisors Maddy Rojo, Publication Designer 3

Trends and Insights

Building a Better Accounting Marketing Budget

with more — and more complex — responsibilities than ever. The AAM Marketing Budget Benchmarking Study equips marketers and decision makers with a comprehensive overview of the accounting marketing landscape, including the data, analysis, benchmarks and insights they need to implement a clearly defined strategy aligned with their business objectives.

25%) and low-growth firms (slowest growing 25%). The 50% in the middle were designated average-growth firms. The high-growth firms grow more than five times faster than their low-growth peers.

Keys to Budgeting for Growth

The 2023-24 Marketing Budget Benchmarking Study provides an all-new analysis of how firms organize their marketing and business development teams, how marketing teams support talent recruiting and retention initiatives and how accounting firms use technology to propel their marketing programs. Perhaps the most valuable portion of the study — an analysis of what the fastest growing firms do differently than their slower growing peers — will allow marketers to model their strategy, tools and techniques on those used by the most successful firms in the industry.

Leveraging Insights

In the past, marketers had limited access to data — perhaps a copy of last year’s budget or a general idea of the firm’s overall marketing spend. But today’s marketers are tasked

The study not only provides greater visibility and clarity at a tactical level, but it also serves as a strategic resource to effect change. At one level, it can help marketers allocate resources more efficiently, prioritize activities, track and evaluate performance and measure ROI. At another level, it provides the insights to create an environment of accountability, establish financial controls, facilitate discussions with other departments, simplify decision-making processes and provide the clear communication and transparency that stakeholders, executive leadership and boards need. In short, marketers can create a more powerful, data-driven and defensible marketing budget.

Fastest Growing Firms

The average firm in this year’s study had 489 employees and about $95 million in revenue. These are substantial firms. The entire sample represents more than $6 billion in revenue with 49,000 full-time professionals and 2,400 marketing and business development (BD) employees.

The sample was segmented into high-growth firms (fastest growing

Uncertainty and unpredictability have rocked many industries, including accounting. Add to that a growing talent shortage and many firms find themselves taking a hard look at their business models and the services they offer. High-growth firms have a distinct advantage over their slower growing competitors in three key areas: talent, technology and marketing techniques.


By several measures high-growth firms invest more in their marketing and BD talent. First, they have a higher ratio of marketing and BD professionals to total employees than the slow-growth group. They also make greater use of outside talent, such as consultants and marketing agencies. In fact, 100% of high-growth firms in the study plan to increase spending on talent.

Employees at high-growth firms are also more satisfied with their firm’s culture than are employees at slower growing firms. Well over half of employees (54.5%) at high-growth firms are very satisfied, while only about 3 of 10 employees (30.8%) in low-growth firms feel the same way.

The full report explores the specific culture-building techniques the highgrowth firms are using to build and reinforce their culture as well as how

For more than a decade, the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) has partnered with Hinge to research, analyze and provide the valuable insights accounting marketers and executive leadership teams need to develop highperforming marketing programs.
4 Growth Strategies Summer 2023

they communicate their culture to support recruiting.


Technology is playing an increasing role in marketing. In fact, high-growth firms have a much greater level of digital maturity than their low-growth peers. One way this is expressed is in their greater use of software to support the marketing and BD functions. Put another way, high-growth firms not only invest in talent, they also give their professionals more sophisticated tools to work with. This is a real impact multiplier.

Marketing Techniques

Today’s changing marketplace requires accounting marketers to rethink where they allocate their marketing dollars.

In the full report, Hinge created a detailed breakdown of marketing techniques that are used most often, how firms allocate their budgets and where the high-growth firms plan to increase spending. The categories of marketing techniques most often included in marketing budgets are:

• People & resources

• Traditional marketing

• Digital & content marketing

• Advertising

• Conferences & exhibits

For example, public relations — both traditional and digital — are favored by high-growth firms. But they invest less in traditional PR and more in the digital varieties.

More than 90% of high-growth firms already invest in search engine optimization (SEO) and they are planning to increase their SEO spending even further. Interestingly, digital PR is an important tool for accelerating SEO results. Clearly, there is a lot to learn from the marketing technique selections that high-growth firms make.

Report Overview

The full report is organized into seven sections.

1. Overall Firm Profiles

Including top line revenue, revenue per office, revenue per equity partner, revenue per employee, average annual growth rate, size and composition of the marketing function, salary averages, how marketing teams are organized and reporting relationships.

2. Growth Profiles

High-growth, average-growth and low-growth firms are compared in terms of financial performance, marketing departments and service offerings.

3. Budget Allocation/Control

Allocation of the budget among the five primary marketing technique categories, with a breakdown in each category comparing high-growth and low-growth firms, as well as the number of industry practice areas supported.

4. Marketing Spend & Strategies

A detailed breakdown of marketing technique usage, current spending and future spending priorities across all firms. Also includes the breakdown between high-growth and lowgrowth firms, revealing how the high-growth firms of today plan to adjust their budgets in the future.

5. Spending by Firm Size

For benchmarking purposes, firms are categorized into four sizes, providing a breakdown of metrics such as revenue per office, revenue per equity partner, revenue per employee, annual growth rate and services offered. The ratio of marketing employees to full-time equivalents and budget percentages by firm size are also examined.

6. Company Culture

How firms are investing in recruiting and retention efforts,

the involvement of marketing in the hiring process, methods used for strengthening company culture and satisfaction levels across the different growth profiles.

7. Digital Maturity

Implementation profiles and success levels related to software that support marketing and business development functions. Also examines how firms might accelerate the adoption of technology to contribute to firm growth.

A Final Thought

More is being demanded from accounting marketers than ever before, making the planning and budgeting process increasingly challenging. From attracting top talent to integrating the latest technologies, today’s marketers are wrestling with problems, old and new, in their quest to help their firms become more visible and grow.

With the AAM Marketing Budget

Benchmarking Study at their side, marketers can reduce risk, engage their audience more rapidly, and bring new clarity and perspective to the marketing planning process.

Get a copy of the free Executive Summary and purchase the full report from the AAM website.

Guest columnist: Will Casserly, account director at Hinge. Contact Will at


AI in Accounting Marketing: A Transformative Tool with Limits

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to reshape the professional world, including public accounting and accounting marketing.

Its transformative power cuts across a wide swath of professional functions, from data analysis to copy generation. Using AI can save time and reduce costs, but as with any new transformative tool, there are drawbacks. Only time will tell how professional service firms will use AI, but the conversation around its use is already buzzing with advice and cautionary tales.

Lucas LaChance is one of the accounting marketers exploring how

AI can add value. He and his practice growth team at Lane Gorman Trubitt, LLC, where LaChance is a partner, tested ChatGPT while refreshing the firm’s proposal templates.

“We did a creative writing day where we broke the proposal into pieces and fed it through ChatGPT by paragraph,” he said.

His team recompiled the results and edited them to improve the copy and ensure a consistent voice. Based on his experience with the proposals and additional experimentation with marketing collateral, LaChance sees potential value in using AI to support marketing goals — with one caveat: he would not try the same experiment using proprietary or private data.

“Ultimately,” he said, “it is marketing’s responsibility to put together a rigorous quality control process

that is attached to all AI-generated content. I think it is important to understand who has responsibility for the data and who has access to it.”

One potential solution? LaChance foresees firms with strong technology and IT talent beginning to create their own AI so they can control the data in-house.

Sandina Heckert, director of marketing at Abdo, said that ChatGPT is viewed by their marketing team as a valuable asset.

“There are great advantages with it as long as we proceed with caution and have rules in place for how it is used. We ask colleagues to be careful with what they put in, like no proprietary or client information because there are no guarantees where it’s going,” Heckert said.

AICPA’s Position on AI

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has similar concerns about privacy and security as well as enthusiasm for the versatility of the tool. AI is driving rapid change to audit processes, among other technical accounting areas, and auditors must understand the security risks inherent in reliance on AI algorithms to solve sensitive or complex problems.

When using AI for less sensitive purposes, however, these concerns aren’t as relevant. AICPA is keeping an eye on the ways member firms are using ChatGPT in their marketing, positioning, communications and reports as well as creative applications such as:

Focus Article 6 Growth Strategies Summer 2023

• Generating ideas and drafting responses to client emails

• Providing quick feedback to inform responses to questions during conference calls

AICPA fully recognizes the potential of AI and its enormous future impact on the profession. AICPA and its Canadian counterpart, Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, address both topics in a foundational publication designed to educate members and provide context for the AI revolution accounting professionals are witnessing.

In addition, AICPA has established a working group under the Assurance Services Executive Committee to monitor regulatory activities related to AI bias. As part of their recommended best practices, the AICPA suggests marketers who use AI tools be aware of the variability of responses and adopt a biasalert stance in all their AI-centered activities.

The Human Side of Marketing

In addition to questions of privacy and bias, using AI for content generation raises the question, “What happens to the human touch?” AI is rapidly becoming more human-like, but it has miles to go before it can generate prose that is graceful or satisfying on a psychological level. The subtleties of communication remain beyond its reach, and therein lies the magic of marketing.

“If we and someone else were using ChatGPT, it would wind up looking too similar,” LaChance said.

Heckert noted that while it’s beneficial as a research tool and helps get a baseline, marketers should avoid the temptation to let AI do all the writing.

“According to digital marketing experts, at least 70% to 80% of your content should be native

and original — something that you wrote,” Heckert said. “With the advent of AI content creation tools like ChatGPT, you have to remember that use of those tools will become widespread. I imagine that unless we as marketers are augmenting what we generate, our content would look very similar to others. And from what I understand, Google Analytics will be able to discern what content is repetitious or is largely AI-generated and will rank those pieces lower.”

Complexity is another stumbling block. Accurately conveying the details of tax provisions and nuanced in-depth business advisory topics exceeds the abilities of current AI tools. AI often struggles to communicate complex topics clearly enough to replace human subjectmatter experts who have specialized knowledge and skill. This limits the utility of AI as a content creation tool for knowledge-based businesses that build a reputation based on trust and being perceived as an authoritative source of information.

AI also lags at generating content based on novel or unfamiliar topics. Accounting firms that are committed to providing thought leadership cannot rely on AI to take on this task; its strength lies in gathering and regurgitating existing information.

“The AI platforms aren’t distinguishing between disinformation and legitimate information,” LaChance said. “So all content has to be very carefully reviewed — especially technical content.”

Gift of Time

AI can be valuable when used appropriately. Chief among its offerings is the gift of time.

“ChatGPT saved me from having to block out an additional day to do all that writing on my own,” LaChance said about his proposal content project. “It was a lot easier to have something boilerplate that I could then edit.”

AI is at its best taking on the timeconsuming burdens of data analysis, preliminary campaign mapping, and similar tasks. AI often can whip through content creation tasks in just a few hours that might take a marketing team days to complete.

Eric Whittington, director of marketing at Sol Schwartz & Associates, argues that AI’s original content can be just as “original” as content ghostwriters create.

“I’m not the only one who ghostwrites content for other people and organizations to publish. That’s a way of life. ChatGPT probably goes to the same places I do for research, it just does it a lot faster. Using ChatGPT is no different than being a ghostwriter and someone reviewing it and paying me,” Whittington said.

As marketers, we already review and scrutinize any piece of content before it gets posted, and content generated by AI shouldn’t be treated differently. The difference, however, with AI generated content is the time we’re all getting back in our day.

Heckert advises open-mindedness when it comes to AI.

“When Excel came out, people thought it was going to put accountants out of business,” Heckert said. "AI is just another tool; it is helpful, it is timesaving, but you still have to have the expert using the tool and advising. I don’t see it as a threat to marketers. I see it as something that can help improve our capacity to be better content creators and innovators in our profession.”

Katie Funderburk, Senior

Communications & PR, Mauldin & Jenkins. Contact Katie at

Hannah Kubik, Marketing Supervisor, Herbein. Contact Hannah at

• Developing mission statements

Jay Weinstein, CPA, MBA, MST

Vice Chair of Industries and Markets

Eisner Advisory Group, LLC

Jay is the vice chair of industries and markets of Eisner Advisory Group LLC, as well as a member of the firm’s Board of Directors and Executive Committee. He is responsible for executing business strategies for existing markets, identifying emerging opportunities and leading the firm’s innovation and technology initiatives. Jay was named to the NJBIZ 2022 Accounting Power list of 50 leaders who guide every facet of an organization’s operations.

You are a technology champion, both internally and for clients. What was the impetus?

The impetus came from seeing how progressive companies, not just accounting firms, were viewing themselves. We learned to look at technology as an investment that enhances the way we deliver our service. Technologies have also become a bigger part of our offerings that translate into new products and services such as our firm’s newly launched SAFER hospital safety technology platform, which we couple with our safety analytics service.

How do you help partners, professional staff and clients see the value in technology?

We communicate the value proposition, not just the features. Working alongside our service delivery people, our IT and marketing departments take leading roles in researching, integrating and rolling out digital tech capabilities internally and to our clients. IT leads the technical functionality piece and marketing leads the applications communications. The internal message is to get smart fast, and the external message is to provide solutions and constantly evolve.

How have tech tools affected marketing and business development?

Marketing automation software like HubSpot and survey programs like Get Feedback and Qualtrics have enhanced our marketing team’s ability to better target and focus the message, to zero in on specific clients and personas and dive deeper into the industries we serve. This translates into messaging that is more focused yet can be delivered through far more channels. It is about getting targeted valuable information to clients in a user friendly fashion.

On the business development and sales side of the tech equation, qualified lists and key data KPIs are easier and

much faster to get than ever before. Naturally we put a lot of emphasis on our own data within CRM, which is NetSuite, but there are many other tools and information sources we use as supplements. They run the gamut from newer AI-based resources to industry stalwarts like Audit Analytics.

How have you used technology to address client needs?

A good example is our proprietary cloud-based tax partnership platform called Global Partnership Solution (GPS). Partnership tax reporting is highly complex particularly in the private equity, hedge fund and fund of fund space, as well as in the real estate and family office markets. Clients want the ability to run complex tax, aggregation and allocation calculations. Our in-house software enables us to produce partnership returns quickly and accurately with deal-by-deal tax allocation, multi-partner and tiering capabilities, future modeling capabilities and automated K-1 generation, just to name a few.

What is your take on AI?

Everyone is talking about AI. Our marketing partner, Michael Mattia, attended the recent Major Firms Group meeting of growth leaders and said the opinions on AI ran the gamut. For example, some firms are embracing ChatGPT as a tool that will fundamentally change our business for the better and some are not allowing its use until more stringent guardrails are in place. We are looking closely at AI implementation and how we best adopt the tools that add value to our clients. There will be rules of the road, oversight and accountability. Our goal is to use AI smartly, correctly and with the best of intent. And yet I like to believe that there will always be a human factor that AI will never be able replace.

8 Growth Strategies Summer 2023
Interview by Dick Shippee

What digital marketing metrics do you track and how are they used?

We recently started tracking our keyword ranking for terms in which we currently rank and also those for which we aspire to rank. Monthly, we review to see how content we’ve produced has impacted our ranking, knowing that competitors are concurrently targeting similar terms. We use this data to inform our content development strategy in both the short and long term. I’ve also recently started tracking our domain authority score so we can analyze contributing factors that impact our overall score, all while ensuring we increase over time.

That’s a trick question because what you track should depend on what you will do with it. This varies per stakeholder. For example, marketers may focus on engagement and conversion rates they can test and optimize, while executives care about ROI and customer acquisition costs to confirm strategy and direct investments. Benchmarking frames data. While vanity metrics can be “motivational,” we focus on what drives wins, then improve outcomes by identifying ways to influence the buyer and remove barriers to conversion. I preach the “1% better rule” to my team, as digital success is iterative. In long sales cycles, consistency itself can be an important measure.

Growth for our clients and our firm is always what guides us. Some of the critical metrics we’re watching, along with revenue-centric dashboards, include domain authority, site health, conversion rates, time on site, site bounce rates over time, number of pages visited over time, podcast listens & completions by platform, and social media engagements over time. Our data tells us what content is engaging, influencing and attributing to our website authority, digital presence, SEO performance and improving our buyer’s journey. Accelerating buying cycles with a focus on lifecycle marketing will continue to be our focus in the coming years.

We track metrics like page views, top performing web pages and keywords to help us identify what website content is performing well, or what needs improvement. Additionally, this data provides us with valuable insights into the topics that should be included in our content calendar and guides us on how to optimize our landing pages effectively. This is our first year developing targeted landing pages for our service lines, so having this kind of data helps us make sure we are heading in the right direction. Tracking metrics and analyzing data is an on-going process!

We track website traffic, conversion rate, click-through rate (CTR), cost per acquisition (CPA), return on investment (ROI) and customer lifetime value (CLV). Website traffic helps us understand our audience's behavior and engagement. Conversion rate and CTR help us evaluate campaign performance and optimize for better results. CPA and ROI enable us assess cost-effectiveness and allocate resources efficiently. CLV helps us determine long-term value and tailor our strategies. With these metrics, we make data-driven decisions, identify improvements, refine targeting strategies and optimize marketing campaigns. ChatGPT

Interviews by Growth Strategies staff


Digital Asset Services: A Strategic Growth Opportunity


non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are increasingly becoming part of the standard investing and financial planning landscape.

“Blockchains and digital currencies will significantly dominate the future,” said Gale Crosley, CPA, strategic revenue growth consultant and founder of Crosley+Company. “Just as the film photography and telecom industries had to pivot to meet consumer demands, accountants must do the same. Digital assets are the future, and firms should prepare now to offer services to their clients.”

into their business operations.

The success of their efforts will depend on the market research they undertake in advance to define the market, discover its needs and design the right type of services.

In its 2021 Global Blockchain Survey, Deloitte found that leaders at financial services institutions regard digital assets and blockchain technologies as a strategic priority. Moreover, 76% of respondents said digital assets will be a strong alternative to or replacements for government-backed currencies in the next five to 10 years.

The IRS defines digital assets as “any digital representation of value recorded on a cryptographically secured distributed ledger or any similar technology.” Digital assets such as convertible virtual currency (cryptocurrency), stablecoins and

Establishing a Digital Assets Practice

While digital assets are in the infancy stage of their product lifecycle, some forward-thinking firms have already launched practices in this area and gained a competitive advantage by being first to market.

Cohen & Company is one of those firms. Corey McLaughlin, CPA, is a partner and market leader of its Digital Assets Industry Group. He advises accounting firms to evaluate if a digital practice is right for their firms.

“We had an opportunity in 2016 to provide digital asset accounting services,” McLaughlin said. “Fortunately, we had professionals in-house with extensive knowledge in this area, especially our IT department. Cohen & Company invested time talking to our clients to determine their needs and level of interest. We wanted to ensure that our clients wanted and would

benefit from the digital asset services infrastructure we built. As a result, we pooled our resources to form our Digital Assets Industry Group.”

The firm’s investment in getting it right paid off.

“We are well beyond expectations and have surpassed our goals,” McLaughlin said.

Internal Collaboration Required

Typically, when firms decide to start a new practice area, they focus on the needs of a specific client, jump on an opportunity, copy what other firms are doing or follow their gut. Crosley recommends that firms do market research instead to determine their clients’ needs and learn about opportunities.

“The first thing firms should do is take $100 and start investing in crypto for learning and training purposes,” said Crosley.

Internal collaboration between marketers, business developers and accountants is necessary to effectively assess whether offering digital asset services is right for the firm and its clients. Several other strategies are essential to setting the stage for successfully launching a digital asset practice. These include:

Research and stay informed: Stay current with the latest developments in the digital asset space. Understand the regulatory environment and any potential implications for accounting and tax purposes.

Focus Article 10 Growth Strategies Summer 2023
represent a significant opportunity for accounting and advisory firms to create service lines that address their clients’ needs, from investing to financial planning to integrating digital assets

“The AICPA has a digital asset working group which we became involved with,” McLaughlin said. “We also joined the Digital Chamber of Commerce and other groups to keep current on trends, have access to resources and a seat at the table developing standards for this growing asset class.”

Segment clients: Divide your client base into segments based on factors such as industry, size, complexity and their involvement or interest in digital assets. This helps prioritize clients who are more likely to require digital asset services.

Conduct client interviews: Engage in proactive discussions with clients to understand their current financial activities and any potential involvement in digital assets. Determine the scale and complexity of their digital asset activities, including trading, investing, mining or accepting digital assets as payment. Ask targeted questions to gauge their level of understanding, goals and concerns or challenges related to digital asset accounting.

Evaluate reporting and compliance needs: Review your clients' financial reporting requirements and assess whether digital assets must be integrated into their financial statements. Consider the potential impact of digital assets on tax reporting, regulatory compliance and applicable accounting standards.

Consider industry relevance: Evaluate the industries you serve and their acceptance of digital assets. For example, some sectors like finance, technology and e-commerce may have a higher propensity for digital assets and need accounting services, while others may not.

Identify risks and opportunities: Analyze the risks associated with digital assets, including security, regulatory compliance and valuation. Assess whether your clients have the necessary internal controls and

processes to mitigate these and other risks. Also, identify opportunities for optimizing their digital asset activities or leveraging tax benefits.

Determine internal expertise: Evaluate your firm's existing knowledge, skills, resources and technology infrastructure in digital asset accounting. If needed, consider upskilling or hiring professionals with specialized expertise.

Communicate the benefits: Prepare a comprehensive guide outlining the benefits of digital asset services for your clients. Highlight how these services can address their pain points, streamline their accounting processes, enhance compliance and provide valuable insights to support financial decision-making.

Provide education and training: Offer educational resources, workshops or webinars to help your clients understand the basics of digital asset accounting and its potential benefits to their business. This can increase their awareness and receptiveness to digital asset services.

Advantages of Digital Asset Services

“By offering digital asset services, firms can enrich client relationships, unlock new revenue streams and solidify their reputation as forwardthinking professionals,” said Allan Koltin, CPA, CGMA, and CEO of Koltin Consulting Group. “Firms can no longer ignore major professional shifts if they want to remain relevant.”

Marketers will be pivotal in helping firm leadership understand and articulate how digital asset services will benefit their firms and their clients. Key advantages for firms include the ability to differentiate themselves as industry leaders in digital asset services, the potential to utilize their expertise to create value-added insights for their clients that fuel growth and the ability to mitigate risks and integrate digital assets into clients’ portfolios as part of

an overall holistic financial planning strategy.

Digital assets are not a passing trend. Firms that embrace digital asset services will position themselves for long-term business growth and sustainability. Furthermore, they will establish a reputation for innovation, attracting forward-thinking clients and forging strategic partnerships that drive their growth trajectory.

“As the world becomes more complex, business leaders need advisors to help them navigate multifaceted decisions that reach beyond the traditional compliance services,” said Angie Grissom, owner and chief relationship officer with The Rainmaker Companies.

By helping their firms embrace this transformative shift, marketers position themselves as agents of change, empowering their firms to capitalize on the potential of the digital economy.


Sally Glick

Sally Glick is business development advisor at CLA (Clifton Larson Allen LLP) since SobelCo combined with CLA in February 2023. She has been named one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting by Accounting Today, one of the most Powerful Women in Public Accounting by CPA Practice Advisor, the 2003 AAM Marketer of the Year and was inducted into the AAM Hall of Fame in 2007. She began her career working for her father, a sole practitioner CPA. At the time, her best technology tool was a fax machine and accountants were prohibited from marketing. She reflects on her years in the industry and the unifying thread that ties marketing in the 1980s to the 2020s in the digital age.

With growing talent and succession concerns, firm mergers and consolidations are an industry trend. What does industry consolidation mean for marketers?

When firms merge there can be more opportunity for marketers. Larger, national firms often provide many pathways for career progression. You may be designing an ad for somewhere halfway around the country. But depending on your personality, you may not enjoy being a part of a bigger organization. If you like that small, cozy attitude and small team, you can miss it. If you use a different lens, though, you can see that you now have the benefit of a deeper, richer, broader spectrum of talent to lean on.

What was it like when you first started in this discipline, what has happened over time and what’s it like today?

I got into helping my dad, who was a sole practitioner CPA before it was legal for accountants to market their services. He said to me, “I have time to serve more clients, but no time to find them. Go find them.” This was before the internet. This was when you joined the chamber of commerce, you’d go to banks and look for small clients who didn’t know how to do budgets or read financial statements, etc. He’d present topics using a projector. We printed and mailed newsletters. We knocked on doors.

The things that mattered most for the last 50 years have not changed. Today we may do a webinar or podcast, but we’re still talking to and sharing information with clients and prospects. What hasn’t changed is the caring, the handholding and the nurturing of our clients. Being the trusted advisor and building relationships is still the key to marketing, regardless of how technology changes.

Many consider you a pioneer of accounting marketing. What opportunities did you see for yourself and for firms?

The 1987 ruling that made accounting marketing legal made our role legitimate. Before that ruling, everything was very low key. We were building relationships, but we couldn’t use logos or firm names. CPAs even answered the phone with their phone number. We knocked on the doors of banks and were chamber of commerce members. We got to know people and built these strategic alliances. After the ruling it really meant you weren’t going to be alone in the mix. As this profession has grown, it has been exciting to see all the paths that have opened up for marketers.

How do marketers gain a seat at the firm’s leadership table for strategic planning?

You need to be seen as a leader and decision maker. The trick is to believe you are a decision maker and to have the emotional intelligence and confidence to know that. Don’t wait with your hand out, saying, “I didn’t know what you wanted.” Instead, say, “Here is what I believe we need. Here are some things that I suggest we do.” To be seen as a leader you need to show your strategic thinking. Also, you need to be involved with and knowledgeable about your community. The more people you know, the more of an asset you can become to your firm. These are ways to prove yourself and show that you belong at the table.

Interview by Jacqueline Harnevious 12 Growth Strategies Summer 2023

Data Tools for Marketing Success

For marketers, data is the key to success. It helps us make informed decisions based on data-driven insights into what is working, what problems may exist and how to target marketing strategies. By gathering data, marketers can target marketing initiatives which will result in improved ROI and increased competitive advantages.

Effective marketing requires not only the collection of data, but analysis and reporting of that data as well. There are myriad data gathering tools available for marketers, and the choice of the best one will depend on marketers’ specific needs and goals. Here are some popular data gathering tools that are commonly used by marketers:

Tracks website traffic and user behavior and then provides insight into audience demographics, traffic sources, etc. Can also be integrated with other tools such as Google Data Studio and Google AdWords.

Connects various data sources (Excel, databases, cloudbased services), transforms and cleans up the data, and creates interactive visualizations, reports and dashboards.

Project management and collaboration tool that allows users to collect data, manage tasks, track progress and automate workflows.

Survey tool to create and send surveys, polls and questionnaires to gather feedback and insights from clients, prospects and employees, and make data-driven decisions. Provides a range of templates, customization options and real-time reporting and analysis.


$10-$20 per user/month depending on features

Flexible pricing models available

Flexible pricing models available

With the right tools, marketers can collect and analyze data from various sources, gain insights into client behavior and create effective marketing strategies that drive growth and success. By prioritizing data gathering and analysis, marketers can stay ahead of the competition, deliver better results and, ultimately, achieve their desired outcomes.

Tool Description Cost Google
SmartSheet SurveyMonkey

From Clicks to Clients: Digital Strategies that Drive Growth

The accounting industry is undergoing a major digital transformation accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While traditional methods of growth will always be important, creating a digital culture and strategy is imperative to build scalable and repeatable methods of growth.

Many firms are investing in digital marketing tactics such as SEO, social media, paid ads and email marketing to attract new business, but most struggle with generating significant revenue through these channels.

David Toth, chief growth officer of Winding River Consulting, said the key challenge lies in the widespread focus on tactical execution without first establishing a comprehensive digital strategy and fostering a digital culture within the firm.

“By taking a more strategic approach — one that encompasses audience identification, targeted outreach, conversion optimization, customer journey mapping — accounting firms can significantly enhance their digital performance,” Toth said.

The most important factor for achieving a successful digital strategy, Toth said, is to create a digital culture. Firms with a strong digital culture can prioritize digital as a fundamental driver of growth, conveying the message that “digital is an absolute must for us.”

How to Build an Organic Digital Strategy

Brandon Hall, founder and managing partner of Hall CPA, started building his business — unintentionally — before he left the consulting practice of EY. As a new real estate investor, he became an active contributor to the online real estate forum, Bigger Pockets, answering tax questions.

“Tax was a lot of fun for me, and people were so appreciative to get free advice,” Hall said. “I created a positive feedback loop on a daily and hourly basis that I was not getting at my job.”

Once people started reaching out and asking if he was taking on new clients, he realized he could build a firm from this strategy.

In addition to leading his CPA firm, Hall is the co-host of the Tax Smart Real Estate Investors Podcast (which gets 130,000 downloads each month) and manager of a Facebook group with over 16,000 followers. He is also the owner of Tax Strategy Foundation, a series of paid online courses created to help new real estate investors manage their tax strategy.

Hall says 95% of his new business comes through digital channels — without spending a dime on paid advertising. After identifying Bigger Pockets as a direct channel to his target audience and building connections, he started creating relevant content to educate his followers — all for free.

“A lot of CPAs won’t discuss detailed tax strategies publicly on blogs, podcasts or videos,” Hall said. “They generally

charge consultation fees for this information.”

Hall’s strategy, however, is to give his followers in-depth tax secrets at no cost. Because tax laws are complex, most investors don’t want to handle their taxes on their own. So they hire Hall CPAs for the work. Meanwhile, the free digital resources bring more potential clients into his sales funnel.

Since 2017, Hall and one of his partners, Thomas Castelli, have produced a weekly podcast and video series and published articles. They’ve also built their Facebook community and leveraged Instagram and YouTube as channels to their audience. In addition, they’ve focused on search engine optimization (SEO) to help attract more investors who needed help and leveraged influencers by regularly appearing as guests on other popular podcasts. Their podcast, which brings in 100 to 150 leads per month, is their anchor.

“We release a podcast and video every single week (except Christmas) without fail,” Hall said. “Consistency is key for building a following. It has taken about a year and a half for our efforts to really gain traction and start yielding leads.”

While many firms turn away business that doesn’t meet their minimum thresholds, Hall believes that no lead is a bad lead. Real estate investors grow their portfolios and eventually get large enough to hire Hall. Until then, Hall’s team pushes these leads toward their Facebook community, their podcast and their paid courses created to help small investors develop a solid tax strategy. Their focus on education and

14 Growth Strategies Summer 2023 Focus Article

building communities keeps these investors in their funnel until they’re ready to buy.

His advice for firms wanting to create a robust digital strategy is to remember that “people buy from people.” Find someone in your firm who’s extroverted, loves creating content, enjoys educating people, is comfortable with public speaking and engaging with prospects and clients. Help them build a personal brand and create a digital strategy, and then compensate them for these efforts.

Using AI to Streamline Content Production

The challenge of creating content to build a robust organic strategy can seem insurmountable for many marketers and accounting firms. When Hall was building what he calls “the machine,” he spent at least 20 hours per week on content production.

His advice for established firms interested in creating a digital strategy for a particular niche is to identify the appropriate channels and then assign different people to each channel. So collectively, for example, a firm could spend four hours per day on content, with those hours divided among three people (and scale that as needed).

Some have found that artificial intelligence (AI) helps reduce the time spent generating content. Paul Boechler, business development and marketing manager at Virtus Group based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is leveraging ChatGPT Pro for this reason. Boechler creates prompts around keywords, asking ChatGPT for article outlines that identify headings and subheadings that would “likely” rank high on Google. (He found that ChatGPT doesn’t work in absolutes, so “likely” is a better prompt.) He then requests 800 to 1,000-word articles based upon the outline, specifically requesting the use of original content to avoid plagiarism. He also uses prompts to better reflect the firm’s tone, language and target audience.

“By leveraging AI we get draft articles that are 40% to 60% complete, which saves our accountants hours of work,” said Boechler. The firm’s subject matter experts then edit the articles using their own words to create original “human-generated” content for their SEO strategy.

How to Succeed with Paid Digital Ads

Sean Smith, the CMO of Schneider Downs, worked for advertising agencies for 20 years before transitioning to public accounting and has leveraged his experience to create a multi-channel paid digital strategy that’s driving real growth for his firm.

Similar to Hall, Smith’s focus is on creating high-quality, relevant content. Schneider Downs creates whitepapers, engagement surveys, informational videos, on-demand CPE eligible webinars and more. However, he primarily connects with his audience through display advertising — programmatic and within targeted publications (local business journals, industry-specific journals, etc.) — and social media advertising.

“Our objective is to get our target audience to our website and reward them for their attention by providing great information,” Smith said.

And their efforts are paying off. More than 400 people downloaded the firm’s whitepaper on the R&D tax credit alone, which resulted in new clients and revenue that far surpassed what they spent on advertising.

The firm takes a multi-channel approach to advertising because their audience isn’t in just one place.

“I’m the CMO of Schneider Downs and I’m also a foodie. I love to eat out and make beer. I’m also a sports fanatic and I listen to a lot of music,” Smith said. “Think about all those places someone could reach me with ads.”

Smith and his team use LinkedIn to target their audience by serving ads for a particular niche service or gated

piece of content (for example, their whitepaper on R&D tax credits and their proprietary lease software). They’re also reaching this audience on other websites through display advertising that promotes their services and highlights case studies.

“Taking a brand awareness-focused approach to advertising tends to produce higher quality leads when they ultimately convert on our website because they’re curious about learning more about the firm when they click through. When we promote specific content, such as whitepapers, we get more people leaving fake emails because they’re interested in the content, but not in our firm and our services,” Smith said, noting the exception of LinkedIn.

Smith explained that digital advertising through these channels must be targeted and frequent to achieve success. That, along with rewarding website visitors with valuable educational information that keeps them coming back, are key elements of his success.

Tying it Together

Marketers play a critical role in getting firm leadership’s support to elevate digital to the strategic growth level and help create a digital culture within their firms. But as Toth says, this comes with the challenge of overcoming how marketing has been perceived over time.

“Marketers need to have conversations with firm leadership about their role within the firm,” said Toth. “Are they going to be a marketing team focused on the more traditional expense line item? Or are they going to position themselves as a growth leader within their firm and elevate expectations to get a seat at the table?”


Google Reviews: An Often-Overlooked Growth Strategy

Accounting and advisory firms may be missing business development opportunities if they overlook this effective and inexpensive tool.

But in this digital age, Google and other online reviews are the new word-of-mouth recommendations.

If a prospect finds your firm on Google and it’s likely they will since 80% to 90% of buying decisions now include online pre-purchase research what will they see? Does your firm have several robust five-star reviews from long-time clients? Are there some one-star reviews you haven’t yet responded to? Are there no reviews?

Google reviews and your firm’s Google My Business listing can be powerful business development resources. Positive reviews can help a firm rank higher in search results, build credibility and enhance reputation.

So, how can a firm generate more reviews for its Google My Business listing? Like anything else in business development and marketing, practitioners must put in the time and develop a review strategy to achieve results.

How to Get Reviews

Think about your own habits. Do you post a review every time you eat an exceptionally delicious sandwich or have an experience at the bank that went better than expected? Probably not. We expect things to work a certain way, and if they meet or exceed our expectations, it is unlikely to trigger us to leave a review. In fact, Inc. magazine reports that only one in 10 people who have positive experiences with a business leave a good review. Your firm’s experience may prove that ratio to be lower, especially if you are not consistently asking clients to leave a review.

Asking is the best way to add reviews to your Google My Business page. This may seem like a no-brainer, but there are plenty of firms that don’t take this step. It’s another item on someone’s to-do list after closing an engagement, ending a year or clearing a particular hurdle, so it’s understandable that it doesn’t always get done. Moreover, it feels awkward and there’s a chance of rejection. The good news is 71% of people will leave a business review if they are asked.

There are many ways to approach clients to ask for a review. One of the best ways is to send them a personalized message with links to make responding easy. Here are a few ideas:

• Include reminders in email newsletters asking clients to leave reviews. Consider featuring a business that left a complimentary review in the same email to entice other clients to do the same.

• Add a prompt to leave a Google review in post-engagement surveys sent to clients. Remind partners and managers to followup with their clients and remind them to complete the survey and leave a review.

• Post reminders to leave reviews on social media channels.

• Provide a link on the firm’s website that leads to the review form.

• Use a marketing automation tool like HubSpot to trigger a review request email after a certain action is taken (e.g., project is moved to closed).

Accounting and advisory firms have traditionally relied on word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied clients to grow.
Business Development 16 Growth Strategies Summer 2023

• Use a service such as GradeUs to automatically send email or text message requests for Google reviews after closing business.

• Encourage team members to reach out to their most satisfied, loyal clients first. They are almost guaranteed to get a positive review and that will help build confidence.

• If your firm has multiple locations, request reviews from clients served by each office, prospects can see reviews from clients in their area.

• Incentivize the process. For example, host a contest at the firm with a prize for whoever can generate the most reviews from clients in three months. It can encourage friendly competition and help you build your brand reputation.

There are step-by-step guides, articles and video tutorials available online to walk newcomers through the reviewrequesting process. Also, look for tips

on what can be included in reviews, such as “in my experience,” images or quantitative measures of success, to help attract the attention of Google’s recently updated algorithm.

Responding to Reviews

Increasing the number of reviews is part of an effective strategy, but it’s not enough on its own. It is important to show Google visitors that all reviews, both negative and positive, are read and respond to. Responding only to the negative reviews can appear defensive, and responding only to positive reviews can suggest you are not engaged in addressing client experience issues.

To make the responding process faster and easier, outline sample responses based on star ratings and categories or comments. It is important not to parrot back the same lines in every review because this can appear robotic, but using basic phrases as a guide can save time and give team members a framework for

responding. It is also a terrific way to reinforce brand messages. Finally, it demonstrates to prospects that they will be working with a business that is responsive. This can go a long way in building trust early in the buying process.

A firm with many reviews, a healthy proportion of which are positive and all of which receive a response, will increase its brand’s reach, improve credibility and influence prospects’ buying decisions.

(A version of this story appeared in the June 2022 AAM Minute newsletter)

Sarah Dobek, president, Inovautus Consulting. Contact at

Ty Hendrickson, training & development director, Inovautus Consulting. Contact at


Consultants’ Corner

How are clients using tech tools to develop business?

We're seeing a dramatic increase in the use of tech in business development amongst accounting firms in the last few years. Some highlights I’ve been seeing with accounting firms’ tech usage in BD include:

• Outreach automation on LinkedIn with Octopus CRM,

• Personalized outreach videos using VidYard,

• LinkedIn Showcase pages to focus social media for specific client service groups,

• And, of course, ChatGPT for content creation, especially outreach template creation. There’s so much opportunity for firms to automate and accelerate their business development while still maintaining a relationship-first approach.

Accounting firms are using ChatGPT to analyze client data, uncover trends and identify service expansion opportunities. For example, ChatGPT’s ability to identify critical information on client spending patterns enables marketers to create more targeted marketing strategies that cater to evolving client needs and preferences. ChatGPT and other AI tools deliver actionable insights that help enhance client relationships.

One key advantage of AI in market research is its ability to swiftly analyze vast amounts of data. AI algorithms can sift through massive datasets, including social media posts, online reviews, customer feedback and demographic information, extracting relevant patterns and trends. This automated analysis eliminates the need for manual data processing, accelerating the research timeline significantly.

Many clients are using technology to be more systematic about identifying business opportunities (CRM & AI), utilizing platforms to create interest and execute business development efforts (CRM and marketing automation), and leveraging additional technology to improve the client experience and accelerate client acquisition.

A major transition resulting from the COVID shutdown is a realization by firms that they needed a better handle on business contacts, such as who has the relationships with these contacts, and they needed to be more datadriven about selling additional services to existing clients.

Another big shift is a new commitment by firm leaders to investing in CRM and Marketing Automation as missioncritical to growth. Using technology platforms in the right way enhances business development efforts.

Interviews by Dana Bottorff 18 Growth Strategies Summer 2023

Readingis Fundamental

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the Numbers

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