Marketing accounting solutions aren’t for the faint of heart. These services, after all, are not mainstream services like makeup and hairstyling that can be promoted to the average consumer as lifestyle essentials. With the exception of tax season, most people don’t even think about hiring an accountant for the better part of the year. The accounting industry also has a rigidly defined market: income-earning adults, entrepreneurs, business owners, and executives.
Given these limitations, plus the high standards people have for accounting professionals, it’s unsurprising that many in the accounting industry rely on word-of-mouth or client referrals to net in business.
There are, however, several challenges to securing referrals which we will discuss here. What accounting professionals need to realize is that digital marketing can be used to remedy these challenges and amplify their efforts in getting referrals.
We can show you how to optimize digital marketing for accounting firms. But first, let’s talk about the importance of referrals in an age when information is readily available at everyone’s fingertips.
The Power of Word-of-Mouth
Client referrals are an effective marketing tactic that pays off very well for the accounting industry. People are, by nature, very picky about who they trust with their money and financial statement information. Although the popularity of a firm or accountant often tips the scales in favor of them getting hired, it isn’t the only criteria clients consider. Trustworthiness and skill are bigger elements that factor in clients’ decisions. Advertisements on the radio, television, or billboards, however, do little to prove that.
No, accounting clients are more likely to trust the endorsement of their peers and people they trust, respect, and admire. Referrals from these individuals are the most credible forms of advertising from a consumer’s perspective.
The most recent Global Trust in Advertising report by Nielsen proves this. Eight out of 10 or 83 percent of consumers say they “completely or somewhat trust” the recommendations of people they know or trust. Wharton School of Business had a similar finding in an earlier report, stating that the lifetime value of referral customers is 16 percent higher than non-referral customers.
An existing relationship, or at the very least an acquaintanceship where the potential new client has high regard for the advocate, is necessary for referrals marketing to take effect. Both parties have emotion-driven motivations: brand advocates want their family and friends to benefit from the best service provider, while the latter two trusts that the former has their best interests at heart. It explains why referral clients often become loyal and long-term customers. They are the leads accountants and firms should aim to secure.
As personal and business accounting is a recurring service that becomes more lucrative the longer a client stays on board, accountants can benefit a lot from a successful referral strategy.
Digital Marketing + Referral Strategy
The point of referral marketing in the accounting industry is to spread the word about a firm’s services and how satisfied clients are with the work they do. It aligns perfectly with the goal of digital marketing, which is to reach new customers (through search engine optimization or SEO) and lay the groundwork for achieving specific business goals:
- Brand awareness (through SEO, social media marketing and content marketing)
- Higher revenue (through pay-per-click advertising or PPC)
- Customer loyalty (through email marketing and client rewards programs)
Let’s get into the details of how digital marketing for accounting firms generates highly coveted referrals.
A robust word-of-mouth campaign can tip the marketing scales in your favor, but you’ll have to back up the buzz. Making your firm easy to find on the Internet can help reinforce your status as a legitimate and trustworthy accounting services provider. A well-designed and optimized website that provides information about your services can also help you seal the deal.
Engaging in SEO helps because it consists of strategies that make websites land on the first page of search engine results pages (SERPs). On-page optimization, which is intrinsic to SEO, also focuses on making a website attractive to audiences (e.g., has high-quality content and is user-friendly) and search engines (e.g., web pages have the right keywords and observe internal linking).
Social Media Marketing
The goal of social media marketing is to engage and attract new customers while nurturing relationships with current clients. This subset of digital marketing can boost referrals for CPAs through:
- Real-time conversations with potential customers – People sent your way by your happy clients can reach out to you anytime. Similarly, you can respond as quickly as possible.
- Reviews and ratings from satisfied clients – Facebook and LinkedIn, the two most appropriate platforms for promoting accounting services, display customer ratings and reviews at the top of the screen. Even if previous clients rarely talk about your firm, their votes of confidence will always be up there for everyone to see.
What about clients who don’t have social media accounts? Ask permission to publish their written reviews on your website. If you have a marketing budget to spare, consider producing video testimonials, which you can also post on your website or upload to your social media accounts.
A subset of digital marketing that aims to establish brand authority, content marketing is an excellent method for increasing high-quality referral traffic to your website. Here’s how it works:
Content marketing is essentially publishing articles and blog posts on authoritative sites, like finance and corporate online magazines, with high stats for unique, monthly visits. They have a reputation for providing accurate, relevant, and helpful content, so readers trust that the articles they publish are reliable.
A successful content marketing campaign will land at least one article in any of these authoritative websites. It will meet the publisher’s standards for quality and accuracy. More importantly, it will contain an organically-placed referral link to your site. Readers who click on this link constitute your referral traffic. By sending them to the right page on your website, you can convert them into qualified leads, after which your sales team can nurture them to become new customers.
PPC and Affiliate Marketing
Pay-per-click advertising shows ads to targeted audiences (Internet users who fit the profile of your target market) and charges advertisers only if users click on an ad. Online paid ad services like Google AdWords decide where to place your ads. PPC is a cost-effective strategy that ensures your advertising dollars are spent on hot leads.
Affiliate marketing uses the same principle, except that you make arrangements with third-party websites to host your ads for a small fee. The effectiveness of affiliate marketing depends on your choice of ad hosts and the quality of referral traffic they send to your website.
Affiliate marketing is actually different from referral marketing. Still, it is another method that can bring referral traffic from high-quality websites frequented by the people you want to have as clients.
One of the most effective ways for marketing the services of an accountancy practice, email marketing allows you to target high-quality, qualified leads:
- Previous clients who may need your services again
- People who willingly signed up to get your email alerts
- People who emailed their inquiries and expressed interest in your accounting and auditing services
It is common practice in email marketing to separate email lists into groups and customize email content for each of them. It is also customary to pool previous clients into one group. Accountants typically send this group a reminder email when the tax season draws near, inviting them to use their services again for hassle-free filing of tax returns.
The same procedure can be used to generate referrals. Accountants and accounting firms can send thank-you emails to recent clients. Ideally, these emails will have a strong marketing message that compels them to refer your services to people they know.
Keep in mind that the best customers to ask referrals from are the Tier 1 clients. These are the business owners, professionals, and company representatives who interact with people who might also need your services. Referrals from loyal Tier 1 clients could generate a lot of high-value accounts for a professional or firm, so there’s a good chance your firm is already soliciting them.
Incentive Programs for Loyal Customers
Wouldn’t it be great if all referrals were freely given? Unfortunately, some people can’t be bothered to leave a review, much less a referral, unless they have an incentive to do either. It’s why client rewards programs exist. On the surface, they are a token of thanks to loyal clients who go the extra mile by recommending your services to their family and friends. Their underlying goal, however, is to urge clients to send you more referrals.
Common examples of client rewards for referrals are free, value-added services and discounts for every referred lead that becomes a paying customer.
Digital marketing can boost customer loyalty programs through the campaign strategies mentioned above:
- On-page optimization (by creating a page dedicated to the customer rewards program, and providing sufficient information on how to earn and claim rewards
- PPC (by targeting Internet users who’re most interested in your services and rewards program)
- Email Marketing (by launching rewards programs, announcing new offers, or reminding previous clients about the benefits of referring your services through well-timed email blasts)
Digital marketing strategies for accounting firms can accomplish so much more than ranking websites on page 1 of the SERPs. You can customize them to produce precise results, namely acquiring referrals.
ScalingYou provides specialists who can execute the strategies above (and more) to boost your referral campaign. We’ve been doing online marketing for years and honed our expertise in marketing for CPAs. Send us an email today and consult with our digital marketers for accountants.