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How can accounting firms boost their bottom line with personas?

14 February 2020: in an increasingly competitive landscape it has become tougher than ever for firms to stand out from the crowd. Creating and honing your practice personas could allow you to tailor your marketing efforts, connect with your target audience and increase your profitability.

If trying to hone-in on a specific kind of client sounds counterintuitive to growing your customer base, it’s time to think again. Identifying your best clients and targeting similar prospects can have a great impact on profitability, and yet let’s face it, many firms still go for the numbers game when it comes to marketing and practice development.

“Trying to be all things to all people is an absence of strategy, and successful marketing is first and foremost all about segmentation and targeting,” says Tim Prizeman, Director of PR advisory firm Kelso Consulting, who has been working in the accountancy sector for nearly 30 years.

“This failure to segment and target is why most accountancy firms look and sound the same as each other and contributes to growth problems that cause mid-tier firms to be squeezed and forced into one-sided mergers. For smaller accountancy firms that experience having their margins continually squeezed, this lack of focus is a big cause of their woes,” Prizeman adds.

What are buyer personas?

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional profile that represents your target customer. It describes who they are, what their days are like, the challenges they face and how they make decisions. Pondering those questions will help you understand your customers so that everything you do to acquire and serve them is tailored to their needs.

Creating your firm’s buyer personas allows you to focus your marketing efforts and connect with your target audience.

The theory is when choosing a product or service, we naturally gravitate toward businesses we know and trust. By showing your potential customers that you understand them by addressing their business problems, they will be open to exploring what you have to offer.

Tailor your message

Michelle Morton, a Communications Consultant with PR agency Morton Waters, says in its work with accountancy clients, her firm tries to understand the different challenges businesses of different sizes and stages of growth face, to shape messaging accordingly.

“For example, a start-up might be struggling to find funding, a business a couple of years down the line might be looking to grow and take on employees so might need support with PAYE/pensions enrolment, while the owner of an established business might be thinking of exit strategy.”

Prizeman concedes that accountancy partners are amongst the most resistant to this approach, with many considering it possible to speak compellingly to “all SME business owners within X miles of our office”, regardless of factors including their sector, age, and stage of business growth.

“Marketing tactics like newsletters, social media and blogs are unlikely to be successful without groundwork, which is a big part of the reason many accountancy partners often complain their marketing shows little impact,” says Prizeman.

Jason Ball is Founder of B2B marketing agency Considered Content and has worked on campaigns for firms including Grant Thornton and EY. Ball believes personas are useful but warns they may bear little resemblance to real-life clients.

"Many are based on dubious samples: what a tiny self-selecting portion says on social media, or what an existing client told an account manager on a Tuesday, cannot be viewed as reliable or representative,” says Ball.

"Instead, we should strive to understand our clients in a more profound way. We need to know what keeps them up at night, and what makes their work enjoyable. We need to know their past experience of working with suppliers. And we need to know about the dynamic with their colleagues who are also decision-makers. We need to understand what it's like to be them.”