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Traditional approaches to marketing and lead generation are becoming less and less effective. This is because traditional approaches have been overused in all industries.

For example, it was once easy for an accounting firm to generate leads from telemarketing, yellow page advertising, and even fax marketing. Those days are long gone, as fax marketing and telemarketing to consumers are prohibited by law, and yellow page advertising has steadily declined with deregulation and the move to the Internet.

Over the past 20 years, there has been an evolutionary shift in power from sellers to buyers. Today’s buyer is much better informed and has many more options to consider. As a result, the marketing tactics of yesteryear gradually evolve into dinosaurs as the returns become marginal at best.

The fundamental dilemma of traditional direct response marketing is that it “pushes” your services on the prospect. By “pushing” your services to prospects, you spend too much time on the price and the dialogue is a sales pitch. Ultimately, the accountant gets frustrated because time is wasted, and prospects start avoiding you because they reject the transactional approach of traditional direct response marketing.

Like everything in marketing, if you overdo a particular approach, the effectiveness will gradually decrease. We are even seeing this trend affecting email marketing as a communication tool as many companies abuse email and others spam people over and over again.

To combat this phenomenon, many savvy marketers have evolved into trusted marketing approaches. And rather than “pushing” your services on a lead, savvy marketers “pull” prospects to their services in a consultative, information-based way. The goals of trust marketing are:

• Attract motivated prospects and looking for your type of accounting services;

• Solve the problems of local businesses;

• Convert a higher percentage of prospects; and

• Keep the average customer longer, years longer.

Put yourself in the prospect’s shoes and understand their pain

As with any marketing challenge, whether it’s developing a new product or a new TV ad, you need to put yourself in the prospect’s shoes and walk a mile. The solution is to understand their world, feel their pain, and then relieve it with your new and improved service.

In today’s sluggish economy market, suppose you are a small business owner and are considering hiring an accounting firm. Here are a series of concerns you will likely have about hiring a new accounting firm:

1. I have no way of knowing if this accountant is good. There is no way for me to evaluate them, and third-party validation services like Consumer Reports and JD Power don’t exist for small accounting firms.

2. How do I know if I can entrust my accounting and tax needs to this accounting firm?

3. Will this accountant speak to me in a language I understand?

4. Does this accountant understand my industry? I don’t want to train another accountant on why our industry is so unique.

5. I don’t care about accounting. I just want to minimize my taxes and avoid jail. The last accountant I met refused to give me advice on how to lower my taxes.

6. Is the most expensive quote the best?

More than likely, your prospect knows he needs help, but can only compare companies based on price. In a nutshell, they want to hire an accountant who they can trust in a holistic way. Someone who understands their business can ease the pain and provide tips for weathering the storm.

Build trust

Trust-based marketing is very different from most types of marketing in that it is very subtle and information-based from the start. As part of this approach, the new dance of customer acquisition is all about educating your customer, so that you position yourself as the industry expert. In other words, the initial interactions are aimed at demonstrating that you understand their issues and fears, educating them about the options that exist, and recommending steps to help them during the information-gathering process. And as the prospect starts to trust your suggestions more, they become more likely to use your services and / or recommend your services.

The more value and confidence you bring to the prospect in their search, the more confidence you create. This approach may involve a book written by the expert, lectures and / or published articles. In other words, the expert provides the prospect with information at a very low price to educate him in the information gathering phase. In addition, the environment is not focused on sales, as this will alienate the prospect and interfere with building trust.

In some industries, an expert will write a book to raise awareness, create a speaking tour at industry events developing the book, and provide prospects with a free tool or trial. While each of these steps helps the prospect understand the options and make a more informed decision, it also establishes the speaker as an expert on the topic.

Confidence grows slowly and involves a series of small steps to overcome skepticism. During this period, the prospect seeks validation and the expert seeks to gain confidence. In other words, the relationship is formative like the first stages of a meeting, and small missteps can derail the process.

Seek to influence, not control. In this phase, the expert functions as a business coach guiding the prospect on how to formulate a more informed decision. This process is not arrogant and the prospect comes to their own conclusions. The prospect controls the pace and the expert must avoid attempts to insist and speed up the process.

While some forms of dialogue create more trust than others, your goal is to increase frequency and use a variety of outreach tactics. In this phase, the expert uses a series of newsletters, published articles, white papers, lectures and testimonials to build momentum. The goal here is to build credibility using a series of inexpensive tactics.

Use passion, empathy, and honesty to build trust. In this phase, you can earn lots of dividends by being honest and empathizing with the prospect. This is the live gate where the rubber meets the road.

Why Most Accountants Avoid Trusted Marketing

Accountants avoid trusted marketing for a variety of reasons. First, it requires an initial investment of time and the process is more art than science. In other words, the stages of trust marketing require a little faith and patience. And since accountants are born skeptical and then trained to be even more skeptical, this approach can be difficult for most.

Second, many accountants will say they hate writing and speaking in public. While I understand the apprehension associated with writing a column in the local newspaper (weekly or daily), the opportunities to reach thousands of business-conscious professionals on a regular basis are enormous.

Third, many accountants lack the discipline to become recognized experts and continually market themselves. In other words, they see marketing as a temporary phenomenon to acquire new businesses and then hope that small business owners will find their way to their doorstep. Unfortunately, marketing works like a diet because it takes a continuous approach and the results slowly accumulate.

Becoming a locally respected trusted advisor doesn’t just happen by itself, especially in our crowded marketplace. It’s about telling a compelling story that makes people drink your version of Kool-Aid and encourages them to come back and drink more. When done right, this process will reward you handsomely for years to come.

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