Recent surveys show that small practitioners are confused when it comes to the most effective ways of promoting their services. Studies asked respondents how many hours each week they devoted to pure marketing, and nearly half indicated that they spent between 8 and 20 hours per week. 53% said they devoted less than 8 hours per week “purely to marketing”.

The results were confusing, to say the least, until focus groups with respondents shed some light on common thinking in two key areas. First, practitioners interpreted the term “marketing” as applying only to the acquisition of new clients. Second, the answers from small firms were based on “seat of the pants” estimates as they had not developed the necessary rubrics required to assess their marketing efforts.

As the previous survey demonstrated, there is a divide between large firms and small practitioners when it comes to the definition of “marketing.” Small firms are more likely to respond that marketing applies only to obtaining new clients and often report that the majority of their efforts are focused there. Large firms, on the other hand, devote 80% of their resources to marketing services to existing clients. One local practitioner quipped that he did not consider marketing to existing clients to be real marketing because it was “easy.” Marketing is nothing more than presenting a service. Offering services to existing clients is the most efficient and reliable means for any firm to increase wallet share.

The second focus group revelation is even more important because it goes to the heart of cross-selling and marketing to existing clients. It is the idea that marketing is a “seat of the pants” activity that cannot be planned or measured. This is the exact opposite of how marketing should be approached. A marketing campaign has to be all encompassing, which means that it has to be well planned with measurable goals and intermediate milestones.

One of the keys to a successful marketing plan is to ensure that all members of a firm are aware of what services the firm offers and what current clients need. Almost all small practitioners in the focus group reported that practice development was exclusively performed by firm principles. Not one reported having a comprehensive program that involved staff and other personnel.

If promotion is performed only by principles, a large percentage of the firm is cut out of the process, which means missed opportunities. In large firms, it is industry standard to have all-inclusive training programs that educate junior and clerical members of the firm to market services and look for client needs that have yet to be addressed. Importantly, these training programs emphasize the needs of existing clients and the duty of all members of a firm to seek out and address those needs.

Experts in the marketing of accounting and other professional services point out that gaining wallet share need not be about working harder so much as about working smarter. Marketing to existing clients is smart and engaging the entire firm in those efforts is smarter still. It may help to look at all marketing as “new,” whether marketing a new service to an existing client or soliciting new business from potential clients. It is important to keep in mind that marketing to existing clients is “easy” because a relationship has been establish, trust has been built, and the practitioner understands the client’s needs better than almost anyone, sometimes even better than that client. Marketing efforts should be focused, coordinated, and have measureable goals. An excellent first step is to educate the entire firm to assess and respond to the needs of existing clients.