Study: High-Performing Firms are 14 Times as Likely to Have Revenue Growth that Surpasses Competitors

High-performing firms are excelling in marketing culture, marketing goal achievement, marketing plan development and more.

That’s according to the “2018 Marketing and Business Development Strategies at Accounting Firms” study by Capstone Marketing and Bay Street Group, published by CPA Trendlines.

“Over the past 18 months, 66% of high-performing firms have increased their marketing and business development activities (time, money and/or resources) versus 37% for low performers,” says Jean Caragher, president of Capstone Marketing. “This investment is paying dividends in firm growth.”

The topline results of the survey are free to the participants and detailed analyses and recommendations are scheduled to be unveiled in a series of 30-minute webinars, starting with “3 Things High Performing Firms Don’t Want You to Know.”

According to the survey, high performing firms are:

  • Eight times more likely than lagging firms to have a marketing culture.
  • More than six times more likely to be satisfied with their marketing strategies and activities.
  • More than four times more likely to follow a written, strategic marketing/business development plan.

“Clearly, high-performing firms are doing many things right, which makes them more competitive,” says Rick Telberg, CEO of Bay Street Group LLC. “Low-performing firms have the opportunity to learn from the best in class firms.”

Overheard At The 2018 AAM Summit …

“Brand awareness is one of the worst marketing terms ever invented. Relevance is what you want.” – Jeff McKay, founder and CEO of Prudent Pedal, a marketing consulting firm.

Requiring employees to fill out timesheets is treating your team “like an input and not a creative professional.” – Jody Padar, CEO, New Vision CPA Group, on everyday innovation.

“Don’t let professionalism suffocate personality,” John Garrett, comedian and “Recovering CPA.”

“Pull back and give them space. If they’re going to find their way, they’re going to find it without getting crowded by you,” Guy Gage, owner of PartnersCoach, advising marketers on supporting partners to get involved in marketing without taking on too much responsibility.

“It’s amazing.  When we write things down, they tent to stick with us and they tend to get accomplished.” – Kevin Gienger, MP, Boldt Carlisle, on writing down three priorities for the day and the week.

“If your job gets taken by a bot, your job probably sucks anyway,” Ed Kless, senior director of partner development and strategy at Sage.

“Innovation is more important to today’s customers than relationships.” – Jody Padar

“This blockchain thing is real. Bitcoin may not be,” Ed Kless

On putting the best minds in the firm to work on preparing for the future, Ed Kless says,  “Why do we still have brain surgeons piercing ears?”

Skoda Minotti Appoints Fieldman as Director of Marketing

Alyson Fieldman

Alyson Fieldman

Cleveland-based Skoda Minotti (FY17 net revenue of $53.7 million) announced that Alyson Fieldman has been appointed director of marketing. Fieldman will lead and oversee marketing, business development and communications strategies for the firm.

Fieldman has more than 15 years of experience in professional services marketing. As director of marketing for Skoda Minotti, she will work closely with leadership to set the firm’s marketing strategy in order to grow the business and its service lines. Specific expertise includes branding, business strategy, business development/sales, content marketing, management, marketing communications, public relations, social media and website development.

Prior to joining Skoda Minotti, Fieldman was managing director of client service for One North, a Chicago-based digital agency focused on professional services. She worked her way up from project manager during her decade-long tenure there. Prior to that, she was an account manager at Greenfield/Belser, a Washington, D.C.-based branding agency with expertise in the legal industry.

“Our search process identified candidates that were all outstanding in their own regard, yet Alyson was exceptional,” says Jonathan Ebenstein, partner and managing director of Skoda Minotti’s Strategic Marketing Group. “Her extensive marketing and communications background, combined with professional service experience, adds tremendous depth to the firm. Alyson understands what drives us, because it’s driven her, too. Her insight on business communications allows us to understand and meet our clients’ diverse needs.”

Lessons From The Little Oregon Winery That Could, And Other True Stories Of Differentiation

What can the proprietors of a tiny Oregon winery teach accounting firm leaders? More than you might think.

Consider the challenge faced by the family-run Bells Up Winery. With a nonexistent marketing budget, Dave and Sara Specter needed to position their winery as different among more than 500 competitors, while selling a product that is readily available. In a market environment similar to accounting, where hundreds of same-sounding firms sell same-sounding tax and audit products, the Specters needed to get creative.

The key to surviving, and thriving, is exceptional customer experience, they told a crowd of marketers at the annual Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) Summit in Portland, Ore., May 16. AAM invited numerous accounting experts along with Portland marketing professionals to offer lessons learned on innovation and differentiation during the three-day conference.

The fully self-funded Bells Up Winery faced an uphill battle from the beginning. With no money, no employees and no time, the husband-and-wife team watched competitors flood the cool, grape-friendly Willamette Valley to make Pinot Noir, the wine that made the valley famous. While Oregon produces only 1% of the country’s wine, it captures 20% of Wine Spectator’s domestic 90+ ratings, according to the Oregon Wine Board.

The wine board also tracks how fast the market is growing. It says 1.8 million cases of Oregon wine were sold out of state in 2016, the vast majority of it Pinot Noir, compared with 888,000 cases 10 years earlier. Bells Up needed to compete against giants like Willamette Valley Vineyards that produces 132,000 cases a year. Small, artisan producers are those who make 5,000 cases per year. Bells Up Winery produces 400.

Too small to be called a boutique winery, the Specters decided to play up their personality and tiny size. They spent only $500 on Facebook ads in marketing, and asked college students to make them a promotional video, for free.

While Oregon wineries offer huge, fancy tasting rooms to bring in business, Bells Up calls itself a “micro-boutique” winery offering small-group tastings with Dave Specter, a former Big 4 tax accountant turned winemaker. These “meet the winemaker” excursions have proven to be the differentiator that fulfilled their strategy: “to turn every guest into an ambassador for our wines, our wine-tasting experience and our brand.” Social media shares of #bellsupmoment and online reviews contributed to the winery breaking even and paying for itself in less than 18 months, which is very rare in the industry.

Their experience in innovation – offering truly different, personalized customer experiences in their specialty niche – was echoed many times throughout the conference, where attendees were urged to let their personalities shine though, tell their own stories, and reject the fear that can accompany business disruption and the mandate to innovate.

Here are some examples:

Be a Green Apple in a Bushel of Red OnesJohn Garrett, a comedian and “recovering CPA,” mocked the often-used label of “trusted advisor,” saying that CPAs are in a “trust rut.” He says, “The more you talk, the more people are turned off by ‘me, me, me.’ ” People remember your hobbies more than your technical skills, he says. Promote yourself as a CPA and an actor in community theater, and show a genuine interest in your clients.

Get Personal – Tracey Segarra, a former New York reporter who is now an award-winning storyteller and marketing director for Margolin Winer & Evens, says sharing vulnerabilities can forge meaningful connections, and science backs this up. Studies have shown that hearing stories releases oxytocin, a hormone that feeds empathy and trust. “Be the storyteller that’s inside you.”

Involve Your Fans – Corey Dolich, senior vice president of business operations and marketing at the Portland Timbers, the city’s professional soccer club, says the Timbers aim to make an emotional connection with their fans that transcends individual players and even the performance of the team. Marketing, instead, is focused on Portland pride and fellow fans, reflected in a hugely successful, massive billboard campaign that featured city fans posing with axes, the symbol of the Timbers.

Take a Risk With Weird – Ajay Date, vice president of marketing at Travel Portland, says the city found its differentiator with “Dude,” created to promote Portland to Japanese tourists. “Dude” is a big blue furry mascot that appears at events in Tokyo. “It’s weird, but weird plays pretty well in Japan.” After three years, it’s working, Date says. Tourists from Japan have increased 16% while U.S. destinations overall are seeing a 9% decrease. Go boldly but not blindly. Take a leap anyway. You can’t let the data always dictate everything.”

Study Reveals 30 Must-Know Sales and Prospecting Stats

Data from 488 business-to-business buyers and 489 sellers has revealed trends in what works in sales prospecting today, says the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research in its new report, “Top Performance in Sales Prospecting.”

The study was intended to find out how sellers connect with buyers, how to generate meetings, what influences overall purchase decisions, and where buyer and seller views on prospecting overlap. Boston-based RAIN Group, a global sales training company, analyzed those with the best prospecting results.

Here are some insights on top performers in sales prospecting:

  • 82% of buyers accept meetings with sellers who proactively contact them.
  • Top sales performers generate 2.7 times more sales meetings than others.
  • Sellers that generate more high quality meetings, conversations and demonstrations are more successful.
  • 71% of buyers want to hear from sellers early in the buying process.
  • 69% of buyers say that research data produced by sellers captures their attention.
  • 80% of buyers say they prefer email contacts, but they must be customized and well written.
  • On average, it takes five touches for top performers to generate a meeting.
  • Calling existing customers is the No. 1 most effective prospecting tactic.
  • C-suite executives more often prefer to be contacted by phone than managers and directors.
  • 82% of buyers look up providers on LinkedIn before responding to outreach efforts.
  • Proving value to prospects must be done within 10 minutes.

AAM Announces 2018 Individual Marketing Achievement Award Recipients

Jack Kolmansberger

Jack Kolmansberger

The Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) announced the recipients of its individual Marketing Achievement Awards (MAA) during AAM’s 29th Annual Summit. Individual awards are presented annually in recognition of outstanding achievements in the accounting marketing profession, as well as contributions to AAM.

This year, AAM is proud to induct two exceptional professionals into the Hall of Fame, Jack Kolmansberger and Eric Majchrzak. Being inducted into the AAM Hall of Fame is the highest honor in the field of accounting marketing. Inductees must have 10 years or more of service and be known for their outstanding accomplishments as leaders of the association.

Kolmansberger, CMO of Reading, Pa.-based Herbein + Company Inc., has been an AAM member since 1997. A past president, he championed a new strategic direction for the association known as Vision 2020. Kolmansberger has presented at industry conferences, participated in roundtables and helped support the efforts and career development of many marketers and business developers, building the credibility of growth professionals within firms.

He has had a long and distinguished career in accounting marketing and serves as the CMO of Herbein, where they have made continuous strides during his dozen years of tenure. He remains a leader in his local community through serving on the board of the Media Youth Center.

Eric Majchrzak

Eric Majchrzak

A member of AAM since 1995, Majchrzak, CMO of Tucson, Ariz.-based Beach Fleischman, is a former AAM committee member and board member who continues to contribute as an advisor and task force member. He was part of the committee to help rebrand AAM and helped with the development of the new website, blog and nascent SEO efforts. He has achieved many honors – Marketer of the Year, Rookie of the Year and many AAM-MAAs over the years.

Majchrzak’s professional achievements include building nationally recognized marketing teams at two different firms. He has become a shareholder at his current firm and has blazed a trail for others with a path to partnership.

Rebecca Weiand

Rebecca Weiand

A member of AAM since 2013, Rebecca Weiand, of New Philadelphia, Ohio-based Rea & Associates Inc. has been named as AAM’s Volunteer of the Year. She has given tirelessly of her time and talents to the role of Chair of AAM’s Member Growth Committee. From welcoming new members to working with other committees to develop innovative member appreciation and satisfaction programs, she helps AAM achieve its goal of providing quality content and value to its members.

Katherine Koon

Katherine Koon

Katherine Koon, Marketing Specialist at Columbus, Ohio-based GBQ Partners, has been named as AAM’s Rookie of the Year. She has earned praise and respect for her ability to strategically and effectively manage a multitude of projects and initiatives. Her success at managing event experience and strategy in a new market, as well as streamlining the client survey process, not only saved her firm money, but earned her the reputation of being the resident superstar. In addition to her exemplary work performance, Koon is also a member of AAM and contributes her time and talents to the Strategic Communications Committee.

Gantz Named AAM’s 2018 Marketer of the Year

Nicole Gantz

Nicole Gantz

Nicole Gantz, marketing partner at Dubuque, Iowa-based Honkamp Krueger & Co., has received the Association for Accounting Marketing’s (AAM) 2018 Marketer of the Year award, sponsored by INSIDE Public Accounting (IPA).

The winner was announced by IPA May 16 at AAM’s 2018 Summit in Portland, Ore.

Gantz leads strategic marketing, communications and client experience initiatives while also offering marketing consulting services to other CPA firms and businesses. Honkamp Krueger (HK), the largest Iowa-based CPA firm, is ranked No. 60 on the 2017 IPA 100 list of largest accounting firms in the country.

HK President and CEO Gregory Burbach praised Gantz’ vast experience and “ahead-of-the-curve” approach to social media, website upgrades, development of a client patronage app and a new marketing automation program.

The client patronage app, which received national attention, allows the firm’s 500 employees to purposefully shop at firm clients, find locations, get driving directions, submit spending amounts and win prizes. The app, which has tracked $14.2 million in spending and almost 57,000 receipts submitted since its launch in 2014, increases client retention and referrals, and attracts new clients who want to be part of the program. The marketing automation tool, Pardot, was implemented early last year, and in nine months produced 58 qualified leads to business developers, which resulted in five new clients.

“Nicole and her team are that nice balance of being creative and innovative, but not so over the top that they forget the end goal or ROI and effectiveness I want to see in our marketing investment,” Burbach says. “We believe so much in her that she became our first marketing partner Jan. 1, 2018.”

Gantz, who calls the recognition the “honor of a lifetime,” thanks IPA, AAM, her firm leaders and the talented accounting firm marketers from whom she has learned so much. “With the support and leadership of Greg Burbach and our business development partner, Ryan Hauber, Honkamp Krueger nurtures a strong marketing and growth culture. Our innovative and entrepreneurial partners are continuously supportive and value our talented marketing team’s efforts and role in our organization. Together, we have a deep passion for our clients’ successes, and I feel lucky to play a small part in that.”

Art Kuesel, president of the Kuesel Consulting, says, “It’s hard enough to earn a partner spot at a firm when you directly generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in billable time – but when you can earn that position via a combination of direct measurable contributions and indirect hard-to-measure contributions, you’ve truly achieved something special. And HK has someone very special in Nicole.”

Gantz also serves as director and marketing consultant for the HK Alliance, made up of nearly 30 member CPA firms that are wealth management affiliates of Honkamp Krueger Financial Services. She’s heavily involved in HK’s accounting association, CPAmerica International, and serves as a board member and volunteer for eight nonprofit organizations around Dubuque.

This is the fifth year that IPA has sponsored the Marketer of the Year award. A panel of independent judges, themselves leaders in the profession, were selected by IPA to review and score each of the nominees.

Marketing Achievement Awards Presented by AAM

Twenty-nine awards for marketing accomplishment were awarded May 14 by the Association for Accounting Marketing at its annual award gala, which features awards in multiple categories: websites, branding, multimedia and maverick marketing.

Expert category judges, including professionals in marketing, advertising, communications and professional services, reviewed and judged more than 100 entries. Winning entries were recognized for the accomplishment of a specific goal or objective, executing a project strategically and measurable results.

The categories and winners are as follows:


  • Digital Advertising, ORBA
  • Print Campaign: Total Spend of $24,999 of Less, Henderson Hutcherson & McCullough
  • Print Campaign: Total Spend Above $25,000, BKD CPAs & Advisors


  • Integrated Branding Programs: Budget Above $100,000, BKD CPAs & Advisors
  • Integrated Branding Programs: Budget Below $100,000, MichaelSilver
  • Logo New or Refreshed, Casey Peterson Ltd.

Business Development Initiative

  • Customized Sales Initiative or Approach, RSM Canada

Collateral and Content Marketing

  • Announcements/Invitations, Berdon LLP
  • Blogs, Freed Maxick CPAs PC
  • Brochures, ORBA
  • Integrated PR Campaign, Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP
  • Publications and Newsletters, BKD CPAs & Advisors


  • Budget between $10,000 and $24,999, Margolin Winer & Evens LLP
  • Budget less than $9,999, Rea & Associates Inc.
  • Budget about $25,000, Grant Thornton LLP

Marketing and PR Campaigns

  • Client Service/Survey, Herbein + Company Inc.
  • Direct Marketing Campaign, TD&T CPAs and Advisors PC
  • Integrated Marketing Campaign, SVA Certified Public Accountants
  • Nurture/Lead Generation Campaign, EKS&H LLLP
  • Recruiting Campaign, Keiter
  • Social Media Campaign, Henry+Horne

Video and Multimedia

  • Program Budget above $10,000, WithumSmith+Brown PC
  • Program Budget below $9,999, BKD CPAs & Advisors


  • Project Budget between $10,000 and $24,999, Glass Jacobson Financial Group
  • Project Budget above $25,000, ORBA
  • Project Budget below $9,999, Hartmann Blackmon & Kilgore PC

We AAM to Serve

  • Small Firm, KPM CPAs & Advisors
  • Medium Firm, Rea & Associates Inc.
  • Large Firm, Crowe Horwath LLP

Marketers Prepare to Act as Change Agents for their Firms in 2018

Two chief marketing officers (CMO) and an MP recently shared how their firms remain relevant and competitive in a rapidly changing environment, while also discussing ‘what’s hot and what’s not’ in accounting firm marketing.

The panelists, speaking at a Jan. 30 webinar for the Association for Accounting Marketing, selected three overarching trends that make their firms more adaptable to change – developing an ‘always-on’ business development culture, building a collaborative team and winning more business with content. Consultant Jennifer Wilson, the cofounder of ConvergenceCoaching who coordinates the panel for AAM every year, moderated the session.

Here’s a summary from the panelists and Wilson, followed by their lists of ‘what’s hot and what’s not.’

Developing an ‘Always On’ Business Develop Culture 

George Forsythe, MP, WellsColeman of Richmond, Va.

Forsythe, who leads a $5 million one-office firm with 35 employees, describes himself as impatient. He says he wants new business – and fast – to provide more opportunities for younger staff. Forsythe started business development training for the entire firm to generate additional work for existing clients. The effort involves setting clear goals, tracking prospects through a pipeline process, following up quickly and finding out why the firm won or lost work.

Forsythe says he’s been reluctant to pressure prospects with too much contact, but has since learned that too little contact was perceived as “ ‘you’re too busy to follow up with me and therefore you don’t want my business.’ ” The results of timely contact has been “crazy positive,” he said.

The firm’s focus is driven by a desire to remain independent, without being forced to merge. “For good or bad, I’ve become somewhat paranoid about the changes coming to our profession.”

What’s Hot? What’s Not
‘Always On’ Business Development Intermittent Selling
Results / Outputs Inputs, such as Hours of Effort
We (team-oriented) Me (individual-oriented)
Future-forward Reactive
Nimble Rigid


Building a Collaborative Team

Rhonda Maraziti, CMO, Princeton, N.J.-based WithumSmith+Brown (FY17 net revenue of $175.4 million)

Maraziti, AAM’s 2016 Marketer of the Year, has brought national attention to Withum with its annual videos, which have featured flash mobs, carpool karaoke and he like. She says that nurturing a fun, collaborative environment with frequent feedback has helped the firm bring in top talent and keep then happy, rewarded and engaged. “We work hard and we play hard, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Maraziti says.

She says the “millennial mindset” has taken hold across generations. Everyone likes the flexibility to work at remote locations and the technological tools to make it happen. Withum also offers numerous recognition programs, encourages volunteerism, and provides 360-degree evaluations after every engagement. The immediate feedback for staff and managers alike has been particularly popular and effective, Maraziti says.

Wilson pointed out that 75% of the workforce will be made up of millennials by 2025, and clients will be largely millennials as well. “I think you’re leading in this area,” Wilson told Maraziti.

What’s Hot? What’s Not
Video Marketing and Social Media  Dependency on Email
Marketing Automation Not Figuring out ROI
Data-driven Marketing Strategies Doing Same-old, Same-old
Fun Social Tools to Boost Engagement Posting Articles Only
Developing Rock Stars  Depending on One Figurehead


Winning More Business With Content

Danielle Berg, chief marketing and corporate communications officer, Atlanta-based Aprio (FY16 net revenue of $76.3 million)

Berg believes that digital strategies are the most under-leveraged sales channel in the accounting profession. The firm last year decided to commit 85% of its marketing budget to digital strategies with a focus on strong content that provides insight, fresh perspective and future outlooks – not sales pitches.

She says 82% of business-to-business buyers in a recent survey say a firm’s content had a significant impact on their buying decision. “What they’re buying is what it’s like to do business with Aprio – and is it better than firm X or Firm Y – and I think through content, you can give them a glimpse of that.”

The firm produces an article every business day, but makes it easy on the partners by asking only for an outline. A writer takes over from there. The firm has adopted a publisher’s mindset with a former reporter leading a cadre of writers and a consultant overseeing search engine optimization (SEO).

“Content marketing really does work,” Berg says. One tax partner generated $750,000 in new business in 2017 through a monthly newsletter. “It’s all about having the right bait in the water.”

What’s Hot? What’s Not
Digital Fills the Pipeline ‘Feet on Street’ Fills the Pipeline
Insights, New Ideas Too Reliant on Experience, Expertise
Future-Ready Mindset What Happened Last Year
Consistent Client Experience Experience Differs by Practice Group
Advisory Mindset Mired in Compliance


Looking to Next Generation for Future

Jennifer Wilson, cofounder, ConvergenceCoaching

What’s Hot? What’s Not
Next Gen Client Experience Old, Non-responsive Websites
Digital Communication Tools Face Time Only Orientation
Rainmaker Development  Relying On Only a Few Rainmakers
Personal and Real Buttoned Up and Polished
Content That Illustrates Expertise
and Solves Problems
Static Copy


Salary Aside, Vacation Time and Corporate Culture Mean the Most to Workers Weighing Job Offers

According to a new survey from staffing firm Accountemps, more than one-quarter of workers cited vacation time as most important. Corporate culture and career advancement potential came in close behind.

Additional findings:

  • Workers ages 55 and older are more interested in paid time off (29%) than those ages 35 to 54 (27%) and 18 to 34 (22%).
  • Professionals ages 18 to 34 prefer career advancement potential (30%) above all else, compared to those ages 35 to 54 (22%) and 55 and older (10%).
  • Female respondents say vacation time (27%) is the key factor in employment decisions, while men say corporate culture (25%) is most critical.

“In today’s employment market, companies need to put their best foot forward when making job offers and, beyond salary, highlight benefits that could entice candidates,” says Michael Steinitz, executive director of Accountemps. “Professionals want to be hired by organizations that support work-life balance and have values that align with their own. An attractive corporate culture can go a long way toward recruiting and retaining top talent.”

“Job seekers should make a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves before evaluating employment opportunities. Remember, companies may not be able to offer you everything. It’s best to decide ahead of time what’s most important to you,” says Steinitz.