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Tradeshow Techniques for Leads

Creating a strategy around your tradeshow investment can help you attain quality leads that bring new business to your firm or association. In this video, Dawn Wagenaar, Principal at Ingenuity Marketing Group, shares three techniques you can apply to tradeshows you take part in. These are tried and true techniques that Dawn herself uses when Ingenuity attends tradeshows. Tradeshows can be hugely successful and should be integrated into your marketing strategy.


If you prefer to read this content, the video transcript is below.

Many of our clients attend and sponsor tradeshows. Their goal is to get new business, but few of them build a strategy around their tradeshow investment. In this video, we’ll talk about the pre-planning and communications that should take place, techniques to get people talking to you during the tradeshow, and how to follow up effectively and build your pipeline.

First – create a timeline.  Work backwards from the event date and figure out everything that has to happen and schedule it out. From the pre-show communications to the social posts during the conference to even the post-event communication and follow up.

Second, create a theme or something that will interest your prospects to visit your booth.  Last year at a conference in Portland we had Voodoo donuts with a tie to the story of their company and why story telling is so important.  Over the years we have done everything from a photo booth, to chair massages, to a Harley Davidson to video games.  Now I know we are a marketing agency so we can get away with some of that but I think you get my gist. Be interesting…what will make the prospects come and talk to you.

Third, create the communications pieces –pre, during and post.  Are you going to have a website landing page, social posts, send a post card ahead of time or send emails?  This is vital as it is the promotion of your booth.  Don’t leave it up to the tradeshow or conference you are exhibiting at. Take matters into your own hands!

And finally, follow up.  Before you leave, put time on your calendar for following up with all the leads that you had fruitful conversations with in hopes of scheduling a call or meeting.  The goal is to schedule another time to chat so that you both can determine if it’s a good fit and if you want to move forward with next steps whether another meeting, an estimate or proposal.

Tradeshows can be hugely successful and these tips will ensure even more success. Good luck!

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Five Tips for Prospect Follow Up

You have to do the work in business development to get results. One of the simplest, but also hardest things to do is to follow up with prospective clients. You don’t want to bother them. You don’t know what to say. You assume they will contact you when they’re ready. All of these excuses only lead to lost clients. You have to follow up! Here are five tips to make following up easier and more effective to stay in front of your leads and get business.


Headshot of Christine Nelson, communications consultant at Ingenuity Marketing Group.

How Do I Get Digital Marketing Referrals?

Is your website providing you with digital leads? Have you personalized your digital marketing strategyfor prospective clients? In this video, Christine Nelson, communications consultant, shares three ways to use your website to get digital marketing referrals and why personalization is the most important component in attracting digital leads. Your leads are looking for you! Implement these strategies so they can find you now. 

Read about how your blog can be a part of your lead generation strategy.

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Developing your Niche

Speaking your Way into Niche Development

If you look at the history of any firm that dominates a niche market, you will often find this domination based on one or two people who have become authorities in that industry. Everyone in the industry knows that when you have certain kinds of problems you reach out to these people first. They are frequently quoted in the press about the industry, asked to speak at industry events and maintain a high profile with the local and national associations. 

A lot of firms are known for certain niches, but very few have gained exclusive recognition —  the household name for agribusiness accounting or the predominant architect for designing public buildings. As more firms work at niche marketing, it is going to get harder to gain that exclusive “rock star” kind of recognition.

Many smart and strategic firms remain at the most basic level of recognition, which is simply to remain visible. Your people show up, meet people, write articles and offer to speak. Your firm sponsors an event and advertises in the niche market newsletter or publication. If you are personally charismatic and connect well with people, this may be enough to gain some measure of recognition and exposure. If you are not, you had better add more marketing strategy and focus to your niche development.

See this media infographic on all the ways to gain niche visibility.

One effective tool to use when expanding a niche marketing strategy is public speaking. When you have a toehold in a niche, speaking is probably the easiest way to both gain the reputation as an expert and develop personal relationships in the niche.

If You Speak It, Own It

Doing a few “pretty good” speeches or being on a panel or two is not going to cut it. The competition is tough and you just have to be better. When Ingenuity helps someone get breakthrough recognition through speaking, we start with strategy and follow up with integrated implementation toward the goals.

You need a purpose. Most of our clients speak in order to develop business for their firms. That’s pretty generic. Decide on the true reason for your speaking — which services do you want to promote and why are you convinced that people need them? The best speakers have a passion for their topic. You need to authentically convey that passion and believe that you make a difference with what you share.

You need a goal. Start with your end clearly in mind or you will be giving away a lot of valuable information for free to people who may not care and may never buy your services. We have heard many CPAs, financial advisors and attorneys give away the store in their public speeches. Because they are trained to be experts, they tend to give away all their knowledge in the PowerPoint, leaving the audience with no appetite for more. Not that you should use a hard sales approach that never works. Instead, use a thoughtful approach to your topics and track your results. The data will show what works pretty quickly.

Create a list of organizations filled with the kinds of people who can buy your services.  Find out when these organizations have conferences, what they are looking for and how their speaking decisions are made. Decide which audiences you will charge a fee to and which you will not, as well as how you will develop leads from speaking. If the organization allows, pass out an evaluation form to qualify leads.  If not, be creative and add a landing page with a survey or information that would be valuable for them to fill out a form and receive more detail.

You need packaging. A great photo, a speaker bio and a list of topics and audiences will help you sell yourself to groups of people who do not know you. You need a great package with compelling topics in order to get in front of the decision makers you want.

A speaking coach can smooth away your nervous tics, train you to take off your nametag and shorten your PowerPoint, and most importantly help you create something dynamic and unique for your audience. If your speaking style is shaky, you might need to invest six months at Toastmasters. Tape your speeches and make yourself watch them for improvement.

You need a platform. Start pitching tidbits of fresh information and ideas from the services you most want to sell and/or are passionate about. This needs to be done regularly as many organizations are staffed by volunteers who may take a while to make decisions. Your topics should touch on key areas of pain the niche audience experiences rather than creating a platform outlining the services of your firm. Address the needs of your audience, provide insight on industry trends and offer a limited sample of recommendations and solutions that tie to your services.

Platforms are the subtle art of public speaking. Your goal is new business, but your platform is about showcasing your knowledge and awareness of audience needs and potential solutions. Through your visibility and credibility as a smart and informed speaker, you’re on your way to developing your niche in a sustainable way.

Get help with your speaking and niche market development.

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Dividing and Conquering Professional Service Marketing Tactics


When we are first invited to discuss marketing with most service firms, they immediately think we will be talking about advertising. Sometimes we do. But marketing is a much larger group of strategies, of which advertising is only one tactic. A working definition of marketing is anything that gets clients to buy from you, buy from you again, or refer others to you.

Marketing is a broad range of activities that include your signage and your payment terms as well as your logo and visual identity. It includes how you keep in contact with past clients, your online presence and how you and your staff talk about your organization. It includes key messages about your service, your own personal charisma and the sales techniques you use to close the deal. Marketing involves every activity affecting the way people think about your firm.

Here are examples of marketing activities (and their results)

One problem in professional service marketing is that it is very difficult to sell your services unless prospects already know they have needs. You can entice a person on the home shopping network to buy a supersonic jewelry cleaner, but you can’t get them to change accounting firms if they do not have a reason why. You just have to be in front of prospects and, better yet, have relationships with them when they start to feel a change is required.

Virtually every service firm does some marketing, but with long sales cycles, it is very difficult to decide which strategies work and even harder to track a return. Most firms end up throwing marketing dollars out the window, picking an ad here and a tradeshow there, and hoping it is good enough.

How can you make wise marketing decisions? Before you say “yes” to some of the persuasive sales people who assure you they can drive clients through the door, take some time to think through your basic marketing strategies. We have developed a simple model for making marketing decisions. As you can see in this diagram, marketing tactics can be divided up into hot, warm, or cold. Each of these groups is important, whether you handle marketing in-house or work with an outsourced marketing agency. Your hot market is those who like you, trust you, and want to do business with you. This circle includes your clients and former clients, close alliances and referral sources. Return on investment marketing to this circle is rumored to run about 15:1.

Your warm circle is composed of people who have some knowledge of you or your firm. They may drive by your office signage each day. You may have met them at a chamber event. They may be in an industry you target. Your long-term return on investment for well-done warm marketing should be about 7:1.

Your cold circle is full of people who have never heard of you and who may or may not need your service. Marketing to these folks is an art. If you are very accomplished, your return may run as high as 1:1. Cold marketing is brutal, expensive and difficult.

Although the highest ROI is clearly in the hot circle, you cannot live there forever if you want to expand your business. Each year you need to implement some marketing tactics aimed at each of the three circles. You need to introduce people in the “cold” circle to your firm in some way so that they have some awareness of you. You need to support those in the warm circle for a long time, think in years, as they move toward selecting your service. You need to make some of those warm contacts move into your hot circle and get a sufficient number of hot prospects to write you a check.

It sounds simple but rarely is. We all have our preferences. Some people prefer hot marketing: they lunch with their best referral sources, fish and golf with clients, and keep in close contact with their inner circle. They send out great client gifts. They know birthdays and the names of spouses. They are excellent at mining their contacts for referrals. They cross-sell new services easily because they know their clients as people and deeply understand their businesses. Hot marketing is a talent that pays off immediately. But focusing only on hot marketing will only take you so far because, due to natural attrition, your close circle will provide fewer and fewer leads over the years.

Many of us enjoy warm marketing. We like to write articles and send out newsletters that position us as experts. We might speak or be quoted in the media. We are often in networking groups. We enjoy helping people see us as experts and get to know us and our expertise better. We frequently have many contacts and enjoy marketing to groups. However, we may have a reluctance to turn those contacts into clients.

Those who truly enjoy cold marketing are few and far between. They like the thrill of a cold call. They plan ad campaigns with relish. They want to make a first impression and consider it a fun challenge if the people they contact know nothing about them. They want to woo and they want to win. The cold marketing part of professional services is really tough. It can take years for those contacts to pay off.

Being humans, we tend to focus on the circle where we are most comfortable. In order to have a steady supply of new business, you need to move out of your comfort circle and work in all three. If you are excellent at cold marketing, you may neglect prospects once they become clients. You are also spending tons of money and time to always get new clients. You need to develop specific programs for hot and warm marketing. If you stay in the warm marketing circle, everyone knows you but few pay you. You need to do some cold marketing and plenty of hot marketing.

If you are having trouble securing a steady and reliable supply of new work, whether from current clients or new ones, it is time to list out your marketing efforts and categorize them. You may find you are focusing too much on one circle to the exclusion of the other two. As a way to help you think about this model, we have provided you with a list of activities normally associated with the three different circles.

Hot Marketing Activities

  • Sort your clients into ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’. ‘A’ clients are pleasant, profitable and have other characteristics that make you want ten more just like them. ‘B’ clients help pay some of the bills. They may pay well and make you suffer or they may not pay well but be pleasant to work with. ‘C’ clients have a low, if any, profit margin and are usually a pain to serve.
  • Write the names and phone numbers of your ‘A’ clients in a visible place. Call them. Talk to them. Take them out to lunch. Tell them you would like more clients just like them — do they know any?
  • Write all your ‘C’ clients a letter advising them you can no longer work with them. Use the freed-up time to work with ‘A’ clients.
  • Send out regular communication to current and former clients.
  • Have a nice party and invite the hot and warm circles.
  • Call your best referral sources. Give them referrals.
  • Have payment terms and pricing structures that reward longevity and volume buying.
  • Make sure your customer service is excellent.

Warm Marketing Activities

  • Extend the use of your database and keep track of people you meet.
  • Be an expert. If you write, write. If you speak, speak. If you can teach a class, then do it. Build recognition as a credible “go-to” person in your industry. When someone who sees you as an expert gets to the point of pain, you will get a call.
  • Join a networking group. This is one of the best things for you to do because you build trust in a network of people, you practice how to tell your firm’s story, and you meet a wide variety of other business people.
  • Write an article for a trade magazine. After the article is published, send it to everyone in your database.
  • Good use of media relationships is also a great warm tool. You prove your expertise by being quoted in the media or written about.
  • Send out regular communication to your warm circle.
  • Consistently post to your firm’s social media channels.

Cold Marketing Activities

  • The most important thing you can do to make sure you spend cold marketing dollars wisely is tightly define who your target is and demand that any cold marketing you do is a great way to reach those prospects.
  • The second most important thing you should know is that you can die of exposure. Lots of firms throw their money at various things because it is “good exposure.” Never do that again! Have a plan and stick to it.
  • Have great signage.
  • Advertising usually falls mainly into cold marketing, although it is a positive if your current clients and warm contacts see your advertising as well. Do not bother to advertise in a publication once, unless you are advertising an event. Develop a regular schedule of advertising in a publication that hits your target market.
  • The problem with a lot of advertising is that you have to pay to advertise to people who are never going to buy from you. Make sure the amount of money you have to spend per person you actually want to reach is clear.
  • SEO and online advertising are cold marketing tactics that are easy to track. However, you can throw away even more money on the Internet than out the window, so stay focused on who you want to get your information.

View 6 Ways to Strengthen Your Firm (Without Getting Off Your Couch)

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How Referral Engine Optimization (REO) Supports Business Development

Every time we talk to a partner for the first time at a law firm or engineering firm or CPA firm or fill-in-the-blank firm, we hear the same comments: “We don’t get new clients from our website. They all come through referrals from other satisfied clients. Our business growth is mainly word-of-mouth.”

Then they tell us that websites do not really help them acquire new clients; they are just something they have to do. So why are the second most visited pages on any professional website the firm leadership or bio pages? Your website has actually become a critical part of developing new clients from referrals.

How does a website support the business development process? When someone searches for your firm on Google, you need to consider not only Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to make sure that your firm appears high in search results, but also what we call REO — Referral Engine Optimization.

There are three primary ways that prospects use search engines and firm websites in the vetting or qualifying process. This process is similar to how you qualify prospects: cold, warm and hot.

In a cold search, the prospect is using Google or another search engine to locate a product or service with no other reference. They may type in “personal injury law firm Minneapolis” or “tax planning Philadelphia.” They are looking for a certain type of knowledge, location and professional who might look like an “approachable” or “experienced” advisor. In a cold search, inbound marketing is important because keywords and website content and links to other sites will help your site line up with all the cold prospects searching for you.

However, as we know in business development, a warm or hot prospect is a much stronger bet for closing a sale. Warm prospects are those who have a referral to your firm. (They have probably received three to five referrals to various firms.) Before they commit to calling and taking time to meet with your firm, they are going to look up your website, bios and other information. They will weigh its impression against the other referrals they have received. Then they decide who to call first. If your website is not REO-friendly, you lose and never know it.

Your hot prospects also use your website for decision making. They may have already met with you and there is more than one decision maker who will seal the deal. Now they’re digging deeper — comparing your team bios against the competition, checking out your connections on LinkedIn, reading your articles. How do you stack up against another firm in your branding and messages? Do they match how you talk about your firm?

Build REO to Reach Every One

SEO by itself is important and good. But good SEO combined with great REO is what firms need. Some of the most important factors for REO include the following:

  • A clean home page that offers messages about competitive difference and easy navigation
  • Sophisticated, content-rich bios
  • Informative niche services pages
  • An engaging firm story or history
  • Resources created by the firm
  • Testimonials or client success stories

REO Means Business

How do you know if some of your prospects are contacting you or calling you in for a second meeting based on some aspects of your online presence? First, you could ask them. Ask them if they visited your site, what they looked at and what they liked (or didn’t like) about it. You can also find out by tracking the number of hits to key pages to your website.

If you have ever had a referral source ask you if their client called — and the client didn’t call — it could be a failure of REO. Are you losing potential clients you don’t even know exist?

Websites are a serious investment of time and money, for sure. But once the site is up and showcasing the best aspects of your firm, it’s out there 24/7 for the world to see. Do a little research on how your current site is being used by your referral sources and prospects in the decision making process. Maybe it could use some Referral Engine Optimization.

Click here to learn about our online marketing services.


Business Development Tips

Most sales leads are lost due to the lack of follow-up, so business development efforts must be done often. Dawn Wagenaar, principal and senior marketing consultant at Ingenuity Marketing Group, provides tips on how to do business development in 20 minutes a day. Stay in front of leads by doing the four things she shares in the video.

Click here to learn more about Ingenuity’s training and coaching programs.

These Six Questions Can Help You Start the Conversation

Do They Deserve To Work With You?

It happens every day. Firms across the country are chasing clients who don’t deserve to work with them. It’s not the fault of the firm, but a lack of an intentional growth strategy. The following six questions can help you start – or improve – the conversation around RFP qualification to make efficient use of your resources. Choose clients who really deserve to work with you.

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1. “Is this our best client?”

Consider the relationships you have with clients who make you happy to do great work. (Those would be your target client personas.) Compare these relationships with what is promised by this new opportunity. Requesting a face-to-face meeting to discuss the RFP will show that you care about client relationships and are serious about their project.

Some prospective clients won’t provide information beyond the RFP, while others will share your questions and their answers with all the competing firms. Research the RFP by asking the prospective client about their pains and how the project will solve them. It helps to have sales questions designed around your firm’s key competitive differentiators in order to highlight why your firm is the best choice. It also helps to have a clear idea of who your best clients really are in terms of industry, decision-making power, expectations, budget and opportunity for additional business.

2. “What is the project?”

The details of the project may or may not be well-covered in the RFP. This is another reason to call the prospective client. The project may or may not fit naturally with your existing portfolio. If it’s outside of your sweet spot, find out how important “relevant experience” is to the client. In the case of something new or unique to your firm, ask yourself if a project is in a market you’ve been trying to crack. Don’t waste time pursuing the project if your business potential in this new market is low.

3. “Do we have the right qualifications?”

Make sure your firm fits the criteria of the client. If these preferences are hinted at, but not completely stated, create a strong argument for why you are the firm for the project by highlighting what you bring to the table. If there is a way to find out who else is responding, this can also help you differentiate your strengths from the competition. The best way to find out is to ask.

4. “… and how can we up the ante?”

Showcase your key differentiators in addition to the qualifications requested in the proposal— particularly in the cover letter. Think about what you’re going to include and make sure it’s not something everyone else will say (i.e. under budget, professional, on time); you are explaining what makes you the firm of their dreams. These points need to be as unique as your firm.

Don’t underestimate the value of a well-crafted, professionally formatted proposal. Photos, stories, examples, numbers and case studies make your value real to them. Visual representations of your information (when allowed) such as org charts, workflow diagrams and formatted budgets also can set you apart professionally. Attention to detail should shine through in a well-branded RFP response.

5. “What is their budget?”

You know your value. If the budget of the client doesn’t fit your pricing, don’t cheat yourself unless you truly believe there is some promise of more work. Talk to prospects about where they see the project taking your relationship.

6. “When do they want the proposal?”

Be realistic when considering deadlines. Look at your existing projects and ask if you have time to develop a thoughtful response. Don’t provide the client with a proposal that is full of canned answers. It will just put your response in the “no” pile. Ideally, you need enough time to deliver the first proposal they see. Never show up last to the proposal party.

You should also consider the cost of losing. If cost of a proposal is unknown, calculate the staff labor, material costs and travel costs after you’ve completed the RFP response. Once you’ve completed the RFP response, calculate the costs of all of the above. Do this for each proposal your firm submits. We’re guessing it’s more than you thought it would be. You could invest that time and money into a project you don’t have a chance of winning, or you could invest it in productive business development meetings, cross-selling and lead generation.

Use these six questions to decide if you want the client.

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When talking to independent public accounting leaders across the country, we hear these two concerns the most often: not enough rainmakers and long buying cycles.

Any hope of motivating or coaching professionals into becoming rainmakers should be dropped. You will have very few people who love going out and making new connections that lead to new business. You do, however, have great client service masters, process experts and firm builders. Other than building a sales culture with real sales people (uh, expensive and risky), why not first leverage the power of your website to do some of the heavy lifting for you?

You already have a website. You have to pay for it. Your referrals are already going there. In fact, we heard of one frustrated company CEO who organically searched for a different accounting firm, then bookmarked the site until he was ready to switch firms.

All you have to do is lead your visitors through a carefully laid out path of inspiration, information, intrigue and fresh ideas that convince them it’s time for a conversation…or at least a special bookmark that promises follow-up.

If you haven’t mapped out the steps that a prospect goes through when choosing an accounting firm, download our infographic in the sidebar of this page and keep reading.

Your business development process should consider strategies for at least these stages:

Attraction/Initiation – Your prospect starts to see your name (on social media, in articles, at an event, etc.) or realizes they have a need and begins to research providers and finds you that way.

  • At this stage, you need a modern and visually clean website that makes a referral feel like your accounting firm is “qualified.” This is gate one. Most websites stop here. But your accounting firm can get further with referrals by leading them through a conversation while they’re online — and actively looking at your firm.

Research/Narrowing the Criteria – Your prospect researches your website and other firms and/or clarifies what they need as time passes and their need becomes more insistent.

  • This is gate two. On your home page, immediately engage visitors in a pathway of content that leads them into further interest. With one click, they should be guided to the segment that interests them.

Evaluation – Your prospect has reduced the number of potential firms to only a few or one vs. the status quo.

  • Gate three. Most referrals are looking to switch firms, or they are at a stage of their business or life where they know they need more specialized help. In this stage of buying, they should be seriously considering that someone at your firm could be the answer to their needs. After you have shown them a variety of interesting articles about their problems, this is where your team bios need to really capture their imagination. Can they imagine working with your people?

Negotiation/Closing – Remember that until the sale is closed, you may still be in competition with the status quo (e.g. doing nothing). This is also a stage where your referral may need to drive more buy-in at their company to switch CPA firms and hire yours.

  • Give them a gift. We don’t mean a basket of fruit. Give them a valuable guide, whitepaper, checklist, webinar — something that helps them solve a problem before they even start working with you. We have found that accounting firms that put some skin in the game of landing more referrals — providing valuable information on their websites beyond a description of their services — are among the highest growth firms in the industry. Last year, one of our clients derived 60% of their new business from sharing valuable, niche-specific content.

Next post: Is your content worth the time and trouble? Read more.