Top 4 Trends Shaping Accounting Firms in 2021

The unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have created what will be lasting changes for accounting firms in regard to business development and marketing. For many firms, these events forced a faster evolution of marketing than they expected or planned for. Firms of all sizes made adjustments, adding or amplifying marketing and business development activities, in order to meet the new demands of the marketplace.

When we look at the trends for accounting firms in 2021, we honed in on what’s evolved, but also what is likely to shape accounting firm marketing and business development efforts well after the challenges of the pandemic have subsided. Here are the top four trends we’re seeing in accounting marketing and business development for 2021.

Social Selling is the Norm

The pandemic has ignited social selling for accountants. With many in-person events shut down, business development and lead generation have greatly relied on social selling, virtual communication, and digital marketing. Many firms had already adopted social media as part of their marketing and business development activities. Where we saw the uptick was in the use of social media as a primary tool to develop business. This move toward social selling won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, and it’s unlikely we’ll see a hard pendulum swing back to as many in-person events as pre-pandemic. Firms will either adopt this business development tactic and ride the wave, or they’ll wait it out and fall behind.

Key takeaway: It will be critical for firms to continue, or learn, to social sell and understand how to augment traditional business development strategies with more virtual communication and selling strategies.

Demand Generation is at the Forefront

Firms are leaning heavily on marketing to generate more demand for their services. As referral source meetings slow down, we expect to see more firms looking to their marketing and business development departments to help them fill the gap.

It’s important to understand that demand generation goes deeper than a lead generation – it’s about mapping your content, education, training opportunities, communications, and more to the client purchase lifecycle.  We’ve begun to see this exemplified in firms that increased their marketing communication with clients throughout the pandemic and expect to watch this take a stronghold in firms this year.

Key takeaway: Firms will need to amplify their demand generation opportunities if they want to continue to compete, attract, and retain clients. Strategic, well-timed content is playing a significant role in creating demand.

Video & Audio Content is to be Expected

For most accounting firms, the adoption of video and audio content has been slow. As virtual connections became a necessity for firms, more firms dove into these channels. Firms increased their webinars, hosted live sessions, and invested in the video more than ever. We expect these efforts to remain in the spotlight as valuable communication and demand generation tools.

Key takeaway: From live social media events to podcasts, firms will be turning to video and audio content to connect with their clients and target audience as a resource to relay information and nurture demand. Investment in these areas will be crucial to firm survival going forward.

Client Retention & Communication

One of the biggest impacts of the crisis has been to highlight the value and importance of client communication. Many firms realized the importance of being able to quickly communicate with clients and the value that it creates. There has never been a higher urgency for generating and sending content than we have seen this year.

Communication through emails, articles, blogs, webinars, and videos has played an important role in firms adding value to their client relationships. Firms that are doing well in informing and taking care of their clients during this time will come out much further ahead than firms that did not.

Key takeaway: Client retention will be a heavy focus going into 2021. As the pandemic ends, we expect movement of people leaving firms that didn’t service them or communicate well for those that were very visible and available.

Overall, communication is the main theme of these trends. Firms have experienced firsthand the value of communication and the role it plays in client retention and growth this year. Continuing to invest in business development skills, the digital marketing technology stack, and all the initiatives that drive demand generation will be essential. Additionally, firms are gaining insight into the role of marketing in accounting, and those expectations of what a marketer should have been shifting toward specific skillsets and expertise. Bearing all of this in mind, what we expect to see this year is a widening of the gap between firms that are investing in growth and firms that are not.

By Sarah Johnson Dobek, President CPAsNET

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