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How One Unsuspecting CPA Firm Walked into the Lion’s Den



A Lesson on Karma Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing for Professional Service Firms

Janice was sorting through the day’s mail—the old fashioned kind, printed, stamped, delivered by a postal employee in a little truck—and handed me an envelope. 

“Hey, this one’s addressed to you,” she said, barely glancing up from the pile of assorted catalogues, flyers, donation pleas, and other detritus seeking to separate us from our cash.

Like you, I’m not a big fan of unsolicited mail. That’s one of the reasons I planted my flag squarely in the inbound marketing camp. More on this later. 

chicken2.jpgI didn’t know the company. I’m certain that I did not request any information from them, and ordinarily, after a one- or two-second interval, I would have tossed the envelope, unopened, on top of the recycle pile. And hi ho, hi ho, off to the recycling center it would go—along with the rest of that day’s unsolicited mail, which included among other things, an offer to have my stumps ground and a flyer with discounts for 10 lb. packages of chicken thighs. 

But two things stopped me from giving the envelope the ol’ heave ho: a first class stamp and a healthy dose of professional curiosity

And to My Surprise, It Was a Marketing Letter from a CPA Firm...

Oh boy. 

I’m not going to identify this New York City based firm, but talk about walking into the lion’s den... A CPA firm about 500 miles away using old fashioned direct mail to secure accounting, tax, and bookkeeping business from me, a pretty well-known professional service firm marketer who specializes in working with CPA firms.

As readers and fans of my blog know, I’m not shy when it comes to pointing out the foibles of CPA firm marketing efforts.

(Just a quick side note to my accountant Tom: your business with me is safe, although I do have a sudden urge to talk to you about your last bill.) 

You might be surprised to read that I found a number of positives about this effort. Unlike other consultants who are 100% inbound marketing purists, I believe that CPA, consulting, and other professional service firm marketing success comes from weaving a blend of 1:1, traditional (i.e. direct mail), and inbound marketing efforts. 

On the other hand, you won’t be surprised when you read my critique, as overall, this was a poorly executed piece of marketing. 

What I Liked 

I’m awarding this firm an “A” for effort, because their effort is what I really liked. They obviously want to grow their business, and I like the fact that they took a risk by spending time, money, and intellectual capital to get their message in my hands. 

I also liked the fact that:

They did some amount of brainstorming and analysis. They identified a vertical niche target market (“Public Relations, Marketing, Advertising Industry"). They put together a plan. They reached out to a list broker and bought a list based on what I suspect are some number of demographic considerations. They wrote a one-page letter that highlighted a few key benefits. They used variable printing technology for personalization. They put a first class stamp on the envelope.

And, they did all of this for what I suspect will be a response rate that (optimistically) hovers between one-fourth to 1% of all the letters they sent. Think about this: if they sent 5,000 letters, say at an all-in unit cost of $2/each, they spent ten grand for somewhere between five and 12 leads. 

If they closed two sales, each with a lifetime value of $100,000, that’s not too shabby an ROI, eh?

What I Didn’t Like

This firm’s efforts are riddled with worst marketing practices. These insights can serve as a checklist if your firm is considering direct mail: 

  1. The quality of the paper and printing was cheap, and given that an ounce of image is worth a pound of performance, this was a complete turn off.
  2. The amount of personalization was bare bones and consequently, it comes off as a form letter with my name and address. If you’re doing variable printing, it doesn’t cost you a penny more to insert a firm name somewhere in the text of a letter.
  3. The letter was all about you, and nothing about me, and gave me little to no comfort that you have actually worked with other marketing agencies.
  4. You forgot to put your website address anywhere, and that should be your main sales tool.
  5. Lots of poorly worded sentences. I counted a 55-word sentence the first paragraph alone.

Last but not least, you have a reactive call to action: “Please call for a consultation." You should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to nurturing a prospect, not them. 

What I Absolutely Abhorred

My professional curiosity led me to visit their website, where they really blew it.

Incredulously, one of the services this CPA firm offers to clients is marketing. While their site has visual appeal, it is totally devoid of an SEO strategy, their minimal amount of thought leadership is riddled with advertorial messaging, and they have no lead generation offers for converting site visitors to leads.

I saved the worst for last: they don’t even have a “contact us” form on the site or any type of call to action… only a few phone numbers at the very end of the entire site.

Please take this service off of your site. 

Add Some Inbound Marketing to Your Karma Marketing

I define karma marketing as being at the right time, at the right place, in front of the right prospect, at the exact right moment when a bottom-of-the-funnel offer (“Contact Us,” “Get a Demo,” “Free Assessment”) has the greatest opportunity for success because of the immediacy of the prospect’s pain or need.

Basically, karma marketing is a numbers game, and the driving force behind traditional marketing like direct mail. 

But inbound marketing is different. It’s about being available to prospects searching online for information or solutions. It’s about the strategies, tools, and technologies for getting found first. It’s about generating leads by offering thought leadership. It’s about nurturing those leads through the sales funnel using technology like marketing automation. And finally, it’s about aligning marketing and business development efforts and activities into a seamless, closed loop. 

The bottom line: the firm that sent me their unsolicited mail could use a very healthy dose of inbound marketing in their mix of strategies and tactics for growing their business. Your firm’s efforts should not be one dimensional, as it takes a mix of different marketing approaches, strategies, and technologies to move the needle. 

How do I know that traditional marketing is still viable and that direct mail really does work? Here’s the final proof:

If it weren’t for the offer we got in the mail, Janice and I wouldn’t now be the proud owners of 10 lbs. of frozen chicken thighs.

Lead Gen Tips Ebook 

About Author


Sell Faster. Sell Smarter. Grow your business with inbound marketing and sales enablement.

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