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  MARKETING ACTIVITIES: HOW EFFECTIVE FOR RURAL
                                            CPAS?
Dennis J. Elbert, University of North Dakota John W. Gillett, University of North Dakota Arthur
                              A. Hiltner, University of North Dakota

ABSTRACT

This paper presents the analysis of written comments from a study of 612 CPAs in one rural
midwestern state. All participants were members of the North Dakota Society of Certified
Public Accountants (NDSCPA). Participants were asked to provide information regarding their
successes and or failures with marketing. The written comments and suggestions provide a
unique perspective of the status of rural marketing use by CPAs. For the most part rural CPAs
take marketing very seriously and their overall experience with marketing has been positive.
Planning time and commitment to marketing activity appear to present the greatest challenges
for rural accountants.

INTRODUCTION

The field of public accounting is faced with many challenges, only one of which is the rapidly
changing competitive marketplace. The typical consumer for accounting services has to select
from an array of services. Yet this same consumer often does not have the education or
experience base from which to make a solid decision. The consumer has come to expect
through tangible product offerings a solid match of needs and wants. When this expectation is
transferred to the accounting service industry some reformulation is mandated. Accountants
are not alone in this changing marketplace. Other professional service providers including
attorneys, health care providers, architects and engineers are also facing marketing dilemmas.
The anticipation is that use of marketing by public accountants will continue to escalate. At the
same time the hesitancy of accountants to get involved in marketing, or to take a narrow
advertising oriented approach has hampered some of the marketing efforts to date.

Accounting literature today includes extensive discussion of marketing concepts, ideas and
applications. Often the discussion is centered around the traditional Four P's of the marketing
mix (Product, Price, Promotion and Place) which have been discussed in detail [2, 3, 4].
However, the majority of the discussion continues to focus on the area of promotion [5, 6].
Many large national accounting firms utilize marketing directors, have designated marketing
departments and consistently utilize marketing tools in their organizations [1]. This utilization
has caused smaller rural accounting firms to become more and more concerned about their



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organizational futures. Because their larger competitors are using marketing, the small rural
firms are being psychologically forced in many instances to utilize marketing techniques. At the
same time the rural accounting organizations do not usually have the marketing budgets,
personnel or capability of their larger more urban counterparts. Most of the research related to
marketing usage by accounting practitioners has focused on practices in larger cities and
communities. Little research has been conducted relative to the attitudes, opinions,
perceptions, successes or failures by rural accounting practitioners. The apparent reluctance
to accept marketing and the perceived underutilization of marketing tools by the public
accounting profession provided the basis of this study. This analysis reviews the perspectives
of rural accountants in a variety of fields, thus providing an overall perspective of marketing.

RESEARCH DESIGN

The population utilized for this study consisted of 1,108 members of the North Dakota Society
of Certified Public Accountants (NDSCPA), all of whom were Certified Public Accountants
(CPA). A complete enumeration of this population was conducted. A mail questionnaire was
sent to the entire population, and 55.2 percent (612) persons returned the instrument. The
distribution of respondents by their classification in the NDSCPA and the overall percent of
respondents from each category is shown in Table 1.

The mean number of years respondents had been working in accounting was 11.3 and the
mean length of time in their present position was 5.9 years. Most of the respondents (87.4
percent) had taken at least one college level marketing course. Respondents were primarily
male (71.6 percent). Because the population of North Dakota is currently less than 650,000,
most respondents lived in small communities. Of the public practice respondents, 63 percent of
the CPAs participating in the study considered themselves to be working in local practices.
Sixty-five percent had ten or fewer partners, and over half (55.7 percent) were either individual
practitioners or partners in the firm.

The majority of the instrument was devoted to an assessment of the respondents opinions and
perceptions of marketing as an activity in accounting. Respondents were also asked open-
ended questions to elicit additional information regarding effective and noneffective marketing
activities. The comments provided were quite enlightening with regard to actual marketing
practices. This discussion presents a categorization of the comments related to marketing
practices that were and were not effective. Additionally samples of the actual comments
provided by the various subgroups are listed.

COMMENTS AND OPINIONS




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Overall the respondents were inclined to rate marketing as an important consideration for their
profession. Most had engaged in some type of formal marketing activity and many had tried
several different strategies. Shown in Table 2 are the number of written comments that were
provided by respondents in each of the subgroups to the first open ended question. This
question was, "What is the one most effective marketing activity your firm engages in? Briefly
discuss." Table 3 shows the number of written comments that were provided by respondents in
each of the subgroups for the second open ended question, "What is one marketing activity
that you tried, but did not have good success with? briefly discuss."

The overall comments were so extensive that they represented almost forty pages of single
spaced narrative. To make better use of the valuable information provided, the marketing
comments were analyzed and categorized as shown in Tables 4 and 5.

TABLE 1 DISTRIBUTION OF RESPONDENTS BY CLASSIFICATION IN NORTH DAKOTA
STATE SOCIETY OF CPAs (n = 612)

Number in Number Percent Percent of Classification Responding of Group Respondents

Public Practice 440 263 59.8 43.0

Education 81 43 53.1 7.0

Industry 467 197 42,2 32.2

Government 49 48 98.0 7.8

Other 71 61 85.9 10.0

Total 1,108 612 55.2 100.0

TABLE 2 NUMBER OF COMMENTS PROVIDED BY EACH SUBGROUP REGARDING
EFFECTIVE MARKETING ACTIVITIES

Percent of Number Number of CommentsRespondents in Number of About Effective Providing
Subgroup Subgroup Respondents Marketing Comments

Public Practice 440 263 184 69.9

Education 81 43 10 23.5




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Industry 467 197 85 43.1

Government 49 48 18 37.5

Other 71 61 31 50.8

Total 1,108 612 328 53.6

TABLE 3 NUMBER OF COMMENTS PROVIDED BY EACH SUBGROUP REGARDING
NONEFFECTIVE MARKETING ACTIVITIES

Percent of Number Number of CommentsRespondents in Number of About Noneffective
Providing Subgroup Subgroup Respondents Marketing Comments

Public Practice 440 263 119 45.2

Education 81 43 4 9.3

Industry 467 197 42 21.3

Government 49 48 6 12.5

Other 71 61 14 22.9

Total 1,108 612 185 30.2

The vast majority of the comments as to effective marketing centered on quality service,
personal contact or personal selling, community involvement, and referrals. Few had positive
success with the promotional tools, such as advertising and sales promotion, which appear to
gain the greatest share of the attention in the literature. Typical of the comments regarding
effective marketing tools for CPAs are as follows:

1. Speeches at industry meetings. 2. Newsletter monthly and prepared in house best overall
effort. 3. Direct Mail. (Public Practice)

Direct client contact. All of my business promotion budget is presently used for direct client
contacts, mainly for noon luncheons and evening dinner meetings. (Public Practice)

Delivery to client, emphasis on quality product, personalized and individualized attention.
Recognize significant personal events with cards, birthdays, birth announcements, sympathy




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cards, etc. Establish unique and concerned personal relationships along with professional
relationship. (Public Practice)

Quality initiative: increasing the objective and subjective quality of work, improving response
time to customer questions and requests, and increasing awareness amongst all employees of
their impact on customer satisfaction. Also includes "Quality Service Agreements" with
customers. (Industry)

Goodwill gestures and contributions to the community where we are located. (Industry)

TABLE 4 COMMENT CATEGORIES REPRESENTING EFFECTIVE USE OF MARKETING
BY RURAL CPAS

# of Times Mentioned by Subgroup*

Public Practice Industry Education Government Other Marketing Activity n = 184 n = 85 n = 10
n = 18 n = 31

Service/Client Satisfaction 49 13 2 3 4

Personal Contact/Selling 39 25 2 4 5

Community/Civic Involvement 23 5 - - 7

Referrals/Word of Mouth 22 - - - 4

Speeches/Seminars 16 4 - 2 -

Newsletters/Brochures 15 - - 1 -

Professional Meetings 12 - - - -

Advertising - General 12 3 - - - - Direct Mail 9 9 2 - - - Television - 7 - - 3 - Newsletter - 7 - - 3 -
Radio - 6 - - - - Word-of-Mouth- 5 - - - - Trade Shows - 4 - - - - Outdoor - - - - 2

Firm Reputation 11 - - - 4

Client Survey/Research - 4 - - 2

Visit Schools/Recruiting - - 4 - -




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Other Activity - - - - 10

No Marketing Activity - - 1 5 1

* NOTE -- The number of comments may not total n, as many comments contained references
to multiple marketing activities, and some could not be clearly classified.

TABLE 5 COMMENT CATEGORIES REPRESENTING NON-EFFECTIVE USE OF
MARKETING BY RURAL CPAS

# of Times Mentioned by Subgroup

Public Practice Industry Education Government Other Marketing Activity n=119 n=42 n=4 n=6
n=14

Newspaper Ads 22 2 - - 3 Direct/Mass Mailing 15 6 2 - 1 Radio Ads 15 1 - - 1
Seminars/Speakers 14 4 - - - Newsletters 12 3 - - 1 Advertising (General) 8 3 - - 1 Personal
Selling/Contacts 12 2 - 2 -

Ad Specialties 3 1 - - - Club Membership/Community 3 - 1 - - Yellow Pages Ads 3 1 - - 1
Contests/Promotions 2 4 - - - Telephone Book Cover Ads 2 - - - - Conventions Participation 1 -
- - - Telemarketing 1 3 - - 1 Television Ads - 2 - - - Customer Research - 2 - - 1 Branch Offices
- 2 - - - Magazines - 1 - - - Coupons - 1 - - - Job Fair - - 1 - - Not Sure - - - 4 -

* NOTE -- The number of comments may not total n, as many comments contained references
to multiple marketing activities, and some could not be clearly classified.

Membership in local/state organizations, i.e. church, American Legion, Freemasonry, Clubs,
etc. (Government)

Personal contact - explaining available services when opportunity arises. (Government)

A second group of comments, as shown in Table 5 includes a listing of marketing activities
considered as noneffective. Note the overlap of comments, for example, seminars and
speakers were included in both effective and noneffective categories.

The most frequently mentioned noneffective marketing items were of a promotional nature and
included newspaper ads, mass mailings, and seminars. Among the respondent comments
included in the noneffective group are those listed below:




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鶦lient Seminars - not worth the time. (Public Practice)

鶨xtensive radio and newspaper ads, in a community our size (relatively small), word of mouth
about quality of work is what has brought in the most new clients for us. (Public Practice)

. Seminars for clients or potential clients have not worked out for us. Basically, we have found
that people that attend seminars want something for nothing. (Public Practice)

. Direct mail - no response. (Industry)

. Direct mail flyers and brochures. (Industry)

. Public Information Newsletters and broadcasts. (Government)

Figure 1- graphically shows the five most often cited effective marketing tools and the five most
often cited noneffective tools. Notice that two items, personal selling/contact and
speeches/seminars fell in both categories. Several respondents indicated however that poor
planning regarding marketing tools contributed to the lack of effectiveness. Additionally
respondents were asked to make any other comments related to marketing. Fifty-eight
respondents took additional time and effort to provide it-input regarding their thoughts about
marketing. The predominant theme was to verify the value of marketing as a tool only after
appropriate planning.

It was apparent that established practitioners thought that marketing was more important for
new practitioners. Sample remarks from the last "comments" question are as follows:

. Must be done in a professional manner, if at all. (Public Practice)

. Marketing will be extremely important for new CPAs in public practice. Many will never
become partners without being marketers. (Public Practice)

. Marketing is essential if you want to have practice growth and retain customers. (Public
Practice)

. Personally, I am not thrilled about having to learn marketing, but I realize I must for the
benefit of our firm's future. (Public Practice)

. I think marketing is becoming more important than ever regardless of the type of work you are
engaged in. (Industry)




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. A good marketing effort only makes good business sense. It can help obtain new clients and
in conjunction with quality work performed. (Industry)

. "Doing a quality job" and "word of mouth" are still the best things you can do to attract
business for the longer term. (Industry)

. I think a "marketing in a professional environment" course would be good for the accounting,
legal, engineering, and medical school students. Broad based principles would be best. (Other)

SUMMARY

The purpose of this investigation was to determine the extent of rural CPAs professional
interest and utilization of marketing tools. Participants in the study provided extensive input,
ideas and suggestions through their written comments. A complete review and categorization
of all comments indicate that for the most part rural CPA providers take marketing seriously.
Their overall experience has been generally positive.

The challenge that remains continues to be that of prior planning, marketing education and
time commitment. Most activity has centered in the promotional arena with both positive and
negative results. The key to success overall appears to be continued emphasis on customer
service and satisfaction coupled with community involvement.

REFERENCES

[1] Association of Accounting Marketing Executives, "First Annual Survey of the CPA
Marketing Profession," (June, 1990), pp. 3-11.

[2] Frederiksen, Christian, "Million Dollar Marketing," Accountancy (June, 1989), pp. 100-102.

[3] Hanson, Stuart, "Ten Point Strategy for Successful Marketing," The Practical Accountant
(November, 1988), pp. 99-105.

[4] Marts, John A., Earl D. Honeycutt, and Jane A. Kenan, "How CPA Firms Market Their
Services," Journal of Accountancy (February, 1989), pp. 111-113.

[5] Shenkman, Martin M., "Marketing Tools For the New or Small Accounting Firm," Journal of
Accountancy (February, 1989), pp. 60-64.

[6] Sinclair, Roger, "A Recipe for Growth," Journal of Accountancy (May, 1988), pp. 116-117.




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The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the UND Bureau of Business and
Economic Research in the completion of this project.




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