Accounting Firm Marketing In The Era of Generative AI

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David Toth: Firms are still so far behind creating their own content. I look at it as an investment into our own intellectual property. We're building a digital hub with our own IP when we can create this content culture, and that's a really hard thing to get away from when we're used to buying content, when we're used to not having full time writers or content creators, you know, not just writers, but content creators in this process. And so I think there's a huge opportunity there.

Blake Oliver: If [00:00:30] you'd like to earn CPE credit for listening to this episode, visit earmark Cpcomm, download the app, take a short quiz, and get your CPE certificate. Continuing education has never been so easy. And now on to the episode. Hello everyone, and welcome back to the show. I'm Blake Oliver, your host of the earmark podcast, joined today by David Toth. Hey, David.

David Toth: How [00:01:00] are you, Blake?

Blake Oliver: Doing great. Thanks. Your firm is called winding River consulting, and we're talking today about all things marketing for CPA firms, for accounting firms. How did you get into focusing specifically on the accounting industry when it comes to marketing strategy and all that good stuff?

David Toth: So my whole kind of evolution as a professional is incredibly entrepreneurial and never applied for a job. And just I believe in [00:01:30] surrounding myself by smarter people constantly and doing what it takes. And over the last 15 years, there has been a leader within our community, Gary Schamus, who isn't just a leader within our community, but a leader. When I say community, northeast Ohio, but within the accounting profession, and Gary grew his firm from 225,000 to $100 million over 27 years. They were the 37th largest firm when they sold to BDO in 2014. Gary and I [00:02:00] have done a lot of work together within the civic community of Northeast Ohio. I've done some consulting work for us and over the years my wife was part of the firm and transitioned into BDO at the time. And somewhere about five years ago, I became fractional CMO for a law firm called Mink Law, and Aaron started his own practice focused 100% around SEO. They got to a point where they were [00:02:30] averaging 200 leads a week all through Google. They're not using any other channels except that. And so I got to spend two years working with Aaron and his team around developing the processes, the strategy, what does it take to scale this and realizing that because of the volume of leads we need, we need ancillary services to be upstream and downstream to that audience, launching subscription based models? Well, when I had a chance to meet with [00:03:00] Gary about five and a half years ago as he was leaving BDO to start winding River consulting, we started talking about what Mink Law is doing in the same vein as the accounting profession, and got a chance to work with Brandon Hall at the Real Estate CPA in a very similar vein.

David Toth: The main difference between those two guys, both under the age of 40, both starting their own firms, was that Brandon did it through more content and community, and Aaron did it more through SEO. They're both HubSpot shops. They're both focused [00:03:30] on launching ancillary services, both upstream and downstream to their audience. And Gary and I quickly realized there's an opportunity to take what winding River established as a practice management consulting firm, our leading program managing partner, Boot Camp. Taking Gary's 30 years of experience, compressing it into six months and adding strategic growth to the mix. Right. When we talk about transformation, especially with digital at the forefront, having that buy in and a top down [00:04:00] approach becomes critical. And that's how we've been successful in integrating strategic growth and practice management. And that's why we launched our digital practice here at winding River consulting about four years ago.

Blake Oliver: So you started in SEO and you've broadened out to all sorts of strategic growth. So how does marketing fit into strategic growth?

David Toth: I had a digital marketing agency that specialized in working with higher education automotive dealerships, in which [00:04:30] I sold in 2011, so kind of had some of that foundation already around me. But when we look at strategic growth at firms, it typically encompasses two different categories organic and M&A. Right. But now you see firms elevating digital as being one of those core elements to strategic growth going forward. You can't ignore it. And so when think we get to the strategic level, yes there is educating and training our professionals. Yes, there's building sales processes within our firms. But at the [00:05:00] end of the day, marketing is not really been a function of growth. It's been a function of admin. And now what we're seeing within the profession is much more emphasis around marketing's role within a firm being driving revenue and generating both new logos and new revenue. Revenue. Right. I don't think that's necessarily been as much of a role historically, where it's been more focused on proposals, administrative type of work, you know, events, advertising, PR, which wasn't necessarily focused just on driving [00:05:30] revenue just as much about exposure and brand. So that's kind of how I've seen marketing evolve right now as part of this element and really being one of the critical drivers and in some cases, the change agent within firms to see where sales and marketing is overlapping, where digital is the one that's really driving this integration.

Blake Oliver: So digital marketing is a revenue generator that is new for accounting. It hasn't been that way. That's relatively new. And you mentioned Brandon Hall, for our listeners who are subscribers [00:06:00] to this podcast, go back and listen to the episode with Brandon Hall. He talks all about how he built a digital marketing sales funnel and gets dozens of leads every week. It seems like I mean, it's it's quite, quite an amazing thing all through content marketing. Well, that that brings up a topic. We got content marketing. That's what Brandon is doing over at the Real Estate CPA. What else has changed in digital marketing over the last few years that you've seen? [00:06:30]

David Toth: David, I think, you know, what we're looking at is what's changed within the profession, what's changed overall. Right. You know, and I think that's a big topic because in a lot of other industries, when you look at companies doing $50 million in revenue, their marketing and growth teams look very different than accounting firms. And now we're starting to see that kind of transpire into accounting firms knowing that if we get to a pipeline of 1.2 $1.52 million of potential earned revenue, right, that [00:07:00] requires nurturing in a way that maybe our sales process isn't ready for. A lot of industries that have technicians within the execution side of a relationship don't require the technicians to actually do the sales as well, where that's how historically the partnership has been, you know, created and then evolved private equity comes into the industry and says, all right, well, we're going to look at corporations. And now all of a sudden we have firms not as concerned about where the revenue is coming from, [00:07:30] but more so how they're going to scale. And sometimes that's being driven now by the non technicians as part of it. When you look at digital marketing there's no question AI is going yeah, you got a question. Go for it.

Blake Oliver: Well so I just want to clarify this. So when you say non technicians I mean we're talking about the old model. It's the partners are responsible for bringing in business. They have to go out there and put themselves out there you know go to networking events, find clients, bring in business, close the deals. They are the [00:08:00] face of the firm when it comes to business development. Yeah. And in the new model, especially when private equity comes in, they look at that and they say that doesn't make any sense. Why do we have our subject matter experts, our technicians, our people doing the work, doing the sales too? Because in most businesses right in the world, you don't have the same people doing sales and creating the product. It's a different team.

David Toth: Yep. Exactly. And can you get that sales process instead of from 1 to 3 and marketing from 1 [00:08:30] to 7, right. You know, if you're looking at ten stages here, how do we start thinking about how that can evolve over time. And you're seeing firms successfully do that. And yes, professionals are absolutely still required as part of this process. But we can start thinking about it in different ways. Digital is giving us the ability to execute on that type of a strategy.

Blake Oliver: So let's talk about it. How do I, as a firm move from the old model to the new one? Like where do we start. [00:09:00]

David Toth: Transformation start from the top. It's not easy, right? I will say that most firms when you look in the top 400, what's one of their starting points when they start seeing opportunities come in? Through their website that are six figures that are over $50,000 for a long time over the last three years. A question that I normally get is, what's the average deal size of an opportunity that can come in through your website? And, you know, like people.

Blake Oliver: Are skeptical that websites can actually generate [00:09:30] big deals and opportunities?

David Toth: Absolutely. I think they're skeptical and they don't understand what it means. But the question that I normally ask when that comes up is, how did your buying behaviors change during the pandemic? Right. Not only do we use Amazon more, but the level of comfort you had in your purchasing decisions significantly increased. Right, so people are comfortable buying cars or boats or other high end types of items sight unseen. Most cases when I go [00:10:00] into a room, you can ask anybody. Has anybody made this purchase in the last. And you're starting to see more and more hints. So just overall we have become more comfortable with how we do that. The biggest shift in digital that we're seeing now is kind of this yes and attitude, and not either or meaning. We have this thought process that we can either drive business through digital, or we can drive it through face to face and human interactions. In [00:10:30] today's buying journey, it has to be both. It's going to be both. We can no longer avoid that. And so that's where we're starting to see okay. Yes. We're generating opportunities that are qualified to our ideal client profile for larger firms based on the criteria that we have. And yes, we know that face to face and relationships are still a core part of it. And know that high net worth individual isn't the only isn't necessarily doing the research, but everybody around them is. [00:11:00] And so these things are what's really starting to generate, hey, do we need to elevate digital as part of our growth culture going forward.

Blake Oliver: Okay. So firms that are getting those bigger deals coming in through their websites, the potentially six figure opportunities, what are they doing different than firms that are not getting those yet?

David Toth: I think being proactive in nature and understanding that there's data they can be collecting and figuring out how to, once they have that data, make it actionable, right? I don't think [00:11:30] most people realize sometimes what opportunities are coming through the door because they're not able to get reporting back. Once those leads are forwarded on, they're not able to understand, even create a narrative around how many opportunities were created through their website, and then try to do some follow up to understand what has been recognized in terms of revenue attribution, right, attribution within the firm. And so in most cases, if we are starting to see 1 or 2 of these deals come through, [00:12:00] where a partner comes back and says, we just closed a $75,000 deal that came organically through our website. Right now, you're starting to get the attention of other partners within the firm, and I think that's really what is starting to drive these conversations. I have a client that received a $450,000 opportunity, sight unseen through their website. Did they probably hear the brand somewhere in the past being a top 100? Yes. But was that the way they attributed the source [00:12:30] of that lead? No. They came through the site, they did their research and they're closing larger deals. So how do we start reverse engineering? How do we start understanding how we need to develop relationships through digital empathy and channels that we can create. And then think about it from a pipeline perspective. What are we doing at the top? What are we doing at the middle, and what are we doing at the bottom? How do we take what we're used to doing in a physical world and create its virtual counterpart?

Blake Oliver: So. When you're talking about tracking. I mean, we're just talking there about [00:13:00] making sure that you actually know where your deals are coming from, where the revenue coming into your firm is being sourced. And I'm guessing a lot of firms still even bigger. Top 400 firms still don't have a system to actually track the lead that comes in on the website. When somebody fills out the form to all the deals that have closed that month and figure out, hey, our website resulted in this many leads, or this event resulted in this many leads that caused this many new customers and this [00:13:30] amount of revenue. I mean, and you mentioned HubSpot. Is that what we're talking about? Like implementing a system like HubSpot in order to track all that, whether.

David Toth: It's HubSpot and Salesforce or Dynamics or using HubSpot for CRM, integrating tools like an intro hive, you know, where you can inject data intelligence around it, right? All of these tools are starting to become more actionable once we can think about what this data means. I think too often we're trying to leverage data to drive ROI and not data to drive [00:14:00] the strategy itself. Right. And at the end of the day, if we can get enough data to start driving the strategy strategy, then we can figure out where to best put our resources towards towards the execution side of things.

Blake Oliver: So what's the like breakdown of top 400 firms using HubSpot? I can't imagine there's a lot of them.

David Toth: I would beg to differ, and I will tell you that when we did an audit last year, of the top 500 firms websites, 98 of them were using it for [00:14:30] automation, 24 of them were using it for CMS. I would bet to guarantee that's doubled since last year. Wow. I know a significant number of firms dropping Marketo or Pardot and going to HubSpot for marketing automation. Sales automation, not necessarily CRM. Crm is definitely a different conversation, but when it comes to the resources that are and how we have built our growth teams within firms, we don't have full time people in place to manage the data, the CRM, and some of the [00:15:00] technical side of things that's required when it comes to executing that strategy. Hubspot's broken that barrier, right? That's why they grew to $2.7 billion now. I remember 14 years ago when they were that small, you know, small business, cultural oriented, you know, technology. And today there are 2.7 billion. They have enterprise tools. What really changed the game for HubSpot was when they turned on their ops hub, and really allowed for this exchange of data to [00:15:30] happen between multiple platforms. So have firms today that have built data warehouses that are leveraging HubSpot as the golden record by utilizing a star or a CCH and Introhive and connecting all of these APIs together to maximize the data when it comes to how we want to grow strategically going forward. Upselling, cross-selling, focusing on niches or industries, collecting data from our professionals that don't want to give it to us, scraping some of the content that exists. So I think HubSpot truly [00:16:00] is today one of the top platforms within that kind of space when it comes to technologies people are adopting.

Blake Oliver: Well, I'm happy to hear you say that because I use HubSpot in my firm. Like ten years ago when we started doing some digital marketing, marketing automation, I wouldn't say we were doing anything fancy, but we built our website on it and we could track all the leads coming in through the forms and see the source of the revenue. And I don't know how I would have done that manually. Doing that in [00:16:30] spreadsheets just seems absolutely insane these days when you have technology to do it. And then I got to use it again. When I worked at a software company, I was running marketing for giraffe, and we had that ops hub that you're talking about, and it was so cool because we could actually do. We did the marketing automation. We'd get the leads in, we used the CRM and then we when we close deals, it would actually create like a project or a task in that [00:17:00] ops hub. I don't know if that's the right term for it. And then our Customer success team could take it. And so it was all in one system through onboarding. And that was really incredible to have that. And I just don't know how a firms operate. If you don't have something to track it all and.

David Toth: Don't know if everyone's there yet. I mean, you're talking very much rev ops model, right? You know, sales service. And I think that's totally a viable option, you know, in strategy going forward. But that requires a culture shift, right. You know, and how [00:17:30] we want to grow, how we're going to build our growth team going forward. Because most of the time when we get into the top 200, these teams have been built very more traditionally. And so we have to shift the roles that we need. We have to shift that process that's being created and established and realize that CRM adoptions are really hard thing to overcome. There's five generations in our in our firms today, right? That's never happened before. And so trying. To get younger generations aligning with older generations, and where this technology is colliding [00:18:00] is part of the obstacle that we're running into.

Blake Oliver: Yeah. When I was at Armanino, we had, I think, a dynamics Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and nobody wanted to use it. Right? No, we we only used it because we had to. And so we would put in like the deals with the minimum information required, and then people would game the system because they would only put in deals they knew were going to close in order to make sure they didn't have to explain themselves when the deals didn't. So it was like really pointless kind of situation. And I bet a lot of firms are like that, that [00:18:30] we were a top 25 firm when I was there, and I can't imagine that it's changed all that much.

David Toth: No. And look at our I mean, they just acquired Janover. You know, this past week. And so, you know, thinking how you have to integrate new firms into that same model with processes and resources to be able to execute it. So I think that's a it's a great point. It's a great hurdle. I think Introhive has solved some of that problem for certain size firms. There's a new technology.

Blake Oliver: What's that tool.

David Toth: Introhive. Data intelligence. [00:19:00] They currently, I think, work with 38 of the top 50 firms. And really what they're able to do is scrape data within your email servers, not the content of your email, but subject, email signature and calendar invites. And we could automatically inject that data now directly into your CRM system, whether or not our partners care about it or want to agree. And all of a sudden you go from 7000 contacts to 30,000 contacts, you get a new opportunity that comes in through your website, right? [00:19:30] You first thing you do is you go to your CRM and your research it, and you go to Introhive, who has similar potential connections or relationships with anybody that's emailed somebody with that domain. Right. So they've done a really nice job at kind of, you know, positioning themselves to, to leverage that type of technology. Apollo a lot of people will use Apollo, another tool that's kind of in that ecosystem. One tool that's starting to come up right now is called propensity. Tim Keith was formerly at Introhive, launched his [00:20:00] own company recently. There's still kind of in the ground stages focusing within the accounting sector. They've got eight top 50 firms they're working with and testing this out. But how do you take upselling and cross-selling data from time and billing? Inject it into outlook, and now you create accountability just as much as you do a tool that's providing you data and you're creating accountability. Because I can say any client that matches this is very similar in nature in terms of industry, in terms of services [00:20:30] that we're providing. But we have these 200 other services. We could be upselling or cross-selling them based on similar types of clients. Let's inject that data into your outlook. Now you gain visibility into it. Now you're accounting, your growth team gains visibility into it. And we're starting to help put more tools in place to create this change mindset that's going to be required in these firms culture going forward to help elevate digital to strategic growth.

Blake Oliver: So. Leading firms are putting in marketing [00:21:00] automation like HubSpot. They're using a CRM. They're actually figuring out how to get their teams to adopt it a little bit. Let's not let's.

David Toth: Not overpromise there. I still think that is one of the largest hurdles.

Blake Oliver: Yeah, yeah. Well, when we're all so busy, it's a lot to ask really busy people to go fill out forms in a CRM. It's hard enough to get salespeople to do that. Are you seeing top 400 firms like. Well, I guess I guess a lot of them do have dedicated business development [00:21:30] reps. I mean, we had that when I was at Armanino. And, you know, they would pound the pavement and go look for deals and stuff like that, but I don't know, like what's sort of the best practice when it comes to setting up these teams for success with marketing and sales and the partners and the staff, like, how do you, you know, if you could if you could design the perfect go to market strategy for an accounting firm, what would it look like? In broad strokes, I mean.

David Toth: That's a great million dollar question [00:22:00] right now. Right? And I think it depends on where you are in this evolution to some degree. You know, think 5 to $20 million firms have a tremendous opportunity right now because they don't have as much bureaucracy and layers onto it. That needs to change as part of this overall mindset and process. You know, we were chatting earlier today, Blake, around just the overall environment within the profession. Wall Street Journal this week said, what, 15.9% less accountants? Since 2019, 300,000 [00:22:30] people have left the left the industry, 87% of those have more than six years of experience.

Blake Oliver: And so this year, yeah, this year, in the last like 12 months, yeah, it's over six years of experience on average. Those leaving. Yeah. These are these are managers.

David Toth: So all of this work goes up to the next layer of individuals which are partners. In many cases it's mis makers or rainmakers. Right. They have less time available [00:23:00] to do what is required to build these growth teams. So we need to start thinking about how we want these to evolve going forward, and positioning marketing as a growth engine within your firm. I said it earlier, part of the change agent of these firms is who you have driving your growth strategy going forward, and then building a team that's going to put digital at the core every step of the way. One of the interesting things I learned at Bridging the Gap, the conference Trimeric did, where [00:23:30] you were at a couple of weeks ago, is a lot of these entrepreneurial, younger firms are adding developers and technicians from that perspective to their teams at early stages to look at every step of the client and onboarding and lead process so that we're constantly being able to optimize it along the way. And so, you know, right now, we don't have that advantage at some of the top 500 plus firms in order to do that. So I really think that's where it has to start. It starts with culture. I think culture is such [00:24:00] a big factor into the success of firms going forward when it comes to digital, when it comes to content, when it comes to growth and making sure you have the buy in of the firm leadership to start down this trajectory. If you try to do this as part of your marketing team or growth team without buying at the top, you're going back to random acts of marketing at that point, right? And you're going to end up generating 21 leads for an international tax department that doesn't want any leads. So you're not helping the firm grow. [00:24:30] In fact, you're causing more problems. You're not aligned strategically with leadership. And that's why in many cases we have to start there.

Blake Oliver: Yeah, I guess the a big barrier. Well, you tell me if this is a barrier for you. Is that a lot of these teams already have too much work. You just said there's an international tax team that doesn't want any more work. They don't want any more leads. They've got too much to do. So how does marketing fit into this whole talent crisis situation, where it seems like every firm has more work than they can handle?

David Toth: I mean, yes, [00:25:00] that's a problem, but at the same time it's also a practice management issue, right? So if we start thinking about it, we're at a point where every firm has the opportunity to hone in on what an ideal client actually is, right? And if they don't fit our ideal client profiles, we start calling that right our clients. It's bad experiences for our employees. They don't get us what we need in time. They're not profitable enough. Right now, firms have a unique ability to raise their fees without too much kickback, because [00:25:30] where are you going to go? Right? So if we can understand our ideal client profile and really be able to develop strategies around what we want versus just taking what we get now, we can be more proactive in the way that we're growing. We're seeing all this M&A activity happening right now. Private equity, M&A, right. A lot of mergers. Well they're becoming larger firms. So what's happening is they're starting to be gaps in the marketplace where our mid-tier firms are able to go upstream, are smaller firms are able to go upstream [00:26:00] because that's how the whole ecosystem is evolving right now.

David Toth: And so being intentful with the strategy around growth is going to allow you to focus on the areas that make the most amount of sense. I'm a huge advocate of growing through niches and industries as part of a digital strategy, as part of a growth strategy, and focused very heavily in industries. Their largest practice was restaurants. 25% of their business was just on that, and it made it so much easier to scale quickly. And so if we can [00:26:30] align with the rest of the firm, where do we really want to be known for? Where is some of our best opportunities to scale based on our expertise, then it becomes a little bit easier being strategic in how you deploy that, because the last thing you want to do is turn off the faucet, right? Because it's not easy to turn it back on at that point. And I think that's something that's been a message we've been hearing a lot over the last kind of two years.

Blake Oliver: So focus on an industry or a few different industries get known for that. I mean, [00:27:00] I like that because it gives me something as a marketer to focus on. It's really hard to promote everything you do. You can't take it as anybody. Right. So SSG was out there doing great content marketing around restaurant accounting, restaurant compliance, tax issues. I'd take it like how does how does well, let's let's talk about the content marketing, the digital marketing strategy. Let's say you work with leadership and you get buy in on focusing on this particular niche or this industry. Where do you go [00:27:30] from there?

David Toth: I think at that point we need to, you know, really start focusing on the strategy itself. So do we understand who is the ideal client? Right. We can talk about construction, but construction has a lot of layers to it. At the end of the day, think about how you search today on Google or the internet. Well, A that's going to change because of ChatGPT and I, we're searching through bots now, not just through Google. So I believe that's going to be part of this whole evolution going forward. The importance of content on your website is going to be even more critical, [00:28:00] because pretty soon when you get to a website, it's going to ask you, how can I help you? Today I'm looking to find out information about services for a construction company in Florida. Can you help me? Right. Oh, here's three pieces of content that could be very helpful. Here's our industry pages. Here's some of our leaders in charge of that group. So the content you're putting online isn't just about ranking in Google. It's going to be about how people are basically your virtual front for developing relationships through your digital footprint online. [00:28:30] And so we really try to understand kind of the audience that that ideal client profile within niches.

David Toth: That's such a critical part to developing content, in my opinion, that's going to drive significant revenue. We talked about Brandon Hall, we talked about Aaron Meek. Brandon specializes in real estate, right? Aaron Minc specializes in internet defamation. So it's easy for people to build confidence through a virtual platform where they're driving 80% of their journey on their own to do their research. When you have really [00:29:00] good content supporting it, that could mean blog articles. It could mean webinars, it could mean podcasts, it could mean guest blogging. It could mean ebooks, interactive quizzes, surveys, tools, pricing, calculators. Right. Depending on what services we're trying to promote. And so I think what it has to start with is really understanding the audience. And then secondly, thinking about what journey do we want them to experience? How do we take the journey that you've already established or created through [00:29:30] the way you've done it for years, and map that out to what its virtual counterparts or experience can be? And then we start building that. Model and process, making sure the content on our website is flowing in a way that allows you to capture information. Every step allows you to develop a relationship, and then we have to pull in tools like LinkedIn to make sure that we're using that as our digital business card.

David Toth: Right. Everybody that's going to work with you at a firm is going to go to Google, search your name or your [00:30:00] firm's name and end up in one of two places, your LinkedIn profile or your web page, right? If not both. Yeah. And so how does that fit in to this journey that then talks about now we've got your eyes on our web page. Now we've got some tools in place to help nurture that engagement. How do we convert and create sales enablement of asking the hard questions. What's it going to cost? How much can you save me? What's an ideal client you know, for you, what's your minimums? Right. The [00:30:30] questions that we're maybe not so comfortable typically answering within a digital environment that we need to today because so much of that journey is being done upfront. And if we don't do a good job at capturing them as part of that content strategy, then we're going to lose them to the competition. And so I think that's where we've got some edge right now.

Blake Oliver: What's your favorite digital marketing activity? If you have to choose one, like if I only have time to do one, what are you going to tell me to do?

David Toth: Most firms that I work with. One of the things that [00:31:00] I think are low hanging fruit have two answers to that. Okay, I have one that's a pain and one that's a platform. The campaign side of it. Almost every firm sponsors events and gets a database. How we use that database is not always the way that I would traditionally use it, right? If we get a thousand email addresses, you don't just put them into HubSpot and start blasting out emails, right? We're going to figure out how to nurture them over three months, leveraging retargeting ads, leveraging video, leveraging [00:31:30] content creation, leveraging landing pages, leveraging email, and leveraging LinkedIn. And if we can do all of these things together, then all of a sudden we can end up with a webinar with 50 to 75 qualified prospects that we need to continue to nurture. And so I think building these types of demand gen funnels is something that a lot of cases is low hanging fruit for our firms to take advantage of that we don't. And that is great data for us to develop campaigns around. So that's one [00:32:00] of the areas that I usually get excited about when it comes to working with the niches in the industries and understanding what their roadmaps look like.

David Toth: The second thing that to me is critical, that's just totally being missed right now is LinkedIn. You know, it's so easy. You know, think about it. If you have 200 people at your firm, their following is ten x what your individual firm's page is. Yet only probably 5 to 10% of your firm is actually doing anything to help support that. They're not using the hero graphics that you provided them. They're not optimizing [00:32:30] their profile in the basic ways. I'm not asking you to come and be an influencer or content creator. I'm asking you to put your best foot forward like you would at a chamber or event or a conference or, you know, being in public. Who do you work for? They they give you a pin. They give you your bags. Right. Same concept needs to be exchanged on LinkedIn today, because the way Gen Z and younger professionals are going about their research process for hiring, for where they want to work, where they want to end up, [00:33:00] how they're buying is all starting within social media and these platforms. And that's just low hanging fruit.

Blake Oliver: A good example is I just went to a happy hour event last night. I met an account executive there. I looked her up on LinkedIn because that's what I always do. I don't get business cards anymore. And the picture on LinkedIn did not match what she looked like in real life, and the her city was wrong. It wasn't Phoenix, it was New York, which is where the company headquarters were, but is not where you know [00:33:30] her. Her location is her her region. And it was a total mismatch, a total mismatch.

David Toth: I worked with a firm that's huge in the ag space. They're like, this is never going to benefit my business. I'm not going to find new clients on LinkedIn, said. That doesn't matter, because every person that you're trying to hire is right. And even if you're just doing it for that purpose in today's market, it's a victory and a win. You know, I love looking at people's picture that still have hair in it from ten years ago. And then you go meet them and they're like, what happened to your hair? [00:34:00] You know? Yeah, I'm worried that's going to be me one day. But you know, we're not right now. You know, I'm taking full advantage of it.

Blake Oliver: So that's why I started wearing a hat, you know, because eventually when I lose my hair, I just keep wearing the hat. I'm pretty sure that's why.

David Toth: Chase. Chase wears a hat most of the time. Chase Berkey.

Blake Oliver: Yeah, yeah. Smart. Smart. He's prepping. Well. Hey. So. So you made a really good point, which is that it's not just our prospects that are looking at us on LinkedIn. It's our potential future employees. And [00:34:30] so digital marketing, especially when you're serving a particular niche, can help you find those people that you desperately need in your firm because they're going to see your firm out there doing cool things for this particular industry, and they're going to want to work there because they want to work with restaurant clients, or they want to work with construction clients. And and I think we forget that a lot as a profession.

David Toth: Yep. And I think they're also looking to see is your firm progressive. Are they using technology. Are they using digital marketing. Do they have a strong culture. Right. These are things that are weighing [00:35:00] in to how they're making decisions going forward. And if we're not displaying that in a way that's meaningful, we're not going to help ourselves. There's a firm in new Jersey called WIS. They're part of the Beauty Alliance, and I love using them as an example because of how they've built out their LinkedIn page for their firm. When it comes to being people first and the experience that you can kind of take away from that interactions. And I think, again, most people are thinking about it as a tool for revenue growth. Oh my God, we can't [00:35:30] grow right now, right? Wrong. We have to grow through talent acquisition right now. That's part of our growth strategy going forward is capacity.

Blake Oliver: Yeah, I see a lot of small firms leveraging Instagram and TikTok and YouTube shorts, these short form video social media platforms now to get clients. And they're really succeeding at it. Yeah. But I never see partners at top firms [00:36:00] on these platforms. It's like they don't exist. Are you seeing any firms taking. In to this in your space in the top 400? Or is this still like green field territory for them?

David Toth: That's that's the million dollar question right now. It a couple of thoughts come to mind. The short answer is no. Okay. I don't see really anybody progressive in that side. I know people that have tried and just get a lot of garbage around it. Tiktok is, you know, more [00:36:30] searched than Google for Gen Z today, but we have no idea what that means. In fact, a lot of firms are still blocking ChatGPT. We just we don't know how to use it. So we're going to just sell nobody to use it, right? Right. Until we have our grasp around it from an policy side. And truthfully, I believe Instagram and TikTok are very similar in nature, that we're still thinking about creating long form video that's very professional and edited very nicely. That cost us six, ten, 12, [00:37:00] $15,000 to create. Not saying there's not a place for that, but I just.

Blake Oliver: Don't know who's watching that. Like who is watching that ten minute video that you produced, you know, like, I mean, I'd be curious to see the analytics on it, but I feel like it's not going to be worth the money you spend unless you're getting your CPA.

David Toth: Right? Right. But I completely agree with you. I think that's kind of what's changing right now, rapidly and starting to understand that, you know, this is going to have a place in that ecosystem. So [00:37:30] no, I have not seen it widely adapt. There was an article in Forbes recently that talked about a recruiter at Intuit, and she built a following of 2 million people on TikTok on her own personal page. Imagine if that happened at a firm. What would happen with leadership? Nope. Stop. We can't take the risk. We need to ask a million questions before we have any level of comfort knowing that we can embrace this, right? Yeah. So that's part of culture.

Blake Oliver: And [00:38:00] maybe it's not TikTok, right? Maybe it's Instagram because that's where the millennials tend to hang out, you know, and but I mean millennials are now in positions where they have budget. They're making these purchasing decisions. They're deciding who to hire, what order to hire.

David Toth: 5% of the decision makers on LinkedIn right now.

Blake Oliver: Yeah. And so to me, that's that's like and YouTube shorts of course, as well, because everybody is on YouTube now it seems like and and that's a brand new platform. [00:38:30] And so I would be I mean I know like we talk about branding a lot because he's an innovator in this space. Brandon Hall has been posting social media stuff and but like it's like I can think on my, you know, like a few half a dozen people that are doing this. Yeah. And I got to imagine that there's there's got to be a way to make some interesting short form content about tax and audit for these mid-market companies that top 400 firms are serving. And, you know, like, if you could do it in an entertaining way, [00:39:00] you could you could get these 35 year old CFOs, you know, I'm 40, I'm a millennial, you know, like millennials are 44.

David Toth: And I'm not far behind you. Right? Yeah. No. Think by 2025, millennials are going to make over 60 up 60% of the workforce in this country. Right? I mean, that's just generational change that's happening right now. And the way we go and do our research is very different than if you're over the age of 45 at this point. Pretty soon that's going to be 50 in 5 years from now. Right? So we're just seeing this all evolve. [00:39:30] I think we're just starting to think about what that type of content creation means. Firms are still so far behind creating their own content. I look at it as an investment into our own intellectual property. We're building a digital hub with our own IP when we can create this content culture. And that's a really hard thing to get away from when we're used to buying content, when we're used to not having full time writers or content creators, you know, not just writers, but content creators [00:40:00] in this process. And so I think there's a huge opportunity there.

Blake Oliver: Yeah. Well, and I'm really bullish about it because of generative AI making it easy to create this content. Like I personally use ChatGPT or cloud AI every single day, and it can write 80 to 90% of a blog article. For me, it shortens the time by five, 5 to 10 times faster for me to write content and create video scripts. And [00:40:30] so if firms are willing to try it for their marketing, I think they could get a whole lot more out of of what they're doing, you know? And I guess the problem is just everybody's so darn busy, nobody feels like they have time to create content and can't do.

David Toth: Everything comes back to priorities, right? If you have a strategy, you know, plan in place. If you can, create the strategy and prioritize what you think is going to be most relevant and have the team around you to execute it, then you can start moving the needle. And I just don't think [00:41:00] this is, you know, has been necessarily a priority. Listen, do we think it needs to happen? There's no question about it. But so are these other 50 things. And so which ones are you going to prioritize to tackle first.

Blake Oliver: Yeah. I'm a big fan of like still webinars as a forcing function to get content created because like you said, you have this database of contacts already and if you got them from an event, you know that let's say it was a construction industry event, you know, okay, now these are people who are interested [00:41:30] in that topic. I'm going to do a webinar about construction, accounting or tax or something, and I'm going to invite them all via email. And I know that I'm going to get a few dozen at least to sign up. And now I've got this audience coming. I've got to present to them, I'm going to record it, I'm going to transcribe it and clip it into videos. And now I've got content that I can use for a whole month to go out, and I can put that on my website. I can put that on social media, but not a lot of firms do [00:42:00] that. And it's a very simple, repeatable thing. You only got to do 12 of them a year.

David Toth: I think a lot of firms are doing it, and they're doing it in ways that might still be traditional in some senses. So we do this webinar, we come out with a benchmarking survey. They download it. What do we do next?

Blake Oliver: They download the benchmarking survey, they give you their email to do it. Right? Right.

David Toth: So your phone number and they're going to call you the next day. Right. We don't want that anymore. Right. We don't want to have somebody download [00:42:30] a benchmarking survey and then get cold called the next day when I just wanted to know what you put in there. Right, right. So I'm not ready.

Blake Oliver: To buy from.

David Toth: You. Exactly. So, like, we're changing that process at the same time of how do we leverage that content that we've created through webinars that exploded during Covid 19 to a model that we knew kind of was working a little bit, but we're not necessarily still thinking about strategically on what are all the stages as part of that sales process we need to be thinking about, which isn't immediately picking up the phone [00:43:00] and making that phone call going forward. It's figuring out how to nurture them. How do you take that webinar content, break it up into, you know, small little tidbits? Oh, here's one section about this topic and another section about a totally different topic. Well, if I send that email out through HubSpot and they're only clicking on this one topic now, I've even narrowed myself to make it easier to get them the type of content that they're going to want going forward. But you're exactly right. The other benefit that I think white firms are going to start with webinars as a way to [00:43:30] leverage content is because it's your own content, right? You're basically just asking ChatGPT, Claudia, whatever it may be, barred, et cetera. To rewrite content that you're that you own versus trying to create something that's original. And I think people are more comfortable with this kind of gray area around how content is being produced in order to do that, and then easily turn that into eight social media posts. So I love that platform, and I think that's a great way to get people started [00:44:00] in how to maximize that investment or capability.

Blake Oliver: So we've kind of danced around this topic of AI as we've talked today. How do you see it changing accounting marketing going forward is SEO. Is search engine optimization going to die now because people are just going to chat with OpenAI and or Bing and get the answer. They're not going to do Google search anymore because that's that would be a huge shift because we spent like decades getting accounting firms to do SEO. And [00:44:30] now it could. Do you think it's going to go it's going to be gone.

David Toth: Man. If I knew if I had a crystal ball, I'd go play the $925 million jackpot that's out there right now. So, you know, do I think SEO is going to be gone? No. Do I think it's going to change and evolve? Absolutely. I mean, I know, you know, Google serving up the first third of their results. Now the results. If you've tried using Bard, you know, the other day needed to get a flight to Montreal. I asked Bard to find me [00:45:00] three different options between these hours on these airlines, and it pulled in the sources that you're using and how they're finding that information or data. So it's still very much driven around the content of your website. If anything, I think that's the main message right now that the importance of the content you're creating for your website and your digital footprint is going to have more implications now than it ever has been before beyond just SEO, because of the way we're going to get used to talking to chat bots. And [00:45:30] I think so.

Blake Oliver: I'm going to ask a question and then let's say I do it with Bing. And Bing has indexed my the content on my website, and it's going to serve up the answer and link to my website as the expert. And then hopefully my prospect will click through to me to find out more.

David Toth: 4 or 5 different pieces of content that it's using the sources, and then be able to allow you to pick which direction you want to go in. Correct.

Blake Oliver: So really, it's like that's the same idea [00:46:00] as what SEO is, what's getting in the top ten of Google. But now we're trying to get in like the top five sources that Bing cites, which.

David Toth: Is part of the reason why Google got rid of pagination right now. It's just kind of a dead scroll. There's not page one, page to page three anymore. You can just literally keep scrolling on Google. And so I think that's part of what's changing. Seo is still important. The way your site performs is still incredibly important. Nobody wants to hang around and wait when [00:46:30] it comes to a page taking 10s to load. We just don't have time for that. We're not used to it anymore. And so all of these factors are still going to be critical to what your digital footprint needs to to look like. I think AI is going to help accelerate it, but SEO is still important too today. Now in two years from now, will that change? I don't know, but I do think AI is going to really disrupt the way we are doing things. We just don't know how yet.

Blake Oliver: Well, David, it's been great talking to you about marketing trends and strategies [00:47:00] and digital. Thanks so much for joining me. If people want to learn more about what you do and winding River consulting, where should they go?

David Toth: If you go to winding River consulting, great place to start LinkedIn you can look me up on LinkedIn. David Toth I have a newsletter called growth with Toth on LinkedIn that we've recently launched, but winding River consulting, dot com. And Blake, I want to make sure we get some time to chat next time around on podcasts. And how can firms really leverage podcasts going forward? [00:47:30] Because I believe it's another one of those areas that seems overwhelming and daunting, but another great way to leverage a professional's time. Very high impact with lots of fruits of the labor when it comes to content.

Blake Oliver: Yeah, well, well, my quick take on that is just that. A podcast is really just a webinar. It's it's one that you do for yourself if you don't have an audience. But these days you can live stream. And we've started doing that with my podcast, with the Accounting podcast. We now live stream our [00:48:00] recording sessions via a tool called StreamYard, and we can even have a registration page and collect emails if we want. And we stream it onto YouTube, onto LinkedIn, onto Twitter, wherever you want. So we're doing all of these different activities, but it's the same recording session, right? I'm getting my video podcast recorded, I'm doing a live webinar and I'm streaming onto social media. Yep. And I highly suggest that firms look at doing that because it's a huge bang for your buck. [00:48:30] And yeah, it doesn't take any more time really, other than figuring out how to use these tools, which I suppose is a big barrier. I spend a lot of time just you live.

David Toth: In this ecosystem for the most part, but there's no question there's experts like you out there to be able to do it. Blake, I really appreciate the opportunity to be here today.

Blake Oliver: Yeah. Thanks, David. Great to see you. See you. Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode and that you learned something new. And if you did, wouldn't it be nice to get some CPE credit for it? Well, [00:49:00] I've got great news. My new app, earmark CPE, offers free Naspa approved CPE credits for listening to podcasts, including this one. Visit earmark Cpcomm to download the app, take a short quiz and get your CPE certificate. That's earmark Cpcomm.

Creators and Guests

David Toth
David Toth
Chief Growth Officer @ Winding River Consulting | 20 under 40 CPA Practice Advisor - 2023 | Made in Cleveland | Dad | Entrepreneur
Accounting Firm Marketing In The Era of Generative AI
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