August Aquila

The Marketing Plan: An Audit-Based Approach

Identifying marketing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

June 13, 2011
by August Aquila

Think of the marketing audit as the foundation for a new home. If it is not constructed properly the home will never be stable and the homeowner will always have problems with the house. A well-done marketing plan can infuse your partners with a common sense of purpose and provide the firm with an acceptable rate of return on its invested marketing dollars.

The audit process is designed to examine a number of areas essential to developing your plans. Areas of focus include the following:

  • Organizational, management and firm issues related to marketing;
  • Owner and employee perceptions;
  • Client-base and market-segmentation trends affecting the key client industries;
  • Competition;
  • Client service;
  • Current marketing activities;
  • Recruiting and training.

With the exception of the first survey, the rest should be completed by those who will have some responsibility for the firm’s marketing efforts. Don’t forget to gather information from your administrative staff, especially your receptionist.

What is the best way to elicit candid and thoughtful responses from firm members? If you guarantee confidentiality, you might receive more candid, possibly even negative, observations. The important thing is to get at the facts and feelings of your people. A second approach is to ask an in-house marketing professional or outside consultant to conduct one-on-one interviews. This is usually more effective as a skilled interviewer can rephrase questions and pursue interesting lines of thought. Hence, you will normally get more information from each participant. A third approach is to bring everyone together in a brainstorming session to discuss the questions on each survey. If you only select this option, make sure you have a skilled facilitator who can keep the discussion focused and ask pertinent open-ended questions. The facilitator needs to draw remarks from everyone in the meeting and prevent any one person from dominating the discussion.

Key Concept

Think of the marketing audit as the foundation for a new home. If it is not constructed properly the home will never be stable and the homeowner will always have problems with the house.

Develop a Marketing Plan

Creating the marketing plan includes three key steps. These steps include:

  • Identifying marketing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats;
  • Developing marketing objectives and strategies; and
  • Developing tactical work plans.

Identifying Marketing Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats

Once the survey instruments have been collected and tabulated, you will be able to identify the firm’s internal strengths and weaknesses, as well as external opportunities and threats. This is referred to as a “SWOT” analysis.

The SWOT analysis should help you identify such items as:

  • The firm’s marketing environment. How prepared are the members of the firm to undertake the marketing initiative?
  • The best markets to go after. There are three aspects of a market that must be considered — its needs, its size and its location.
  • The service and product gaps. Can the firm actually provide the services and fulfill the needs of the market it has identified? If there are gaps, they need to be addressed.
  • Skills and staffing needs. What additional staff and what new skills will the existing staff need in order to serve the market?
  • Pricing and profitability. Each market niche will generate different levels of profitability and pricing levels.
  • How much will the market bear and how efficient can you be in getting the product and service to market?

Once you have your list of key findings, it’s a good idea to present them to all of the key members of the firm for additional comments and feedback. The time you spend in this stage of the process will pay handsome dividends in the future.

Developing Marketing Objectives and Strategies Objectives

Objectives tell you what you must do to implement your strategies. They must be concrete and realistic. They need to spell out what you want to accomplish. No marketing plan, as Bruce W. Marcus has written, can be developed without a clear view of objectives. Objectives need to be measurable, otherwise how will you know when you have accomplished them.

For instance, you could have marketing objectives in any of the following areas:

  • Services develop a new service niche.
  • Clients change the make-up of the existing client base.
  • Employees improve employee communication and listening skills.
  • Internal Processes improve turn-around time for tax returns.
  • Financial grow through acquisitions.
  • Name Recognition increase visibility and name awareness.
  • Financial obtain a return on investment of 15 percent

Each objective needs to be measurable. Once the general objective is set, then you need to determine how the success of that objective will be measured. The following are some examples of measurable objectives:

  • To acquire a two-partner firm with expertise in state and local taxation within the next 18 months;
  • To increase visibility for our estate planning practice, we will present a series of five seminars to two bank trust departments by the end of 20XX;
  • To send 50 percent of our reluctant salespeople through a professional sales training course before the beginning of next year’s tax season;
  • To send Mary Jones, a manager and Kate Wellington, a new partner, to a leadership training program by December 31, 20XX.

Make sure your objectives are relevant and useful by asking the following questions:

  • Can we realistically achieve this objective?
  • Do any obstacles exist that will prevent us from achieving it?
  • Is this objective worth the time and money required to achieve it?
  • Can we measure it?
  • Can we accomplish it in the time allotted?
  • Does it support the firm’s mission?

Remember objectives are not cast in stone. While they act as the foundation for designing your marketing program, you should be prepared to change them as conditions and circumstances change. Finally, to make sure your objectives become everyone’s objectives, involve everyone in the goal-setting process.

Your people need to know how their daily activities are aligned with the goals of the firm. The more your people participate in the building of objectives, the more they will feel a sense of ownership and they will begin to act as champions of a particular objective.

This article has been excerpted from Bull’s-Eye! The Ultimate How-To Marketing & Sales Guide for CPAs.

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August J. Aquila is the CEO of Aquila Global Advisors, LLC, which specializes in succession planning, mergers and acquisitions, compensation plans and strategic planning.