marketing for accountants

Is the Customer Always Right? A Look at a Recent Marketing Sherpa Study on Customer-Focused Marketing

A recent discussion in one of my LinkedIn groups for accountants asked this question as a provocative intro to a study released this past December by Marketing Sherpa. This study posed a series of questions to 2400 individuals, half of whom were queried on companies they were highly satisfied with, and the other half on companies they were highly dissatisfied with.

But first, let’s take a look at the evolution of marketing.

The most basic is product-centric marketing which focuses only on the attributes of a product, without relating those attributes to the needs or desires of the customer.

The next step up is customer-centric marketing, where marketers put themselves in the shoes of a customer in order to sell to them better. Empathy is used to evoke an emotional response.

Next in evolution is customer-focused marketing, where the company is an ally in the customer’s pursuit of their goals, and the long-term interest of the customer is placed above short-term goals of making the sale. The focus is on serving the needs of the customer above all.

To make this concrete, let’s look at how cars might be sold under these three models.

Product-centric — Here are the cars on our lot today. Here are the prices and the models. Do you want to buy one? I can make you a great deal if you decide today!

Customer-centric — I see you have small children. Their safety is your priority. This car has anti-lock brakes, air bags and accident avoidance technology. The traction control means you won’t have trouble driving in winter. You’ll feel safe and confident driving this car. Your children will be safe.

Customer-focused — Our website has a tool that lets you choose the features you care most about so you can compare across all car makes. It also lets you compare costs of owning all the cars. This lets you select the car that’s best for you, even if it’s not ours. And there’s a link that finds all the dealers in town who have that car, so you can pick the one that gives you the best deal, and is closest to where you are.

Which dealer would you rather buy your car from?

Put your customer’s needs first

The Marketing Sherpa study found that “highly satisfied customers say the company’s marketing puts their needs before the company’s business goals more often.” Highly dissatisfied customers said the opposite. Highly satisfied customers also said:

  • I consistently have good experiences with this company
  • It’s easy to do business with this company
  • The company doesn’t always try to sell me but tries to provide value
  • I feel like I have a relationship with this company

Happy customers refer more, and come back more

Keeping customers satisfied leads to more business. The study found that satisfied customers were eight times more likely to refer friends and family, and seven times more likely to continue using a company’s services than dissatisfied customers.


That’s a lot of new and repeat business you didn’t have to spend marketing dollars to get.

Customer-first marketing is a part of everything you do

Customer-first marketing isn’t just about the messaging on your website or in your brochures or in your elevator speech.

It’s about the entire way you interact with clients.

Do you make it easy and enjoyable to do business with you?

Do you provide value that exceeds their expectations?

And, most important, how are you helping them achieve their long-term goals?

The customer isn’t always right

Customer-first marketing is more nuanced than “the customer is always right.” When your firm is committed to helping your clients reach their goals, you’ll help them make decisions that are in their best interest.

You may even call them on poor decisions. You certainly won’t encourage them to indulge in unethical behavior that could get them in trouble down the road. And you’ll help them to be pro-active so that those last minute requests for financials or copies of tax returns don’t happen as often.

A product-centered firm provides a tax return for a client. A customer-centered firm helps the client pay less in taxes this year, and maybe in years to come.

But a customer-first firm looks at the client’s entire financial picture and their long-term goals to help them with business and investing strategies to achieve those goals. Such a firm focuses on educating their clients and prospective clients to empower them to make the best decisions.

Even if the best decision means using a different firm.

Customer-first firms don’t just provide a service. They solve problems for their customers.

As I work with accountants around the world, I’ve had the opportunity to peer inside a broad spectrum of firms.

The product-centered firms can only compete on price. A customer-centered firm can charge more, and may have  long-established relationships with many clients.

But the firms that excite me the most, and make me the most optimistic about the future of accounting against the onslaught of technology, artificial intelligence and off-shoring are the customer-first firms.

Many of these firms embrace technology and create amazing integrated accounting and back-office solutions for their clients. They take the time to truly understand their clients’ businesses, families and dreams for the future.

Some of these firms have scrappy bookkeepers who keep their fingers tight on the pulse of their client’s businesses. And these scrappy bookkeepers don’t hesitate to contact the client when they see something out of the ordinary. Or when they notice an opportunity that might be missed.

But all of them focus on keeping their clients happy and providing exceptional service. They take the time to explain the numbers to their clients. They look at the big picture and consider each business decision in light of their clients’ long-term goals.

Sure, this takes time and extra work. But the study from Marketing Sherpa shows that it can pay off hugely. And wouldn’t you rather be known as a problem-solver than a service provider?