Capstone Conversation With Korby Boswell 2022
Hello, this is Jean Caragher, president of Capstone Marketing. I am so happy to be talking today with Korby Boswell, the Senior Marketing and Growth Specialist at Adams Brown, who was recently named the Association for Accounting Marketing Volunteer of the Year.
Download the PDF of the Capstone Conversation With Korby Boswell – 2022
Hello, this is Jean Caragher, president of Capstone Marketing. I am so happy to be talking today with Korby Boswell, the Senior Marketing and Growth Specialist at Adams Brown, who was recently named the Association for Accounting Marketing Volunteer of the Year.
Korby joined AAM in 2017. He is the Chair of AAM’s Member Growth Committee. Korby also plays a vital role in the AAM Circles. Lots of folks know about those now, those communities of marketers with similar interests or skills or perhaps geographic area. He has been active in ensuring the 27 Circles – and I think there might be even more than that at this point – and their leaders have the resources and support they need, which has resulted in 235 members participating in a Circle. That is amazing. Korby, congratulations on being named Volunteer of the Year.
Korby: Thank you, Jean. Wow, that was quite the intro. Thank you very much.
Jean: You’re welcome. A lot goes into AAM, and of course, AAM lives by its volunteers. So, to come up with a number of over 200 members participating in at least one Circle, that’s incredible. Whoever’s idea it was is fantastic, because clearly there was a need. Could you share with us a little bit more about those Circles and how they came about?
Korby: Yeah, so circles, I think were a brainchild of Christian Moises and Mitch Reno. They kind of birthed it. And then they said, “Hey, Korby, are you interested in helping?” and talked me into it. It’s been an awesome experience. Circles, just like you said, they’re small groups of people with a common interest. When they first started, we sent out a form and we said, “Hey, what are you interested in, tell us a little bit about how big your firm is, what your firm does, what your role is,” all those things so we could group people together kind of similarly. The cool thing about Circles is there’s no right or wrong answer to do them. We have Circles with three, four or five people, we have a circle with 15 or 20 people. I was on a call yesterday, and there’s a Circle of HubSpot people. I think it’s something like close to 30.
Jean: I’m part of that group.
Korby: I was going to say you either spoke to them, or you’re part of that group. And they’re organic. People can come and go as they please, and we do try to track attendance just so we can show who is participating and which groups they’re part of. But it all comes down to the awesome Circle leaders. We have a dedicated group of you’re right, I think there’s 27, 28, 29 different Circles. There’s a person who leads the charge on each of those 27, 28 or 29 different groups and that looks different in different Circles. In some, they might facilitate the conversation every month, if they meet monthly or every two months. If they meet every two months, they might delegate that out. Everybody in the Circle has a turn throughout the year where they did some research and drive some sort of a conversation or maybe they’re just asking questions and keeping the conversation going.
Some of them bring in outside speakers, but they’re that opportunity for people to connect virtually. For me, I don’t live very close to any other AAM members. It’s cool to be able to connect virtually if there’s not really chapters. These are almost like virtual chapters for people with a common interest. If you’re a marketing director in a firm of $50 million or more, there’s a group out there for you to connect with and share best practices. I think that’s what people have enjoyed the most is, let’s learn from each other. They’re super collaborative and open to sharing. I think the accounting industry is in general. There’s a lot to learn from one another. So, the group that birthed this, it certainly met the need.
“So, anyone listening, if you would like to join a Circle, or if you would like to lead a Circle, there’s certainly opportunity.”
The other cool thing I’ll mention about Circles is that they are so organic. In the last three, four or five months, there have been some other Circles that have popped out of the woodwork and said, “Hey, you know, we should have one dedicated to tax marketing.” So, we have one called All Things Tax with six or 8 or 10 people in it now and they spend their time talking about marketing tax services. There’s a group that’s just starting dedicated to public speaking. I don’t know if it’s going to be quite Toastmasters-like, but the Circle is going to decide what that looks like. They’re going to help each other become better at public speaking and maybe even train themselves on how to train others how to become better public speakers, which is kind of cool. There’s one about driving positive change, I think it’s called that or some version of that. Then, I think there’s kind of a sustainability-esque Circle out there, too. So, anyone listening, if you would like to join a Circle, or if you would like to lead a Circle, there’s certainly opportunity. AAM has close to 900 members, I believe. We’re happy with the 200 and some that are currently in Circles, but there’s room to grow. So, get on the AAM website if you’re interested in learning more.
Jean: Very good plug, Korby, for the Circle.
Korby: Use the platform while we have it. That’s right, Jean.
Jean: Do you know how much the pandemic played into forming these Circles? Or was it the realization that, hey, we have this great ability now to meet virtually, why don’t we figure out how to make that work?
Korby: I’m sure it played a part. I’m speculating here a little bit, but I’m sure it played a part. I think they were probably thought of in 2020. Then, we really executed them in 2021, which is when, the pandemic is still here, right? It’s not totally gone away, but things are morphing a little bit. They did begin in a time where a lot of people were still working from home, the conference was still at the time when we launched them, I think the conference could only have something like 50 or 100 people there in person. So, this did give people the ability to connect with other accounting marketers in a virtual way, and still get something meaningful from it.
Jean: I think it’s fantastic. As I mentioned, I am part of that HubSpot Circle. To meet some of those members live was great. I’m sure everybody had the same experience. Circle or not. I’ve seen your face on my computer screen for two years now and it’s great to meet you in person. Kudos, and thank you for all the hard work on the Circles.
Korby: The HubSpot Circle is a cool example, too. When we first sent out the survey of what kind of Circle are you interested in, there was just a few comments in the ‘what other comments do you have’ open text field and it said, “We’d love to see one for HubSpot.” It was like two or three comments. That group has grown from those two or three people who said they wanted to be part of it initially to something like 25 or 30. It has been an organic grassroots effort. I want to be a fly on the wall in that Circle. It sounds like a cool one.
Jean: There you go. So Korby, you are an AAM success story. You joined your firm, you joined AAM, you dove in, you won Rookie of the Year. As we’ve just talked about winning this Volunteer of the Year Award, you took this opportunity, and you just embraced it.
As I mentioned, Korby and I did have a Capstone Conversation in 2019 after he won the Rookie of the Year. You can find that at capstonemarketing.com. At that point, Korby, in 2019, your title was marketing and growth specialist, and your firm’s name was Adams Brown, Beran and Ball, which you referred to as ABBB. Things have changed a lot since we’ve talked in 2019, right? You have a different title, and a different firm name and brand. Tell us, how did that all come about?
Korby: It’s been a busy few years, Jean. Yeah, it really has. In 2020, we were changing entity structure. That kind of sprung a rebrand need for something we’ve talked about the entire time I’ve worked here is we’re going to rebrand. Our name is really long, people don’t know what to call us. There’s so many Bs, is it three, is it five, is it two, you know, nobody ever had the right number of Bs. The timing was right, given our entity structure change and kind of a reorganization that was happening. I was really hired to help the firm specialize by service line and industry. We worked with the consultants who helped us, but that’s kind of where I came in was to help support that initiative.
“We knew the time was right to reevaluate our brand, which was a little bit dated at the time. I feel much more modern now.”
Coupled with the reorg that was happening, we were putting the pieces in place. We knew the time was right to reevaluate our brand, which was a little bit dated at the time. I feel much more modern now. That was a really interesting kind of year-long process of let’s ask our clients and prospects, let’s do data analysis to see how do people refer to us, what do people call us? I was sitting in a focus group. We asked…we had a survey, too, but the focus group really confirmed it for me. I think it was a man in the room. He was like, “I always just call your Adams Brown anyway, because I don’t know the whole name.” So, rather than come up with a different name we stuck with, well, this is what people call us. Let’s go to market as what people call us. It’s pronounceable. It’s memorable. It’s all these things. So, that data analysis exercise was really interesting there.
A lot’s happened with the rebrand and then I hired my first teammate here about a year ago, a little over a year ago and she accepted a new job recently, which is kind of a bummer, but I have a new teammate joining here in a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to building out our marketing department a little bit more internally than we have in the past. The winds of change are pushing us in the right direction.
Jean: That’s awesome. It seems like you’re approaching all of this very thoughtfully. I’m sure that when it comes to hiring team members, you’ve given some thought about exactly what you need a person to do, as opposed to just getting everybody on board.
Jean: We touched upon COVID a little bit when we were talking about the Circles. Through this crisis – I don’t know that I’d refer to it as a crisis anymore, but it’s still kind of lurking out there, right? The pandemic still comes into play. Tell me what you have learned about yourself and others in your firm that is going to benefit you in the future?
“…don’t let the fear of trying to make it perfect keep you from doing what needs to be done.”
Korby: I took some notes, Jean, I know you sent me some questions in advance. I was like, I better think about what I want to say here. I have some decent answers for today’s interview. I think COVID taught us that there’s not always a clear right answer. There’s kind of a gray area. It’s okay to try things even if they don’t always work. I think that’s what it really taught me, and I hope it taught some other marketers too, is don’t let the fear of trying to make it perfect keep you from doing what needs to be done.
Perfect examples before COVID, we have never done any webinars. I think there are some other firms who hadn’t done any webinars pre-COVID, either. On our first webinar, I think it was two days after the CARES Act passed or three, we had 800 people attend our webinar. We did not know what we were doing very well, but we figured it out. We had some stumbles, and we fixed them along the way. There’s certainly opportunity to take a chance. Webinars are not that risky, but call it a risk, if you will, to help benefit your firm and your clients. I think it was a real time, COVID-wise and beyond, is a real time for marketing departments to step up and lead the charge of their firm, because marketing is more than running a website or graphic design. It’s all of these things. It’s a strategic growth driver at your firm.
Jean: Absolutely. If there was ever a time for accounting marketers to shine and show what they are able to do and contribute, it has been during this pandemic. I have to believe that there are partners within firms that perhaps didn’t understand what their marketers were doing, or what they were contributing, and the marketers over these past two years have shown them exactly what they bring to the table. It’s too bad it took a pandemic for some. On the positive note, I believe it was really an education for a lot of partners, which we can all take as very much of a positive result.
Korby: It was kind of a perfect storm to it, it was a perfect reason to throw the rules out the window, right? To maybe have some internal workings to work through. If it’s brand new, you’re setting the stage for here’s how this works. You can cut through some of that minutiae. You need some of those controls and checks in place, of course, but it’s a perfect reason to eat that elephant one bite at a time, take a bite, and let’s go. There’s no other option.
“You need some of those controls and checks in place, of course, but it’s a perfect reason to eat that elephant one bite at a time, take a bite, and let’s go. There’s no other option.”
Jean: Everybody has learned new technologies. I used to use Adobe Connect all the time. This pandemic came, and I realized what Adobe Connect was not able to do. It was turn around, get to learn Zoom and how that works, or Teams. We really just had to bounce back. We showed ourselves what we could do, with very little time or notice, what’s possible, right?
When we spoke in 2019, I asked you about the greatest challenge of marketing CPA firms. Now you have a few more years experience under your belt for your response that in 2019, you talked about technology, and the use of technology and marketing automation, and to really be able to pay attention to that and utilize the technology that was available. When I ask you now, what the greatest challenge in marketing CPA firms is, would that still be your response, technology, or has something else changed?
Korby: You know, I think that was kudos to me, I think that was a good response. In 2019, and I think it is still relevant today. Technology is something we all battle with. We’re getting ready to launch a couple initiatives here this summer related to technology, so it’s still alive and well. We’re taking some more action than maybe we were in 2019, which is exciting.
As I was thinking about this interview, a couple of different thoughts came to mind, in this post-pandemic world and the great resignation, I should say. I think it’s staffing, staffing in the marketing department and staffing in the professional side of the firm, too. Coming out of Summit, I heard some firms talking about, do we stop marketing because we want to support the work that we have today? Or do we keep going and fear that we can’t support the work that we may pick up along the way?
Every firm is trying to balance out what that looks like. I don’t think it’s that time to let off the gas just yet. So, I think marketing’s biggest challenge right now is helping them recruiting kind of a new world, for some of us that aren’t as focused on recruiting these days. Then, I think the ongoing challenge to think beyond the billable hour, and to think beyond tax and think of it as an advisor. I’ll put a plug for strategic allies here as well. Part of our new brand of being more than we see you at tax season, there’s a lot of opportunity to be that advisor or a strategic ally to clients out there. It’s a work in progress. I think every firm is making progress there, but it’s a hard ship to turn after heading in a direction for the last however many years.
Jean: I can tell you, Korby, the profession has been having that true advisor conversation for the past 30 years. Again, maybe that’s something that the pandemic brings us, making that more front and center, and firm leadership being more proactive in making that happen and utilizing the tools and programs that can help them be true advisors, as opposed to accountants. I’m not downplaying what accountants do. Let’s face it, the world needs accountants and CPAs.
You touched on pricing. There’s a lot of ways that these big issues can be addressed. But you’re right, it’s a big ship, and when you’re asking people to change the way they’ve done things forever, that’s a big ask. It’s possible, but it’s a big ask.
Korby: I think technology is kind of the undertone and all of the above, right? Technology can help in recruiting, it can help in pricing, it can help in what are we selling to clients, and where we truly being an advisor, so we can replicate that model elsewhere. If I had to go back and do it all again, maybe I would have studied IT, but that’s okay.
Jean: And data analytics and all that, right? That’s a big deal. So, your network has expanded also in the course of these years since we last had our conversation, but I’ll ask you again about the factors or skills that make accounting marketers successful. In 2019, you talked about the need for accounting marketers to be flexible and being able to prioritize what they do. You even used the words, which fire should you put out first. I used that quote as part of my presentation at Summit in the Rookie Workshop because marketers have worked like that for a long time. Some still are. It’s really important to prioritize, and to really just to own what they do. What are your thoughts today?
“I think project management is really important… It’s about driving a project, driving the outcome, overcoming the hurdles along the way.”
Korby: I think those still remain true. I think maybe a bigger bucket to put some of those in would be… I think project management is really important. Being organized, yes, but it’s more than being organized. It’s about driving a project, driving the outcome, overcoming the hurdles along the way. It’s something I’m taking some classes on project management and working on a credential for. I have not finished. I’ve had some other bumps in the road that have kept me from finishing it, but it’s still on my to-do list. As I was thinking about this interview, I think project management is something that accounting marketers can really take and own. The beauty of project management is you don’t have to know all the answers, but if you ask the right questions, you can still get there, and you don’t have to necessarily know every answer to every question.
Coupled with that, I think the other piece is having a research mindset and a willingness to explore. If COVID taught us anything, it’s that we don’t know everything. There are answers out there, and all you have to do is ask or research or Google or whatever it is. You can find it and make educated decisions. If you stumble, adjust after you land kind of thing, and then keep moving down the road.
Then, the third thing that I think people need is good interpersonal communication skills and relationship building skills in your firms. Externally, knowing people and being involved in AAM is incredibly important. A lot of my good ideas come from AAM from other members. I’m not coming up with them in a vacuum. So, the credit certainly goes to AAM and to its members for being collaborative and open to sharing. Then, being able to bring that back to your firm and have good relationships with your partners and leaders of the firm to make it happen, to pull it together and project manage it over the finish line.
“A lot of my good ideas come from AAM from other members. I’m not coming up with them in a vacuum.”
Jean: I know that both of us love AAM. It has been a very sharing, collaborative environment right from the beginning, most members are more than willing to share ideas or resources or templates, or whatever it might be. All of us can be really proud about that, the culture that all of us have created for the organization.
I loved your response about doing the research and learning more. I’ve done a lot of these conversations, and, on many occasions, I will get the feedback that accounting marketers need to be curious. That’s exactly what you were talking about, be curious about things and want to learn more about things, dig into it. Also, not to jump to become experts on topics but, if there’s an initiative you’re working on, really delve into it, talk to other people, to be able to make your pitch on it. That’s another commonality that’s run through over all these years.
Korby: I like that. Be curious. Be an inquisitive mind.
Jean: Tell us which of your personal skills do you think contributes the most to your success? This time, I’m not going to tell you what your response was. I’m going to let you answer this, and then we’ll see how it may have changed or not. How’s that?
Korby: That’s okay because I don’t think I remember what I said last time. It’s been a little while. I think it comes back to the similar two factors. I think it’s being able to research and being curious, right, there’s an answer out there, you just have to figure it out, put the puzzle together, if you will. Then, I think being organized and that project management component. I use a project management software. I flag emails in my inbox. I have sticky notes and lists on my desk, but keeping track of what’s happening, and taking copious notes so you can remember in a week, because a lot of stuff has happened in the last week, helps keep you organized. It helps keep you in a place where you can prioritize because any accounting marketer has probably more to do than they have time for. So, going back to that comment from 2019, about which fire to put out first, that’s kind of your single source of truth. You need some way to decipher where should I be focusing my time? If you don’t know, ask somebody. Somebody might have an answer for you.
You can’t do it all, and don’t hold yourself to that standard, either, because you’ll go crazy if you do.
“You can’t do it all, and don’t hold yourself to that standard, either, because you’ll go crazy if you do.”
Jean: Absolutely. Are you willing to tell us what project management software you’re using?
Korby: I use Asana. I like it for a lot of reasons. It has some interesting views on the data. You can see how many things have been completed. There’s a collaboration component to it that I like. I work with some kind of outsourced pseudo teammates, and I can assign the things to them even if they don’t have an account in my org, as action items, or to-do items before we meet again in a week or two kind of thing, which is cool. It’s a nice view of here’s all the things and you can label things and color code, so you know that these to-dos relate to such and such a webinar, or these to-dos relate to content marketing. I think it’s very similar to Trello or monday.com. I think I demoed both of those before I picked Asana. The nice thing about Asana too, since like, none of them are super expensive. I think I pay for a couple users; I think it’s maybe like $200 a year or something. Well worth the investment.
Jean: Your answer in 2019 for your personal skill was your willingness to listen.
Korby: Interesting, 2019 Korby. Interesting
Jean: Being willing and able to learn. You’ve touched on that again, so that remains important. That’s a common theme here.
Tell me what your best piece of advice would be for accounting marketers. In 2019, you said that accounting marketers need to be their own biggest fan and to build that team or network to be able to support you and bounce ideas off of, and we’ve touched on that, too. Any different piece of advice for the marketers?
Korby: I think it’s a quote from Eric Majchrzak at Summit, not the most recent Summit, but maybe two years ago. It was the virtual, it was during COVID. I think he closed the conference, or he’s ending keynote or something.
Jean: Yes. He and Mitch. Oh my gosh, that was a double whammy. That was amazing.
Korby: There was a quote in there that said, “Marketing’s currency is qualified leads.” I have that on a sticky note here on my desk. It’s easy to lose track of stuff in the whirlwind or with all the fires going on, but that’s where our currency is in qualified leads. I joke that people look at you different if you call them and say, “Hey, I have a $50,000 opportunity, can you call them today?” As marketers look to build their careers and advocate for themselves and get that seat at the table and become leaders, I think it’s through qualified leads. I think it’s that continual message that marketing is more than trinkets and pretty things. It’s so much more than that. It’s easy to get pigeonholed as one of those party planners, and not that those things aren’t important and valuable, but there’s so much more that goes to it. If you can bring that strategic edge to the conversation, it helps elevate you.
Jean: We’ll flip it around. What would be your best piece of advice for managing partners?
Korby: This was a hard one. I really like my managing partner. He’s behind this wall here. Actually, he’s got a conference today, but we share a wall.
Jean: We talked about that last time. The positioning of your office is ideal because you’re right there. Top of mind, that’s awesome.
Korby: Peep my head in there when needed. He’ll peep his head in, too. I have a couple pieces of advice for managing partners. The first would be to trust your marketers. I think there are some firms that maybe are less trusting. I’m fortunate to have the trust of my partners and our managing partner, within reason, to act on the best interests of the firm. So, trust is one.
“…managing partners are crucial in advocating for the importance of content marketing, and that educational stance to marketing.”
A second one is managing partners are crucial in advocating for the importance of content marketing, and that educational stance to marketing. I was talking to somebody earlier this morning, I feel really fortunate pretty much nobody will tell me no to writing an article, especially if you line them up with a ghostwriter. If you say, “I’ll interview you,” or whatever you need to do to get them to say yes, but my firm is beginning to see the importance of it. They’re seeing web leads come from content marketing, and they’re sending their own articles to their clients.
So, the winds of change, I think they’re really, really important. We’re headed in the right direction here. We’re not all the way there, but I think the leadership team and the managing partner can have a huge impact in the success of the content marketing program.
Then, my final piece of advice would be to remain in lockstep about how and where you want to grow. Growth sounds easy, but it’s hard to be everything to everyone. Pick and choose what’s the focus for the next three months, six months, 12 months, whatever it is, and then put a plan together to get there. It takes that collaboration with the leaders of your firm to really zone in on that strategic growth, something that was talked about at Summit a lot this year. Where’s the best place for you to grow?
Jean: Korby, that is a fantastic point because earlier on, we were talking about how firms have so much business and more marketers are focusing on taking care of current clients and helping with recruiting and firms are shying away from obtaining more new clients or new revenue. When you do that strategically, you could also keep in mind which clients you shouldn’t be working with any longer and right sizing that client base. You’re right. It’s not just let’s grow like however it could be, it’s okay, we want to grow but in which areas and how quickly or slowly, specifically like how we are going to do that.
Korby: I think every firm, and myself included, we’re still learning that not every opportunity is a good opportunity, even if it looks incredible. There are reasons to say no to opportunities even if it’s the shiny car that came across your desk today. Not every opportunity, not every client is a good fit for your firm. Something that we can all continue to refine and hone in on.
Jean: I would add that in 2019 your response was about encouraging managing partners to think of marking more as an investment as opposed to an expense. It’s an investment in the firm’s reputation and financial health moving forward. There are commonalities there, too, and you’re seeing it coming out in different ways.
Korby: I would agree. It is an investment. It takes marketing to get you there.
Jean: Korby, it is wonderful to see your progression in the profession. We’re thrilled to have you here. As I said before, you’re a marketing success story of how you can join a firm, dive in at AAM, build that network and really learn and grow. Kudos about all of that.
We’ve been talking today with Korby Boswell, the Senior Marketing and Growth Specialist at Adams Brown, who was recently named AAM’s Volunteer of the Year. Korby, congratulations again on the award. It’s very well deserved.
Korby: Thank you very much, Jean, and thanks for having me. This has been fun.