While this may hurt someone at your firm’s feelings, the reality is that CPAs and business and financial advisors are commodity experts. They can be replaced by a client at any time—typically by a less expensive CPA or business or financial expert who promises more special attention at a lower fee.
However, a business advisor who is seen as an advocate – as someone who helps their client accomplish their business and professional goals and objectives – is much less likely to be replaced. Why? Because, their value is framed against a much larger set of benefits. Anyone can be a tax return historian, but when your work is viewed as helping to grow revenue, improve profits and reduce risk while providing business enhancing innovation, clients will see a huge return on their investment, taking you, your service professionals and your firm to “can’t do without” status. And, when someone can’t do without you, they’ll not only reject another firm’s solicitation, they’ll pay a premium fee to keep you at their side.
Secrets to Success
It starts with how the firm and its advisors define their role with a client. As a tax accountant, they likely define their primary responsibility as the person who reviews a company’s files and corporate financial records, files annual tax returns, maintains contact with tax agencies, and holds meetings that are related to taxation and strategy. Oh, and in doing so, I’m sure they no doubt use all of the latest tax methodologies and software tools available, right? But here’s the issue: To a business owner, this is all just nuts and bolts. It’s the commodity stuff—the price of admission. After all, they’re tax accountants! Of course they do this.
Be the CPA Equivalent of Johnny Depp
If your firm and its CPAs want to truly be successful, then their role can’t just be as a one-dimensional tax or audit professional. They must be multifaceted. They need to be the Johnny Depp of CPAs by playing and owning many different roles with their clients. Their job must be to help clients manage their financial assets productively and mitigate risks. They should be a sounding board for new policies and strategies. At the highest level, their job is to help clients achieve growth and profitability.
To do this, they should start by telling the owners, CEOs and/or CFOs they serve that they want to have regularly scheduled breakfasts or lunches every month, or at least quarterly. And they can’t take no for answer. If the client objects or questions the need to meet that often, they should be told, “We do this with all our big, meaningful clients. They all find it to be extremely valuable and time well spent because it helps to identify potentially looming issues or problems. It also serves to uncover and highlight otherwise unseen opportunities.”
What to Discuss Over Lunch
During these lunches, your firm’s CPAs should cover things like the client’s five-year plan (assuming they even have one), their most pressing business challenges or any openings they may have (e.g., controller, sales rep, marketing pro). Knowing and understanding a client’s overarching business goals and needs positions your firm’s CPAs and advisors to help their client in ways they won’t expect but will greatly appreciate. And even though these needs may be outside of a given CPAs area of expertise, don’t worry—they can find solutions by pooling their collective resources and professional networks, as well as those of the firm, to help resolve their needs.
Another way to demonstrate the value of these meetings is by sharing issues seen through interactions with others in the client’s company. If you can provide information about the organization that goes unnoticed by other CPA firms because they are not close enough to the business, then that’s a game changer for most business owners when evaluating their outsourced advisory team.
Last, share best insights and practices learned from other clients.
After just a few of these meetings, clients will become addicted to the value and insight they are receiving. They will love the interaction, and your firm’s CPAs will be able to use these meetings to really learn about their clients’ goal and priorities.
All exchanges should be framed in the context of the client’s big picture goals—innovation, growth and profitability. You don’t want them to see the corporate tax return as a necessary evil or the firm/CPA as a one-trick pony. Instead, the objective is to be viewed as a strategic business partner that not only does a fantastic job each year getting their corporate return done smoothly and without complications, but as a “can’t live without” business advisor that proactively helps them achieve their business goals and objectives.
The more it can be demonstrated and recognized that the firm and its CPAs are helping to improve a client’s business, the more frequently that client will not only reach out for additional services, but refer business your firm’s way.
Do you have questions about building strong relationships with clients and prospects, or other marketing challenges? Please contact Jonathan Ebenstein at (440) 449-6800 or email Jonathan.