How to Make Your Clients Love Your Firm
As we work on meeting and pricing the leads coming into our firm, we hear a consistent message from potential new clients: “My accounting firm is technically sound, but they just aren’t proactively giving us the tools we need to run our business.”
In one sense, I’m proud of our profession that produces technically sound firms and individuals who truly care about their clients. Our profession is full of smart people doing really smart things. But that’s just not enough.
Clients are firing accounting firms because small businesses want more than just technical services—we need to make sure we aren’t left behind.
What Small Business Clients Really Need
1. Proactive Services
I believe the small business community wants to be led by their accounting firm. I just heard this from a potential client this week: “My CPA is really good, and nice, but I don’t know what I don’t know.”
Small business owners are busy building their companies, so they really need a smart firm to take over the parts of their business they can’t manage (and don’t want to manage). Small business owners need a leader to say, “I think this could help you.”
Clients will often tell you their needs, but we should be selling them on wants. Needs are the commodities, while wants are the dreams. Every client would rather buy wants than needs.
How to do this: One way to be proactive is to sell things to clients they never asked for. That’s what leadership is all about. As the leaders of small businesses, accounting firms know best what a small business needs—let’s take action by guiding the client in the right direction. And we can do this by asking probing questions. What services do they need as a potential client? Here are some great things to ask:
- Why are you looking for a new financial/accounting partner now? What has changed in your life to make you start looking for a new relationship?
- Can you describe what your company will look like a year from now? How big, and how fast, do you want to grow?
- How do you invest in yourself? In your team? In your company?
- What keeps you up at night?
- What gets you up in the morning?
- What have you valued about past relationships with financial partners/accounting firms?
- Why can’t you solve these issues on your own?
- Did we talk about all the important things? What other questions should I have asked?
2. Financial Teaching & Education
Small businesses want help to grow. And there are locked-up stories, ideas, and new learning in the financial statements of our clients’ businesses.
We should be selling ‘Financial Presentation Meetings’ in our services. Our clients want to be in the room with us and hear us go through their financial statements with them. They might not completely understand them, and our education could provide them with a more solid footing for their business decisions.
How to do this: In our firm, we have a few important maxims that help us share the financial information with clients:
- Summarize financial information. Solutions and growth are found in the big picture (not the details), so summarize the client’s P&L to 10 to 15 lines (depending on the complexity of the client).
- Share financial information in context. We always present financial periods beside other financial periods. This brings the needed context for a small business owner to understand why January looks different than December, and what we think February might look like.
- Show trends in financial information. This is also related to context. We like to show the client’s financial statements with multiple periods shown side by side. During the meeting, we browse through the trends to see if key revenue and expenses are trending up, down, or skewed in some way over time. Just talking through what we see allows the client to understand how we interpret financial information from a big picture level.
- Ask the client about their financial information. As accounting firm owners, we often think the client should be asking us questions when we present their financials. Not true. We are the leaders. So let’s turn that around and ask them why their ‘Cost of Goods’ was 15% higher than last month. Or ask them why their revenue is trending up over the last 7 months. The sheer act of answering these questions will help these small business owners grow in their knowledge of how financials depict the activity of their company.
3. Technology Setup and Support
In today’s landscape, all small business clients have to use technology to run their companies. And I believe accounting firms should sell and teach how to use these tools effectively. As you are selling to new clients, technology should be a part of what you are discussing. Technology can help clients do things more efficiently, while at the same time offloading the burden of running their company onto the shoulders of the accounting firm (which they will gladly pay you to do).
How to do this: We have a few products that our firm has grown to love and use as part of our core Technology Stack. They come in three parts:
- The first technology tool we prefer our clients to use is a cloud-based accounting system (in fact, since we are a virtual firm, cloud tools are required to work with us). A tool like QuickBooks Online is a great choice.
- The second tool is a paper capture/bill pay system like Bill.com. We’ve been using Bill.com for many years for our own firm, and this product allows us to take over the bill pay/document management of our client.
- The third tool is a payroll product, and we’ve been using Gusto for a while now and really like the support.
Your clients can love your firm—but it may take adjusting how you’ve always done things. Use the tips above to start becoming the firm your clients have always wanted.