Welcome back to Part II of this blog series—focused on helping you develop technology advisory services in your firm. If you recall from Part I, Clayton Oates, Chief Solutions Officer at QA Business and our most recent guest expert for the Accountant Entrepreneur series, delved into the perceived threats and opportunities of offering this type of service...as well as provided a shortlist of to-do’s to assist you in getting started.
This week we close the gap by offering best practices on selecting vendors, vetting solutions and avoiding common pitfalls. Let’s get right to it!
Best practices for selecting vendors
As we launch into best practices, it’s important to note that the first is as easy as they come—building relationships! This is what accounting professionals were born to do...what you do day in and day out. Accounting is a relationship-based business, meaning you are one step ahead as you move forward with technology vendors.
There are, of course, other best practices critical to the process. Consider each offered by Oates:
Commit to building strong, collaborative relationships with vendors—Remember, you are playing the long game, so take your time getting to know multiple vendors. This allows you to better understand what’s out there for clients and develop long-lasting partnerships that are cross-beneficial.
Adopt a 3-2-1 mindset—Scope the market for the top three vendors for each solution type within your model. Master the first two and maintain a third in the background. This enables you to be a true resource for clients looking for your opinion on the best available options. Oates said of the 3-2-1 mindset, “When you familiarize yourself with more than one solution, you become a more informed resource for your clients and can select the solution that is the best fit for each client, instead of just pulling a single go-to solution out of the top drawer.”
Understand your market level—Before you move forward with identifying vendors, make sure you understand the market level you wish to serve. For example, is it small or mid-range? If it’s mid-range, the technology requirements will be different than those of a small business.
Understand your niches—If you are specialized, understand the technology needs of your specific niches and then seek technologies to support those unique requirements. For example, if you support the manufacturing industry, you will need to vet products that handle inventory.
Your short guide to interviewing vendors
After identifying vendors to be part of your technology advisory model, vetting each is the next step—which you will do, in part, by conducting structured interviews. But, what questions do you ask? What information do you need to collect?
The following guide offers the basics of interviewing vendors to collect the information you need:
Get the backstory—Find out why they developed their product in the first place. What problems did they set out to solve? Who are their ideal clients (those they developed the solution for)? When you have a good understanding of the vendor’s backstory, you get a sense of the type of partner they will be and if they have what it takes to solve your clients’ needs.
Understand shared values—In our firms, we tend to attract clients that share our core values. The same is true for clients of technology vendors. So, ask what those values are and determine if the vendor is a good fit based on this information. Clayton Oates affirmed, “We often attract clients that hold similar shared values...these are the clients that we tend to relate best to, and who relate best to us. That’s what you want in your vendor partnerships as well.”
“We often attract clients that hold similar shared values...these are the clients that we tend to relate best to, and who relate best to us. That’s what you want in your vendor partnerships as well.”
- Clayton Oates
Confirm a sustainable business model—Is the vendor’s business model sustainable? Will the vendor be around in 5, 10 or 15 years? This is where you will determine the long-term relevance of the solution to your clients. To the best of your ability, assess the relevance to the market now and in the foreseeable future. As accountants, you know the in’s and out’s of a sound business model. Put this expertise to use during the discovery and interviewing phase.
“Does the vendor have a sustainable business model? We are accountants, so we should be able to assess this easily because it’s part of our everyday work life,” said Oates.
“Does the vendor have a sustainable business model? We are accountants, so we should be able to assess this easily because it’s part of our everyday work life.”
- Clayton Oates
Confirm the vendor’s reach—Does the vendor serve your existing and future client base? For example, if the vendor specializes in advanced inventory software, but you are unlikely to build a base of clients that have inventory, this vendor is not the right fit for your model. Be sure to identify vendors with a reach into your main client base.
Understand the shared benefits—This will determine if you can actually serve as a partner with the vendor. Will the partnership be collaborative (give and take of information and support)? Is there any opportunity to cross educate (vendor educates you on solution while firm educates vendor on client needs)? Is there a revenue share model for onboarding new clients? The goal is to be a partner, not just a market channel.
Ultimately, the discovery phase of vendor selection provides you with deeper insight into what vendors can offer both your firm (in terms of a partnership) and your clients.
Avoiding common pitfalls
As you enter the technology stack advisory space, be aware of a few common pitfalls—and more importantly, how to avoid them. Essentially, the goal here is to maintain a steady focus as you advance with your vendor partnerships and roll out services to your clients.
Don’t give up control—When working with partner vendors, always remember that your clients are your primary concern. Work with vendors to improve solutions as your clients’ needs change. You are driving the bus!
Stay client-centric—This is supported when work you maintain control. Continue to ask your clients questions about their solution needs and inquire about any technology issues that you can relay to vendors.
Invest in continuous learning—Never stop educating yourself on the technologies within your model. The more expertise you build, the bigger an asset you are to your clients.
Think through your pricing model—Be sure that you have the right pricing model in place before you go to market. It’s a lot harder to change pricing after-the-fact...clients don’t tend to like that.
Maintain open communications—Keep the door open to feedback in all directions. Listen to your clients and relay their issues to vendors in a diplomatic way. Be ready to listen to vendor feedback as well in terms of technology best practices that you can share with clients.
Prepare for change—Firms must remain flexible and navigate change as it comes up. Clients’ needs will change. Technology will change. If you stay current on change, you can serve your clients in a proactive manner.
Learn. Do. Educate.
When you consider client needs and the value of the service, getting into the technology advisory space isn’t so much a matter of “if,” but “when.” Technology is at the heart of most well-run enterprises—at the core of a sound business model—so it makes sense that firms would extend advisory support into this area.
While technology can be intimidating, the fact is that your firm is surrounded by it every day, and you know better than anyone what solutions belong in a client’s technology stack. The next step is to extend your reach into the larger app world, beyond tax and accounting solutions, to identify the technologies that will further help make your clients’ lives better—such as CRM, payroll, point of sale and more.
It’s time to learn, do and educate:
Learn—Identify the solutions needed to fill the gaps in your clients’ technology infrastructures and learn as much as you can about your top picks. Follow the 3-2-1 method here: identify the top three solutions, master two and keep one in your back pocket.
Do—Perform your due diligence. Vet products thoroughly, build relationships with vendors and create a continuous feedback loop to turn vendor relationships into true partnerships.
Educate—Educate and advise your clients on the solutions that are best fits, and continue to be their primary point of contact for support on these solutions moving forward.
Take the time to learn more about how you can master technology stack advisory services and tap into this lucrative revenue stream while deepening your connection with your clients.
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