5 Forward-thinking Client Solutions for CPAs
As with any service-oriented profession, it is considered a best practice for accountants to stay in touch with clients and provide solutions to their most pressing problems. CPAs can do this in a number of forward-thinking ways, even when their assistance doesn’t necessarily fall within the realm of services the firm provides.
For example, last summer, my firm, Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman staged a learning and networking event in partnership with the president of a not-for-profit industry group that was driving significant change within not-for-profit business operations. The area of change did not have anything to do with the audit or accounting services our professionals provide to hundreds of nonprofits annually. Rather, the purpose was to help not-for-profits face an emerging industry issue--one for which we had the right connections to allow for an informative and helpful session.
Not surprisingly, more than twice the usual number of clients and friends attended the event, including several from prominent not-for-profits we had never met before. Our audit and accounting events always bring a respectable number of participants, but this event delivered more because our approach meant caring less about whether the topic was a fit for our firm and more about whether it simply provided helpful information about a pressing industry need.
What can your firm do to develop a successful, forward-thinking approach to client engagement and problem-solving? Here are five ideas for your consideration.
1) Cultivate relationships with other high-quality providers serving the industries your firm serves.
Get to know other service providers in your industry. When clients present concerns that fall outside the scope of audit or accounting issues, introduce them to another professional who can help with their problem. The connection you make delivers value to the client relationship even if you are not directly providing the service. Just make sure you are confident in the level of service offered by those other providers.
2) Have access to knowledgeable industry speakers.
Like the scenario I mentioned above at our firm, make sure you have a relationship with or can reach out to well-respected leaders with a recognized presence in their field or industry. Partner with them to build events around a core concern. Such leaders don’t have to be known on a national level, though that can help. In the digital age, a recognized influencer in a well-trafficked industry LinkedIn group or on Twitter can often serve just as well.
3) Use your sales techniques to uncover needs clients don’t know to ask you about.
Many clients may not think to mention non-accounting-related problems even if they are sitting with their favorite CPA over lunch or coffee. But accountants who ask questions--generally considered a sales technique--can usually find out what is on clients’ minds. People don’t segment accounting problems from life problems from work problems. All problems are emotionally unpleasant and tend to be thought of collectively. If you recognize you’re talking to more than a client--you’re talking to a human--you can, with enough inquisitiveness and the ability to listen, often find out what is occupying their thoughts and try to help.
4) Make sure your clients knows all the services your firm offers.
When a client has an established relationship with an accounting firm, the client thinks about that firm primarily in terms of the service they are paying for right now and the accountant providing that service. And so a client may not even think about asking their favorite accountant if their firm delivers another kind of service because the client already feels they “know” the firm. It is the accountant’s job to proactively highlight other offerings, not in a sales-like way, such as “we offer this or that.” The most meaningful way to communicate the existence of those services is in context of uncovering client concerns. Serving a client never starts with an accounting firm’s services, it starts with someone’s problems. Uncover those problems and then offer solutions your firm provides.
5) Keep an ear to the ground.
Being genuinely involved and interested in the client industry is part of what it means to keep an ear to the ground. Read trade publications, religiously read industry leading blogs and participate in industry-specific LinkedIn groups to find out what people are just starting to talk about. Your clients may not be worried about issues that will affect them one, two, or even three years from now. They’ve got too much on their plates right at the moment. But if you know about a challenge they will have to face in the future and can offer a “bridge over troubled water” now before they even need it, they’ll be impressed that their accountant is a problem solver. Not only that, they may even perceive you as cutting-edge and visionary, and that makes for a very happy and secure client.
One of the best things an accountant can hear from a client is: “I didn’t know you could help us with that!” A client that says that is the kind of client who will talk to friends and industry colleagues about their awesome accountant.
If you’re looking for other forward-thinking ways to better serve your clients, check out the AICPA’s Private Companies Practice Section Practice Growth and Client Service Center. You might also consider attending the Practitioner’s Symposium and TECH+ Conference June 7-10, where the AICPA, the Association for Accounting Marketing and the Association for Accounting Administration will converge for a unique practice management event.
Joe Kovacs, APR. Joe is the Marketing Director of Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman CPAs in Bethesda, MD.
Forward thinking image courtesy of Shutterstock