“Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra
Did you ever collect baseball cards? Topps baseball cards have been around since the late 1880s.
Who would think it, a CPA’s picture on a real baseball card?
I have blogged about my friend Robert Raiola many times. Why? Because he is unique among CPAs and exemplifies what being a CPA, famous for something, is all about.
Raiola is director of the sports and entertainment group at New York-based PKF O’Connor Davies. He appears on the 2016 Topps’ Allen & Ginter baseball card set, issued on August 13, which includes Major League Baseball players and other sports figures, such as radio host Mike Francesa and actor Kevin (“Field of Dreams”) Costner.
What makes your firm stand out? Why do clients come to you over the competition?
As a heavily commoditized service, a one size fits all accounting practice can easily get left behind in today’s market. To get ahead of the pack, accounting firms need to find a niche offering that will kick their growth engine into a higher gear.
If you want to be unique and have clients seek you out, become an expert! I know many very successful CPAs who are auto dealership experts, business valuation experts, estate taxation experts, agricultural experts and so on.
Per Vetter’s article, a recent survey of accounting and professional services buyers, 35% of buyers ranked specialized expertise as their top deciding factor in choosing a firm, well ahead of referrals, reputation or customer service. Expertise even came out jut ahead of existing relationships as a deciding factor.
Think about attorneys. When you need labor law assistance, you seek out a labor law attorney.
The greatness of art is not to find what is common but what is unique.
We became acquainted by doing a panel webinar about unique career paths you can take in the accounting profession for what is now AccountingFly. We continue to stay in touch and we both are passionate about tweeting.
His name is Robert Raiola and he is Director of the Sports & Entertainment Group at PKF O’Connor Davies, LLP.
At the time, Robert (@SportsTaxMan) was tweeting on a regular basis about his specialty – sports – and he had a few thousand followers. As of today, Robert has done over 29,800 tweets and has over 51,500 followers – that’s a home run for a CPA.
Just to show you the power of Twitter, it has helped him expand his reputation for being an expert – something every CPA should do – and he has been featured on a national level via Sports Illustrated, ESPN, etc.
David Maister, the guru advisor to professional service firms, always said you have to decide what “you want to be famous for” and then pursue it with passion. How is that working for you?
Below is a recent example of the great exposure being an expert has gotten for Robert. Over the years I have blogged six times about @SportsTaxMan (just type his name in the Search box on the right).
Robert knows what he wants to be famous for and he is achieving it. How about you – think about it this weekend!
I would have changed my last name if being famous were my goal.
There are a lot of new trends in public accounting. You have read about them here on this blog, in my newsletter and in various publications and blogs for CPAs.
Of course, there are also new trends in other disciplines that affect public accounting. Branding for example.
Per HR Bartender, employment branding is disappearing. Employment branding and consumer branding are being merged together to form ONE company brand. That strong brand will be used to attract and retain clients and employees.
Many firms have done a great job of building a firm brand but most do still have sub-categories under that one brand to attract clients and future employees.
Building ONE brand can serve three purposes: Attract new clients, attract employees and make current employees proud to be part of the firm.
Maybe your brand is unclear, split, confusing or even non-existent. Check out this article on HR Bartender and view the video example from Go Daddy. It is a brand that stresses lots of things, including hard work!
Here’s an excerpt:
If I’m a customer, I know exactly how GoDaddy is going to support me and my business. If I’m a candidate, I understand the GoDaddy culture – the everyday hard work that’s expected to keep customers’ business dreams alive. And if I’m an employee, I’m proud to be a part of that success. One brand. One video. For multiple audiences.
You can't get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you're doing. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover will be yourself.
“If you want to be the best salesperson, first you must be the best person.” – Jeffrey Gitomer
We have heard it said over and over again at CPA management conferences – for years! “Don’t forget to ask your clients WHAT ELSE they need from you and your firm.”
The trouble is, they don’t usually know what they need. I find it is much like focusing on improving your own firm. Another well-known saying applies. “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Often, your client doesn’t know what they don’t know.
It is your business to know your client and their business so well that you are able to enlighten them as to what they should do, what they shouldn’t do and how they can make their business more profitable. As a CPA, you are known as the most trusted advisor. Are you living up to that role?
That is where specialization comes into play. Not every CPA in your firm can know everything about every service line. If you are on the auto dealer team at your firm you better know everything about operating a dealership. You are routinely reading dealership management magazines and newsletters and you attend the same conferences that dealership owners attend. Hopefully, someone from your firm is speaking at those industry conferences. The same activities apply to your firm’s non-profit, construction, hospitality, distribution and all other teams.
You should, of course, continue to ask your clients how you can help but you should also be very upfront in telling them about current trends in their industry and what they should be doing to stay competitive and profitable.
The key to mastering any kind of sales is switching statements about you - how great you are, and what you do - to statements about them.
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” – Voltaire
Sometimes just after busy season you might think you have seen enough of clients for a while. You are wrong about that!
So many times I have heard clients say they wish their CPA was more proactive. What kind of Action Plan do you have in place to continually communicate with clients?
I think it falls under the “this is how we do it here” category.
We take new hires along to client meetings.
We expect every person in the firm to have a role in marketing.
We provide continual performance feedback to our employees.
We close the office on Fridays in the summer.
We acknowledge every team members birthday.
We have a client service plan for “A” clients and a different one for “B” clients.
We send our clients a birthday card.
We thank our clients in different ways for simply trusting us as their financial and business advisor.
Should any of these “this is how we do it here” bullets apply to your firm? What else can you add?
Yesterday, I received some free drink coupons from Southwest. They remembered to thank me. It made me smile. Do you think Southwest has more customers than you do? You could certainly do some little expected things to show your clients that you appreciate them.
As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos
Last week, the Ohio Society of CPAs unveiled their new brand. I love the “Advancing the State of Business” focus and the video that talks about what CPAs in Ohio really do to help Ohio advance the state of business.
CPAs in all states are really doing the same thing.
I want to share the video and I hope you’ll take three minutes to watch it.
Is this the year that your firm needs to rebrand itself? Is your logo stale and out-dated? Winning client opportunities and attracting top talent is ALL about your brand. What are people in your business community saying about you?
Whether you do a rebrand or not, why don’t you do a similar video to help your clients understand how you can help them move their business forward. Put the video on your website and use social media to “drive” people to your website. Mention the video to current clients and ask them to share it with their business friends
If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.
Much like Mr. Gitomer, I am very tired of listening to CPAs discuss how to prove to their clients that they bring “added value.” Gitomer says, “I recommend you leave ‘added value’ out of your sales lexicon forever. ‘Added value’ has an evil twin ‘value add.” Neither of which can be defined in terms of what the customer actually benefits or profits from.”
If you think the little extra things you do bring added value, put “perceived” in front of it because it is all about what the client perceives. If they don’t perceive it to be valuable, then it isn’t. Preparing their tax return in a timely manner is not value added, it’s what they pay you to do.
Your clients are looking for THEIR own increased sales, customer loyalty, employee loyalty, increased productivity, profit and so on. If you are not bringing these kinds of things to the relationship maybe it’s time you did.
To paint a true picture for your clients, develop a value proposition and a value statement the clearly explains how you help others.
I bring value to my clients by writing this daily blog, writing my newsletter, sending them personal emails outlining current trends in the profession, recapping content of conferences I attend, tweeting daily about CPA profession leadership issues, personal telephone conferences and many other ways.
Read much more here from Gitomer about value and it’s importance to existing clients and to prospective clients.
A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.
“Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.” – Donald Porter
It is important for CPA firms to continually demonstrate the value they bring to their clients.
“Value-added” has been bantered around the profession for years and still some accountants find it difficult to put into words. One way is to offer your clients additional services. Usually, they don’t realize that a service they are contemplating from an outside consultant is already offered by their CPA firm.
You not only need to communicate with the clients, you need to communicate with your own staff.
Do all of your team members, even the most recent college recruits, know what to look and listen for while they are at the client’s location? Have experienced partners tell them stories how they landed a lucrative engagement by chatting with a client while they were working at the client’s site.
Have you educated your team about all of the firm’s service offerings? Sometimes the newer employees really don’t know what the firm offers in addition to tax, audit and accounting. At a lunch & learn, set up a panel of 3 or 4 niche leaders to talk about how the services from their niche can benefit clients.
Can all of your team members talk intelligently about your menu of services? Provide them with an Additional Services Checklist so they can at least convey the opportunities (and who to talk to at the firm) to the client.
Design a Cross-sell Brochure to help your team and make it nice enough they can even leave it behind with a client. Here’s one-side of a sample I share – it is in tri-fold format. If you want a sample, let me know. Sometimes a piece of paper still gets your message across!
Know what your customers want most and what your company does best. Focus on where those two meet.
I have always believed that the best marketing strategy is how you serve your clients. It’s sort of the the “build it and they will come” mentality.
If your firm wins the reputation for over-the-top client service, your current clients will talk about you and potential clients will seek you out.
This week’s quote from Tom Peters says volumes about the CPA profession:
“Obviously there is a role for marketing, strategy formulation, and the like. But, ultimately, it all boils down to perceived, and appreciated, and consistently delivered service and quality to customers.”
Your competitors can find out what services your offer, what niches you pursue and the names of your employees and rainmakers. They cannot easily judge how you serve your clients. Serve your clients better than your competitors and you will win the race
Service begins with the pursuit of the potential client. It is not about selling to them or “pitching” them, it is a longer process of simply building a relationship.
Jeffrey Gitomer says it so well:
“The relationship is the biggest advantage you have in selling. People want to do business with people they can relate to. Finding out what your customer wants will help you discover your competitive advantage, but this is not as powerful as building a relationship. Coming to work early is a great habit, but may not affect your relationship building skills. The worst scenario is to try to learn a competitive advantage from your competitor. Which came first, the competition or the relationship? The relationship comes first and the sale will follow.” –Jeffrey Gitomer, excerpted from The Little Red Book of Sales Answers
To me, maybe the most important quote for CPAs to take to heart is featured below in my quote of the day section – from Harvey Mackay.
To me, job titles don't matter. Everyone is in sales. It's the only way we stay in business.