“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.
I was delighted when the Ohio Society of CPAs asked me to be interviewed for their Spotlight Series. We did a few segments and yesterday they released the one about social media: Social Media & CPAs – How To Get Started & Why.
I hope your firm is taking full advantage of social media:
I write a lot about engaging your employees in their work and engaging them in the mission of the firm. I read even more about employee engagement, what you should do and what you shouldn’t do. I just Googled “employee engagement” and received 24,200,000 possibilities.
Marketers for Apple and Disney use enchantment all the time. Enchantment leads to attachment, something that is even greater than loyalty.
Now, it seems, with our employees, we must use enchantment because satisfaction means our basic needs are met. Happiness means our emotional needs are met. Enchantment gives us meaningful experiences we didn’t even know we needed.
The author of the article admits that we can’t be enchanted every day because enchantment remains by its very nature an occasional, peak experience.
About 20 years ago, it seemed work life was much simpler. I was working in a growing, progressive CPA firm. One of our main goals was to make our people say, “Wow!”. We did this periodically, not every day, of course. We had very little turnover.
Back then I wasn’t aware of “engaging” or “enchanting” our team members. We simply did our best to hire great people and stay focused on their needs, their opinions and making our culture a positive one.
Keep it simple at your firm. Occasionally surprise your people with something that makes them say, “Wow!”.
Today’s quote, below, will give you food for thought!
Whatever deceives men seems to produce a magical enchantment.
We often think of young entrepreneurs as being very wrapped up in developing things for millennials. However, the three examples are young people creating solutions for their grandparents. And, they are capitalizing on the huge market that is our aging population.
What is your firm doing to tap into this huge market? Maybe you should solicit ideas from your own young people.
And the beauty of a woman, with passing years only grows.
For years, CPAs have used a handful of methods to grow their practice. Most of them have always been individually focused.
Per Gale Crosley’s recent article, Rocket Powered Growth, in Accounting Today, all of that has changed dramatically. I couldn’t agree more.
Traditional firm growth model has featured:
Individual contribution: Partners each have their individual books of business and are measured on retaining and growing these books one client at a time.
Tactical: A primary activity was banker breakfasts and lawyer lunches, designed to cultivate referrals one new client at a time.
Generalist: Hang out a shingle to all comers, then wait for the phone to ring.
Boots on the ground: Face-to-face meetings with prospective buyers one at a time.
The new model for growth is very different:
Leader-driven: When leading growth, not just doing it, partners are converted to business unit leaders who own the profitable growth of a service line or industry.
Strategic: The objective of leaders is to conquer markets one at a time, not just individual referred clients one at a time.
Specialist: The faster way to growth is through focus on particular industries and buyer groups, instead of all comers.
Technology-centric: Using the capability of today’s technologies enables us to increase market size and melt away geographic borders to find buyers in far-flung places.
It is not all about the firm’s big rainmaker anymore. It requires leadership and teamwork.
As Crosley states, “In today’s competitive environment, it’s risky at best for one ‘lone ranger’ partner to know what nobody else knows and to sell what nobody else can sell.” Hunters must transform to leaders of the hunt. Be sure to take the time to read Crosley’s article.
Something I have been stressing for years is that EVERYONE in the firm has a role in growing the firm – not just one or two rainmaker partners. See Crosley’s quote below.
You can no longer rely on a small number of rainmakers, but instead create growth leaders, and leverage the strength of every member of the firm.