“It is nice to have valid competition; it pushes you to do better.” – Gianni Versace
As I have interacted with many firms over the years, I have observed that some partners are not worried at all about their competition and some partners are almost obsessed with beating their competition.
No matter your degree of concern, it is a good practice to be aware of your competition, their strengths and their weaknesses. In reality, they are strongly targeting your best clients (just like you are targeting theirs).
As Jeffrey Gitomer (sales guru) says, it is a sales war and winner take all. He also suggests some Competition Success Strategies:
Speak kindly of your competition, or say nothing.
Respect competition, and others will respect you.
If others speak negatively about anything or anyone, DO NOT join in.
Know your competition’s weaknesses, but focus on your strength and value.
Know why they won, when you should have.
Know how they speak about you, and build response into your presentation.
Know how to beat them until they hate you (hating them is a waste of energy).
I visit CPA firm websites all the time. I want to see what YOU are doing and how you are doing it. I want to see the firms that “get it” and the firms that have no clue. It helps me with ideas for this blog and ways I can assist my clients.
Recently I visited a site and the firm did have a blog link at the top of the page. However, the page was blank. Frequently, I visit CPA firm blog sites and the last blog post was six months ago or longer. If you do blog, do it on a regular schedule – weekly or monthly – be consistent.
Don’t shy away from blogging. You have some great business minds within your firm and CPAs have so much to write about and to share. The writing itself is a great way to reflect upon your work and your professional purpose.
Try blogging, you will like it! It’s only two or three paragraphs. If no one follows, it is still a good mental exercise. The more you blog the better you get. Then people will follow and you’ll attract new clients to your firm.
Watch this short video from Seth Godin, one of the most famous bloggers and Tom Peters.
I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.
“If YOU don’t believe in YOU enough to invest in YOU then don’t be surprised when others don’t invest in YOU.” – Grant Cardone
I am often disappointed in some less experienced people working in public accounting when I learn that they always EXPECT the firm to pay for ALL of their learning and continuing education.
Some even expect the firm to pay for a book that might help them with self-improvement.
The investment in yourself is the best investment you can ever make. The “firm,” for one reason or another, won’t pay for you to attend a specific conference, seminar or meeting. Maybe you should pay for it yourself if you really believe it will enhance your career advancement. Maybe you should buy some self-improvement books, tapes, podcasts or apps and actually read them and listen to them.
Commuting time could turn into a motivational session.
“The best business advice I’ve ever been given was from my mother, who was never actually in business,” the self-made millionaire tells CNBC. “She said, ‘The best investment you will ever make is in yourself.It’s a no lose deal. It will always give you a return. Nobody can take it from you. It’s yours.'”
I’m not your mother but my advice to you – no matter what your age: Invest in yourself!
Success will not come knock on your front door. You must go find it.
“Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but about the stories you tell.” – Seth Godin
Sally, a new manager in a growing CPA firm has just been told that to become a partner in the firm, she must be able to bring new business and increase revenue for the firm.
Sally is in shock. She had never realized that it was absolutely necessary to bring in business if she wanted to be a partner. After all, it is the life-blood of the firm.
Here are three simple tips to help people like Sally in your firm. It might also be very helpful to people who are already partners!
Build a relationship first. You meet someone at a Chamber event or other business mixer. They appear to have a thriving business. Talk to them about business, in general. Follow-up with an invitation to lunch or breakfast but don’t try to “sell” anything until you have connected, met and established common ground. Yes, this might take a while. Get to know them before you sell them.
Listen. Most prospective clients will be anxious to tell you what they want. Listen to them and then be prepared to tell them what they really need. Good listening skills are a critical part of selling.
Tell stories. Tell them success stories about the firm’s team members (including partners). Tell them how a specific team member has succeeded. Tell them success stories about how your firm has solved business challenges for clients. Tell them how you would like to help them (not how you want to sell them services).
You can also use these three steps to win clients via online activities.
Relationship: Use blogs, articles, news items, tax updates and other helpful information to build a relationship. That means you must have a website that is engaging – not something all about the firm. A site that people will visit often because it is helpful.
Listen: Make it easy for them to submit a question or make contact online. Make searching for how to make contact very easy. Offer a free initial consultation that can be done in person, via phone, via email or online video.
Stories: Use interesting bios about your people and how they have become successful. Tell success stories via tweets, Linkedin, Facebook even Instagram. Develop testimonials from some of your best clients and post them on your website. Testimonials are so powerful. The prospect might think, “Oh, Joe Smith uses this firm. His business seems to be growing like crazy!”
Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.
“Quality performance (and quality service) starts with a positive attitude.” – Jeffrey Gitomer
It seems that EVERYONE uses texts to communicate now. However, that doesn’t apply so much to CPAs working in public accounting. Lots of business is conducted using email.
I like Jeffrey Gitomer’s sales advice…. “Email is sales-mail!”
I believe it is also part of building your personal brand. Do you ever misspell words? Do you confuse words such as “your” and “you’re”?
We all make grammar mistakes now and then but if you are trying to impress a prospective client be EXTRA careful.
Here’s some great advice from Gitomer – 1) Every email is an impression of you. 2) The best way to get an unsolicited email opened is to ask a question in the subject line that’s specific to the recipient.
If leaders are to be followed, it starts with clarity of message.
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.
“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.
Most progressive CPA firms guarantee their work. Do You?
Firms are including a guarantee in the engagement letter or proposal.
Here’s what I put in my own Engagement Agreements:
Service Guarantee and Confidentiality
Rita Keller’s services are unconditionally guaranteed. If the services do not meet your expectation, you may end the arrangement and pay only the value you deem acceptable. Confidentiality is extremely important. While Keller may serve other CPA firms in your market, absolutely no information about your firm will ever be discussed or disclosed. If I discover a best practice during my association with your firm, I may request permission to feature you and/or your firm on my blog.
Sometimes these guarantees are structured in the form of a Commitment Statement to the client that includes things like:
You will be respected and never taken for granted.
We absolutely respect the confidentiality of our working relationship with you.
We will return phone calls and answer email within 24 hours.
…. and so on.
Some even include asking the client for some commitments as a second part of the statement, such as:
You will give us all the information we need to complete the assignment.
You will meet mutually agreed upon deadlines. In the case of circumstances beyond your control, you will notify us immediately of the situation.
You will pay our fees per our engagement letter.
… and so on.
Just something you might consider for your firm. It makes a bold and important statement to your clients.
“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.