Art of Accounting: When You Sell Value, Cost Should Not be a Major Issue

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Every Monday morning, Bill Hagaman, our firm’s managing partner/CEO, sends an email to the over 850 people at our firm. His email a few weeks ago hit the mark on providing value as the distinguishing factor in getting new business.

I am repeating what he wrote as this week’s column since I could not have said it any better. Enjoy!

“Good morning, everyone. Let’s face it. As service providers in the accounting profession, not only are we expected to deliver world-class service to our clients, but it is imperative that we bring in new business to propel growth. We work in a very competitive marketplace; thus we need to spend a lot of time and energy meeting with potential clients about our services (and when I say ‘potential clients,’ in this particular message, I also mean current clients requiring additional services). When I hear that we lost an opportunity due to fees, I can’t help but wonder if we just didn’t convince our potential client about our value well enough because there will always be someone offering what appears to be similar services for lower fees.

Partner Insights

‘Providing value solutions’ means having the ability to clearly explain how we can solve their problems at hand, alert them to potential problems they may not even be thinking about, or providing them things that will help them perform their jobs better. In order to establish the value or worth of our services and solutions, we first need to learn about their business and their pain points, whether speaking in terms of sales, profits, employee turnover, order accuracy, customer retention or satisfaction, time to market or market share.

Learn to ask high-value questions that will help you understand the impact of the issue on the overall performance of the client’s business. Personal experience has taught me that most key decision makers respect and appreciate professionals who ask probing questions. Once we are in front of a potential client, you can ask questions such as:

• What are your long-term goals?
• Do you have a succession plan?
• What is keeping you up at night?
• How good are your controls? … over cash receipts? … cash disbursements?
• How is that affecting … ?
• What impact is that having on customer loyalty, market share, etc.?
• What is that costing you in terms of lost sales, profitability, growth or product innovation?
• How important is this compared to other projects you have on your plate right now?
• If we had an appropriate solution, what would that mean to your company or you personally?

Notice none of these questions has anything to do with compliance service. The client or potential client assumes if we are there, we are competent, responsive and have a great culture.

After you have determined the importance and the impact of a particular problem, you can then demonstrate the worth or value of our services to the potential client. What value do Withum professionals have to offer?

1. We solve problems. Remember the pitch to a potential client is all about them and their pain. If we ask questions similar to those listed above and we successfully uncover why they are even entertaining us for the work, we need to demonstrate how we can provide a solution to their problems. This could include an offer to review past tax returns for free (we would charge to implement suggestions) or send out one of our Business Advisory team members to do a review of key controls (again, we would charge to implement suggestions). This will demonstrate to the potential client that we care about their business and that we are there to partner with them in making their business more successful, of course always being within the bounds of maintaining independence where necessary.

2. We offer world-class client service. We fully appreciate that our clients need accounting services, but choose to work with our firm. Withum is home to many talented professionals who provide the expertise and innovative solutions our clients require. But world-class client service means that we go deep with serving our clients as trusted advisors, being responsive and proactive and truly listening to what they need.

3. We have deep and broad industry expertise and service offerings. Our niche development initiative has been successful in grooming team members of all levels to specialize in key industry verticals or service lines in order to intimately understand what drives our clients’ markets—and their success. And our services go beyond tax and audit—we have Business Advisory, Forensic, Valuation, Wealth Management and International Services. We are a full-service firm.

4. We have many long-term relationships in the business community. Our stability has permitted us to develop long-term relationships in the banking, legal and financial services fields. With strong roots in the business community, we have built relationships which afford our clients with referrals to the finest services available in these areas. As for our clients, we have many who have been with us for nearly four decades.

5. We offer the Withum Way Culture. Our people are smart, passionate, loyal and dedicated. We respect and care for each other, both personally and professionally. You are not just another client; you are a friend of the firm; a member of the Withum family. And we are there for our clients as a strategic partner in helping them succeed.

Remember, there is a significant difference between cost and value. When you can provide valuable solutions to clients that work with Withum, then the discussion of fees should rarely be an issue. Thanks and have a great week.”

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, published by www.CPATrendlines.com and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition,” published by the AICPA. Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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