[IMGCAP(1)]I remember hearing a story recently about a worldwide relief agency that wanted to expand the vision and thinking of a third-world leader.
The country had serious economic constraints due to an underdeveloped infrastructure. The relief agency wanted to ensure that the country’s leader would buy in before they engaged in designing solutions. So they arranged for the leader and a group from the country to visit New York to see and discuss possibilities for the country.
For several days, the group was escorted around the city witnessing paved streets, traffic lights, running water, electric lights, air conditioning and elevators. The visitors enjoyed all of the modern gadgets and gizmos, but didn’t seem to be overly excited to bring them to their country. On the last day, they came across a construction project and saw a worker hauling material from one place to another in a wheelbarrow. Their eyes lit up and determined that such a tool would be invaluable to the people of their villages. It would make hauling their goods so much easier. The wheelbarrow was the one big idea they would bring back to their people. The agency reps were somewhat dumbfounded because of what their visitors valued over everything else. Of all the valuable options available, how could these leaders select a common laborer’s tool?
This story illustrates the disconnect that CPAs can have with their prospects and clients. We are notorious for talking about our expertise, our experience in the industry and the many clients we have that are in their sector. If your firm spends enormous amounts of time, energy and money developing these areas, you assume that your clients value these things as well. And they do. But they think that those are the minimum standards for being in business in the first place. They are table stakes, the ante just to sit at the table.
Actually, prospects and clients choose you for their reasons, not yours. What you think should be the most important reasons may not be. In fact, you don’t even get a vote. It’s entirely up to them to determine what is important. In addition to being technically competent, meeting deadlines and offering competitive pricing, clients often choose you based on five additional factors:
1. You are easy to work with. Your positive, can-do attitude is a breath of fresh air. You’ve established a comfortable relationship that your client enjoys.
2. You are creative in finding solutions. Textbook solutions are the beginning of the discussion, not the final resolution. You take the time to refine solutions that specifically fit the client’s situation.
3. You are accessible and responsive. They have confidence you will be there when they need you most. Your efforts to be reliable are appreciated.
4. You are someone they can talk to and think through difficult situations. While you can’t decide for them, you can give them the information they need to make good decisions. Your wisdom infuses the immediate, short-term and long-term perspectives to keep decision makers grounded.
5. You demonstrate you genuinely care about them and their business. You can’t fake this. They know. You acknowledge their successes and achievements, congratulate them on being publicly recognized, and are present when difficult times arise.
These reasons may seem intangible, but don’t let the fact that you can’t quantify or measure them lead you to believe they aren’t important or valuable. In the end, they make a huge difference. The more you demonstrate them, the more you make it easy clients to choose you and refer your firm to others.
If it is true that these intangible reasons matter, how do you develop them? It is fairly difficult to find CPE entitled “How to be Easy to Work With.” Why? Because no one would register. Rather than relying on formal CPE, you could:
Review each of your A and B clients with your engagement teams to assess how you are doing in each of the five areas. Determine which reasons each client seems to value and find ways to expand on those reasons.
Train your staff on the subtle ways to demonstrate intangible value. Collect actual anecdotes and demonstrations to avoid the “we do that already” response.
Acknowledge and reward your staff when they perform in such a way as to be recognized by the client. Your staff will perform when they know what to do and how to do it.
Survey your clients on how they are being served by you, particularly on the intangibles. A third-party is recommended because most clients are reluctant to say anything negative directly to you, and it might appear you’re fishing for compliments. This information is invaluable to you.
Intangible value isn’t provided automatically by you or your staff. You have to think about it, work on it and find ways to further demonstrate it. Start by thinking about what your clients actually value, then pay attention to these intangibles just as much as you work on your own selling points. After all, you don’t know which reasons your clients and prospects will value the most when choosing to work with you.
Guy Gage is the owner of PartnersCoach, a coaching and consulting firm to professionals in private practice. He recently launched Partner-Pipeline, a new program for professional development that is designed to cultivate and develop the characteristics of high contributing partners.