[IMGCAP(1)]When a business owner searches for an accountant, the choice is not so simple. Financial services—despite what some of your tax-only clients may believe—is far from a commodity. And in many cases, location and even price are immaterial. What, then, is the best way to acquire clients and improve client retention?

Providing quality work is part of the battle, but when everyone in the industry touts their “excellent customer service,” you need a clear differentiator. One proven way to add value to professional relationships is to become a trusted business advisor, which involves helping the management team make better-informed business decisions.

Here are a few points to consider when planning a visit:

1) Provide an explanation. Do not just provide data and hope your client will be able to interpret it—especially if you are not meeting with the client to present their financial statements. Include a written report that explains in plain language the financial metrics most important to the success of that company. And with this narrative summary, length is not the goal; keep it succinct so the client is more likely to read it thoroughly.

2) Connect the past to the future. Connect historical financial data with its impact on future company plans. Sageworks CEO Brian Hamilton wrote, “Numbers are not just numbers—they tell a story of how the company is moving towards or away from its strategic objectives.” Historical numbers can provide the context needed to look intelligently forward and avoid repeating past mistakes.

3) List key performance indicators. Focus your conversation on the few key performance indicators of that business and its wider industry. Determine the most relevant metrics and then explain to the client how those metrics have an impact on revenue and cash flow because those are two indicators the business owner definitely understands.

Interactions with business clients can and should be informal, so they can feel welcome to ask questions. Based on their questions (or lack thereof), you can gauge whether or not they are just seeking data or substantive advice to help grow their business. And this more engaged communication will help you too. In relationships where you do become a trusted business advisor, you’ll see a higher client retention rate and uncover additional consulting opportunities, and your clients will be much less likely to view your firm as a commodity.

Libby Bierman is an analyst at Sageworks, a financial information company and developer of the financial analysis software suite ProfitCents.  Bierman is responsible for the development of new products to improve client retention and practice management within the accounting industry. She received her degree from the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame where she graduated summa cum laude.

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