Although this is a light-hearted start to the article, there's a serious message that I'd like to try and communicate that will hopefully be of benefit. It won't take long!

The thing about accountants is that they occupy, should they wish to, a unique position in the minds of their clients. We generally know and refer to this unique position as "the most trusted advisor." Simply put, if you are a trusted advisor, you're supposed to be good at what you do, run your own business successfully and be well worth your fee.

On the presumption that all of the above are true about you and your firm, please, for me, can we please stop:

  • The needless discounting and lowballing of quotes as if you wouldn't get the engagement if it were priced correctly, and so prefer to create a false and detrimental impression of your worth to your client right from the outset.
  • Discounting when a new piece of work is required by a client. If we're asked to do extra work, the client presumably rates us for the work already done.
  • Discounting when a client disputes the bill. Did you set realistic expectations at the start? Good, then charge full value. What are they going to do, leave? If you've sprung the bill they are disputing on them, no wonder they're annoyed. In which case, appease the client and feel lucky to have kept them.
  • Saying accountants are boring in an ironic self-acknowledgement of the commonly held myth surrounding the profession. You're not boring, and by trying to curry favor by employing self-deprecating humour, you're just perpetuating the myth.
  • Hiring marketing support staff who know nothing about professional services and have no track record. It's unlikely that what worked in their last role in wine retail will work for "trusted advisors."
  • Taking six weeks to get back to a potential new client after the initial meeting. The excuse "We're so busy" doesn't tell the client that your firm is in demand; it tells them that they are likely to receive a service as unsatisfactory as the one they are getting from you now when they are supposed to be in the "courting" phase with you.
  • Saying that you convert 95 percent of opportunities once you get your foot in the door. You're talking about referrals, and most of us convert 95 percent of those. Marketing brings about non-referred opportunities, ones that you have to sweat to get but would have been unlikely to have gotten any other way.
  • Claiming low client attrition rates as a barometer of great service. No one changes their accountants unless they need to, and very few know why they need to because they are not educated very well by competing firms as to the compelling reasons for change. Your clients are perpetually at risk from the advances of your competitors, so minimise the liability with actual good service -- as in, what the clients values about you, rather than what you think is good about your firm.
  • The political in-fighting with your peer-level colleagues. This is a team game.

And now that I've got that off my chest -- please start understanding, valuing and respecting your own value in the marketplace with clients who could not reach their goals without you. Businesses are in need of your technical expertise and caring approach. You have perhaps a greater ability than any other external professional to influence the realization of your clients' lifetime professional and personal ambitions.
Take that value and message to them instead, because clients love it when you pro-actively support them, and they are prepared to pay a premium for your expertise (without ever asking for discounts).

Martin Bissett is the managing director of The Upward Spiral Partnership Ltd., a United Kingdom-based consulting firm that specializes in teaching professional selling skills and leadership development to the accounting profession.

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