The world is flat, according to the best-selling book by Thomas Friedman. He writes about technological changes that are linking people and breaking open business opportunities at warp speed. That's certainly the case for forward-looking CPAs, especially those in mid-market firms. Just a few years ago, it was unthinkable that a midsized CPA firm could compete and win multi-location opportunities from prospects with operations outside of the U.S.However, more midsized businesses now have operations around the globe. Additionally, what's changed is a result of client dissatisfaction with treatment or results from larger firms. In other instances, regulatory-driven arm's-length relationships between auditors and clients have generated new interest in secondary providers.
How are successful players mining these larger, multi-continent, multi-firm opportunities? There are two primary strategies: looking for help from the international members of the CPA association they've joined, and mastering the mechanics of landing large opportunities.
Tactical and practical
So how does a midsized firm in Little Rock, Ark., land a client with operations in Chile or Taiwan? To compete effectively on the world stage, a couple of basics apply. You need to manage the relationships - both with other firms that will be helping you land the opportunity, as well as with far-flung decision-makers and influencers within the prospect's company - despite the air miles that may separate you.
Here's what's involved:
1. Identify the resources that you'll need and target precisely where and from whom the help will come. You'll probably be working with other firms, both inside and possibly outside of your CPA association. Interview candidate team members, and create a pursuit team that incorporates needed proportions of technical skill, industry know-how and rainmaking.
As you determine what you'll need, you may have to lean on a remote technical resource and a separate remote relationship resource to get the job done. It's important to identify where decision-makers are located, so that you can match relationship development resources where these skills are needed.
2. Carefully manage critical details like time, language and currency differences that can sink a perfectly good opportunity. Understand the in-place standards and guidelines and your compliance responsibilities vis à vis vicarious liability and other legal exposures.
3. Establish a communications infrastructure among the opportunity pursuit team members based on e-mail, conference calls and other technologies. E-mail is especially powerful where multiple languages are involved. (Also, Skype, the Internet telephone service, is ideal for connecting far-flung players.)
4. As in all opportunity development, make sure that you are uncovering needs, rather than complying with requests, as you develop your opportunity. This is a function of effective due diligence strategies, such as onsite visits. Michigan CPA firm Yeo & Yeo recently won a hefty opportunity on multiple continents led by business development director Mark Serra. Part of the strategy was coordinating a series of visits by remote firm members with the controller at each of the prospect's overseas plants.
5. Step up to the plate or find someone who can. Landing global opportunities requires an opportunity leader who drives the process. This is the person who must make sure that you have covered the basics: identifying the influencers, determining the needs, establishing a value proposition and creating a winning strategy.
Make it repeatable
Like any other task, managing cross-continent business opportunities gets easier when you have gained experience with a proven system. Now, go and compete. There's more business out there than any of us ever dreamed possible just a few years ago.
Dare to move beyond your geography - and your local competitors - and check out the world of opportunity that lies ahead.
Gale Crosley, CPA, is the founder and principal of Crosley+Co. (www.crosleycompany.com), providing revenue growth consulting and coaching to CPA firms. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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