This issue of Generational Viewpoints features two individuals from ParenteBeard LLC (www.parentebeard.com), a multi-state firm headquartered in Philadelphia, with over 1,100 professionals and ranked in the top 25 of U.S. accounting firms. Generation X audit and accounting services partner John Swirsding, born in 1972, and Baby Boomer tax partner Merle Dunkelberger, born in 1955, shared their responses to the following question:

"What role does -- or should -- customer relationship management software play in your firm?"

 

SWIRSDING'S GEN X VIEWPOINT

The need for client relationship management is significant. It can mean the difference between retaining and losing a client and/or a prospect. Combining old-fashioned relationship-building with current trends in technology can provide new perspectives regarding what you know and, more important, what you don't know about your clients.

I am fortunate to be a part of a firm that sees the value of embracing new ideas and processes to change the game in how we relate to our clients and exceed their needs. Our CRM is strategic in our effort to deliver "raving fan" client service, which often leads to new business opportunities.

Client relationship management is more advanced than just inputting data; it's interpreting that data and connecting the dots that make it a success. When it comes to my clients, I don't want to be on the outside looking in. I want to know them intimately enough to make a real difference in their businesses and lives. Documenting the details of our interactions with clients, including how often we meet or talk, what we discussed, and any new information, is key. Strategic client or target planning sessions, when combined with CRM data, allow us to keep tabs on areas of opportunity, as well as potential trouble spots. There is no doubt that it's much easier to create new opportunities with existing clients when you are tracking your interactions via a CRM system. You must also take the time to identify those relationships that may be trending toward potential trouble.

With any new process, there are going to be challenges. A big part of a CRM's success is having individuals who accept responsibility for and lead the culture change involved. The system is only as good as the data within it and those who use it. Passion for relationship-building and information management must be a part of the firm culture for it to be successful.

ParenteBeard understands that our people and the relationships we have with our clients are our most valuable assets. The impact that new technology has on business is ever-changing, and we have chosen to embrace those changes. Client relationship management is and should be a key part of a firm's strategic vision.

 

DUNKELBERGER'S BOOMER VIEWPOINT

Being a service provider requires us to be technically competent, and for most CPAs that is a given. But what helps us retain our clients is the strength of our relationships. Whether we are using them as a reference, benefiting from having the client as a referral source, or resolving a service issue, it's the relationship itself that will carry the day. Adopting a formal CRM strategy is necessary, but we can never lose sight of the importance of true one-on-one relationship building.

Most Baby Boomers are well-established in our careers. A primary reason for our success is the strength of the client relationships we've built. Relationship-building requires a focused, concerted effort. It's how we distinguish ourselves from our competitors. We can utilize advertising and promotional campaigns, but building and maintaining strong, direct relationships is much more valuable. Clients will long remember the personal contact that you had with them over a marketing campaign.

Most of us will stub our toe from time to time with a client. Having a strong personal relationship will allow us to overcome issues as they arise. It will also help us transition new associates into the engagement as we undertake other responsibilities, or as we retire.

While a CRM tool is extremely useful in identifying new business opportunities, the time and effort to secure a new client hinges on the time and cost you spend to develop a solid relationship with an existing client. Our clients are our best advocates and referral sources. Why not take the time to develop a relationship with someone we already know, someone we already have a "leg up on" with our competition and someone who will help us sustain our practice? I personally choose to spend more of my time developing these relationships than managing their data in a CRM system.

Technology has improved the way we manage our relationships, but it cannot replace the benefit of developing personal bonds. Showing a client that you have a sincere interest in them outside of just being a service provider demonstrates that they are important to you. That's when you know you're more than just their CPA. 

This column is facilitated and edited by Krista Remer, the Gen X consultant, and Jennifer Wilson, the Boomer co-founder and partner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing coaching and training and development firm that helps CPA firms achieve success. To have your firm's viewpoints considered for a future column, e-mail krista@convergencecoaching.com.

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