Clients moving to the cloud need to move through the “Five Stages of Cloud Adoption Grief,” according to well-known financial and management consultant Leslie Shiner.

Speaking in a keynote address at the 7th annual Scaling New Heights conference, Shiner adapted Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance -- to cloud adoption to explain how consultants and accountants can help their clients make the most of the move: “These stages are similar to anything in your life when you have to give up something and move on to something else.”

“Our job is to help our clients do more than drink the Kool-Aid -- it’s to help them embrace the cloud,” said Shiner, the owner of the ShinerGroup and author of A Simple Guide to Turning a Profit as a Contractor. She then laid out the five stages, and how consultants can help their clients through them.

1. Denial: I don’t need to change anything; I’m fine the way I am! “You have to overcome denial – point out how much they already have in the cloud,” Shiner said, citing examples like online banking, data backup, or personal pictures that are stored online. “Let them know that moving to the cloud doesn’t mean losing everything they have now and having to start over from scratch.”

“We have to be patient with our clients,” Shiner warned. Advisors needs to determine if the denial is pure stubbornness, or if it’s born of lack of knowledge or a misunderstanding, in which case you can provide facts and ask questions to change their minds. For instance, do they need accurate financial numbers that they can access anywhere at any time, or share with people outside their office? Or have they ever lost data because it wasn’t backed up?

2. Anger: You can’t make me change! “A consultant can only really be effective if the client is willing to change,” Shiner explained. “People want things to be better, as long as they aren’t different.”

Empathy is critical in dealing with anger; she recommends using the 3 Fs: “I understand what you feel; I felt the same way. But let me tell you what I’ve found.” The anger often comes from fear, Shiner explained, and that fear involves clients’ concerns that they won’t be able to master a whole new system the way they have mastered earlier systems. She warned the audience that consultants and trainers often move too quickly for clients, because they know the software systems very well, whereas it’s all new for their clients.

3. Bargaining: OK, will you shut up if we just implement a few things? “Find ways to do it in small steps. Create a plan of action and continually remind clients that the change will be structured, not chaotic,” Shiner said. She recommended regularly checking in with clients, rewarding successes, and keeping the end view of the change in sight.

Consultants can break the change down into small steps – perhaps by starting with online bill payment, for instance, and then moving on to integrating with accounting, and so on.

4. Depression: Can’t we just go back to the way it was? Client depression can often be caused by backsliding – if they’re not learning as quickly as they need to, or if they’re finding ways to go back to previous the previous systems.  “The antidote to depression is motivation,” Shiner said, so consultants need to find ways to keep their clients on track. She pointed out that external motivators like profit and growth aren’t as useful as internal motivators like a sense of accomplishment and mastery of a new system. “Help your clients recognize where they were, where they are, and where they’re going.”

5. Acceptance: OK, I now realize this was for the best. This is the final stage, but consultants can’t rest on their laurels. “Continually remind your clients how far they’ve come,” Shiner suggested. “It helps solidify the relationship you have with them. Remind them: They started with a desktop solution, and they have moved into a cloud-based solution.”

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