As companies seek new ways to grow in a competitive business environment, accounting firms can position themselves as much more than just the traditional provider of help with taxes or audits. Accountants are becoming trusted advisors on whom their clients rely for a broader spectrum of business advice. A strong client accounting services (CAS) offering positions firms to take advantage of this opportunity.
If your firm’s CAS program hasn’t taken off as quickly as you’d like, one of the ways to fast-track things is by cross-selling services across practices. The more services you can provide to any given client, the deeper your relationship. And the deeper the relationship or the more “stickiness” accountants can create with each client, the harder it is for them to replace you with anyone else.
With the availability of real-time data via the cloud, accountants can offer clients proactive advice in ways that were never before possible. The value this can furnish reaches throughout the firm and further improves the ability to cross-sell and deepen those client relationships.
Accounting leaders may assume cross-selling is happening organically within their firms, but the reality is that many firms struggle to make it happen. Two keys to improving your CAS cross-selling effort are leadership and internal marketing.
The biggest factor in firms successfully cross-selling to fast-track their CAS strategy is leadership. The right leader is not only one who will champion the initiative overall, but who also has the political capital within the firm to rally the rest of the leadership team to get behind it.
Two important factors in choosing the right person to lead your firm’s CAS initiative are level within the organization and social connections with the rest of the team. You need someone in a high enough position to be able to champion significant change and gain buy-in from people who may not initially see the value in growing via CAS. Equally important, regardless of position, the leader needs to connect with people in a way that promotes trust and confidence in that person’s skills and judgment among the rest of the team.
In a large, multi-office firm these qualities are even more important because this leader must be able to get the program off the ground in all the offices. Leaders of other functional areas, especially those that don’t happen to be based in the same location, may take extra time and effort to convince that the program will benefit their practice. The right person leading the charge can make this happen faster and with less difficulty than someone who isn’t at the right level or as well-connected throughout the firm.
If building a successful program is truly the goal, choose a solid candidate worthy of leading this important new segment of your business and then provide that candidate with the resources – in terms of both time and money – to build a strong team.
In addition to finding the right person, success requires that leading the CAS effort be a full-time job. If it’s considered a side project or evening job, it will never be perceived to have the same priority – for the leader or for the rest of the team – as if the firm invests in a dedicated resource to lead its CAS initiative.
Part of the CAS leader’s role is to be proactive in talking with clients about how the firm can deliver more value to them. Doing so positions the leader to credibly tell those in a sales role what the clients actually want. It’s easy to assume client satisfaction if they don’t actively complain or by validating past results. But what you’ve always delivered around compliance or transactional work may not provide the value each client is seeking. Beyond leadership having direct contact with clients to understand how to increase the value provided to them, they must effectively share what they learn within the firm.
Internal marketing tends to be underrated. It can encompass several components, including education, case studies, collateral, thought leadership, peer mentoring, networking and team building, even competitions, all of which work in concert to improve cross-selling efforts.
Highlighting wins is invaluable to promote internal cross-selling. Not only can accountants learn from one another by sharing success stories, but they gain confidence when they see evidence of client satisfaction in other service areas, which makes them far more likely to cross-sell those services. It can also encourage their competitive spirits, driving them to seek similar opportunities.
Promote client successes from a quantitative perspective, showing how profitable the work can be for the firm. Identify CAS cross-selling opportunities and their impact across functional units within the firm. Show how it can be done profitably and how cross-selling even one new service can spin off opportunities for the firm overall. When looked at individually, the new revenue may not draw attention, but there may be a ripple effect from cross-selling a new service which can be impressive. Show annual revenue from the client before and after starting CAS to get a picture of the total value.
Success stories should be told from a qualitative perspective too. Testimonials from clients are powerful, especially about the value they gain and the insight that can be gleaned from real-time data. Share examples of the advice the firm was able to provide clients on how to better run their businesses to help sway other accountants to consider new services their clients may also benefit from. Additionally, consider the conveniences your firm offers clients. For example, with CAS technology like Bill.com, clients gain the ability to handle AP and AR on the go. Meanwhile, your firm gains a new level of efficiency to be able to handle more clients with the same number of resources.
Successful cross-selling within a firm rarely happens without dedicated efforts around education. Host a breakfast event or a lunch and learn to reach a lot of people within the firm to showcase the CAS program and what it can bring to them and their clients. A more targeted approach might include one-on-one meetings with some accountants. This can be especially effective with those who seem reluctant to get on board, as it allows you to address their concerns in a more personal and tailored voice. But it can also be helpful in identifying those who may be excited about the initiative and willing to act as an influencer among their peers.
Internal influences are tremendous assets in the firm’s efforts around cross-selling CAS. Encourage them to promote their own thought leadership in the industry by writing or speaking, which is positive exposure for the firm and may spark others to seek similar recognition. Leaders of other functional units within the firm will take notice and want these influencers to be part of their teams as well. Once they fully understand the value proposition to their clients and the benefits to their practice, they’ll be eager to find ways of cross-selling CAS.
CAS isn’t the only offering that can lead to more advisory and consulting services, but it is probably the fastest way to get there. Today’s technology promotes a real-time collaborative environment that lends itself to offering clients proactive advice. This doesn’t mean abandoning your traditional transactional and compliance services, but rather complementing them with advisory services in which clients find significant value.