Earning your clients' business
Not so long ago, we won our clients through referrals, and most of our client base lived within a five- to 10-mile radius from our offices. We went to local networking events in the evening and possibly advertised in the local paper or Yellow Pages, or maybe even sent direct mail.
Those times have passed. With cloud technology upon us, we now have access to clients anywhere in the world. With generational shifts in not only our clients but in our staff, the expectations have shifted for what an accounting professional is expected to deliver today and into the future. For example, rather than delivering work after-the-fact, clients now want to know in real-time where they stand so they can make proactive decisions.
This “real-time” desire for information is actually not completely new. Clients have always wanted our advice and time dedicated to answering questions about their business. However, before cloud automation, it was hard to dedicate the right amount of time to these conversations due to the countless piles of papers and forms we needed to sift through in order to complete all of our clients’ compliance work accurately and on time.
This is where the gift of cloud technology is realized. We can now let technology do the heavy lifting for us, so that we have more time to provide strategic advice to help our clients make smart, real-time decisions and plan for the future.
Furthermore, when we take the time to think through how to implement cloud technology and automation into our businesses, it not only enhances our clients’ experience, but that of our teams. Cloud technology helps our employees connect and communicate with clients and colleagues and focus on strategic, meaningful interactions — rather than being stuck behind the computer. As a result, a whole new world opens up for us to deliver our services in innovative ways that are bound to delight our clients and empower our teams to do their best work.
As an example of delivering meaningful services, I remember a client I had years ago when the construction industry was hit hard in South Florida. When everything began to foreclose and construction stopped, their business took a hard hit. One day my client called me and said, “I only have $200 to pay you this month — will you still meet with me so I can review the numbers with you?” That struck me hard. With the last $200 that they had that month, they still wanted to spend it with their accountant.
This experience was the biggest compliment I could have ever received. It showed that I was a valued part of their business. How many of your clients would want to spend their money meeting with you because what you deliver is critical to them making the decisions they need to stay healthy as a business?
Technology is now giving us the opportunity to step out from the computer and have these real conversations to make an impact and create more fulfillment in the work we do. We have all been trained in this. We have thousands of hours of expertise that we have built up over our careers. However, we can’t assume that communication is easy. Communication is as much of a skill as our technical expertise, but we don’t dedicate as much time to working on our interpersonal relationship skills as we do on keeping up on regulatory and technical training.
Training is key
According to the World Economic Forum jobs report, workers will need an average of 101 days of learning over the five-year period ending in 2022 — about 20 days per year — to keep pace with technological advancements. The top skills in demand include analytical thinking and innovation, active learning and learning strategies, creativity, originality, initiative, technology design, programming and critical thinking.
This is a wake-up call to review how we’re currently training our teams so that we’re ready for this shift in technology and can take advantage of what it offers. What has always been true, and will continue to be true, is that technology can never replicate our human advice and connection. The accounting profession remains highly trusted, and we can’t risk losing sight of that valuable personal connection that people crave.
It’s important to enhance your soft skills, such as collaboration and active listening, along with your analytical skills. Plus, adding in non-traditional training, such as painting or even music, can start building the creativity muscle to help with innovative thinking and deliver new service lines.
I encourage you to rethink your learning this year to include interpersonal and analytical skills, as well as time for outside activities that your teams can participate in together and build their creative sides to unlock innovation.
As we put more attention into these important skills, we can start creating new service lines in our practices that deliver more proactive, real-time analysis of our client’s business, and allow the technology to do the heavy lifting of the compliance work. We can smooth our revenue cycles so that we are billing our clients on a recurring basis, meeting with them on their current issues and opportunities, and delivering an advisory relationship in which you earn a lifelong client because they can’t imagine not having you and your practice as a part of their business.