Rainchecks: Are you viewed as transactional or transformational?
Are you viewed as transactional or transformational? Tough question. We would all like to say that the work we do with clients is transformational and career-changing and has far-reaching consequences, but the truth is that the work professionals do for the majority of the workday creates less than ground-breaking transformation. Nonetheless, some of the work professionals engage in provides a tremendous amount of value. It reinforces client loyalty and makes clients wonder what they did before they were working with you.
To be fair, many of the responsibilities of accounting and financial professionals involve compliance work. This work is great work: It’s necessary, and it’s helpful. This work pays the bills and keeps clients compliant. It is a piece of the value we offer — the important thing is that it just can't be all of what we offer.
As the profession shifts, we know the following:
- Technology is changing the way we communicate, process data, and serve clients.
- Clients’ needs are changing, and they are more sophisticated now than before.
- Competition for our clients is increasing, and therefore, they need our help to be successful.
- Our clients’ loyalty and retention is dependent on us stepping up to the challenge of serving their unique needs.
- The decision process and decision-makers are changing, and more decision-makers than ever are at the table regarding accounting and consulting services.
- Non-CPA firms are competing in the CPA space, so the game is changing.
- Next-generation buyers differ greatly, as do their communication preferences.
- Clients are using more than one provider in many cases, which puts CPA firms at risk.
What should we do about this? If you haven't heard about or seen these trends, you've been living under a rock or hiding behind a stack of papers. Simply reading about the trends doesn't really invoke an urgent need to adapt, but many times, losing a key client to a competitor will get your blood flowing. Instead of waiting for such a thing to happen, professionals need to take a long, hard look at the value of their services and the strength of their relationships.
We know that people buy from people they like and trust. We also know that price sensitivity dramatically decreases as value perception increases. (If I truly value what I am getting and feel it gives me peace of mind and directs me or solves my problems in a solid way, I'm not going to question your invoice.) So, it’s a no-brainer to increase the value perception as well as the strength of the relationship. The missing link in this process is to shift from being a transactional provider to a transformational provider.
Many professionals fail to acknowledge the high value of the work they provide. One of my favorite conversations to have with partners starts with these questions: "Can you tell me about a client you have worked with in your career who depended on you to help navigate their business and relied on you as an advisor? Many times, these clients are the ones who won't make a major decision without calling you first. How did you work with them? How did you help them?"
You can imagine the responses. While professionals may not automatically evaluate the work they do as transformative, once they think about it, they begin to realize its value. They share stories about how their clients’ businesses went from start-ups to giant organizations, relying heavily on the counsel of the accounting professionals to navigate their journey. Some share stories about how they became extremely close to clients and became integrated into their personal and professional lives. They built relationships that will span their careers. They established trust that solidified a professional relationship for decades to come. The common factor in these stories is that these relationships involved transformation.
Their relationships and advice transformed their clients’ businesses, they shifted the paradigms of their clients, and they directed the actions of their clients in a way that changed the trajectory of their businesses and lives. They weren't limited to serving the client via a checklist: Instead, they built a relationship to reveal needs, fears, and opportunities, allowing them to consult in a powerful way.
If you have experience as a professional in an accounting or consulting firm, you have likely experienced this type of transformational advisory or consulting engagement. It doesn't come automatically: It takes dedication to connect with the client or prospect and a willingness to dig into their business situation, professional goals, and sometimes even personal goals. In this way, it differs from pure compliance work.
When you ask questions pertaining to the client’s personal and professional situation while working on taxes, you get a pretty good idea of their current state of affairs, but are you going a layer deeper and getting down to what matters with your clients? Do you know what makes them tick? Do you know what goals and major barriers exist? Chances are, if you’re only following a checklist, you don't. When you meet with clients, ask questions about their business, their motivations, and their goals or end game. Don't limit it to what you already do or what you specialize in. Schedule a meeting and invite a team in. Find a way to uncover needs and add additional value.
Imagine these scenarios: Your client needs an attorney or additional consultant to help with an issue beyond your capability — no problem. You can look inside the firm and in your network and introduce them as part of an advisory team. You lack experience in this area, and your client isn't sure what steps to take, as he or she is considering an acquisition, so you build a team to review the opportunity inside the firm and determine the additional resources needed to consult around this issue. You may even need to refer out work, and that’s okay. Positioning yourself to provide transformational help is less about knowing it all and more about diving in to see where the opportunities and issues lie so you can then address them appropriately.
Sometimes, the mention of moving from compliance to advising invokes fear and dread and leaves professionals wondering what it means for them and for their firm's future. The good news is that it comes down to mindset. It involves making the decision to go deeper and build trust with clients. It involves the willingness to ask questions that you as an advisor may not know the answer to or dealing with problems that you may not personally know how to fix.
When you start to work in a way that positions your firm to learn more about your clients and offer assistance that is progressively valuable, more and more opportunities open up. Client expansions, major referrals, and even new clients come as a result of these efforts. Take these opportunities and create stronger relationships, bigger opportunities, and many transformational experiences that you can be proud of throughout your career.
Rainchecks: Next steps
To position yourself as a transformational provider, consider the following rainchecks, or steps:
- Evaluate where you currently have transformational relationships and what they entail.
- Make the decision to elevate your top client relationships from transactional to transformational.
- Schedule meetings with top clients to build the relationship and explore goals, fears, and needs.
- Utilize planning tools like a SWOT analysis to uncover needs and facilitate dialogue.
- Involve a group inside and outside your firm to best consult with and serve the client as needed.
- Schedule collaborative client strategy meetings with the client and pursuit teams.
- Invest in continuous learning and expand your experiences so you are positioned well to provide advice to the client.