Value beyond the numbers: How to grow with your clients
Ask any business owner and they’ll tell you that keeping happy customers around is a much more cost-effective way of doing business than finding new ones. But with outsourced accounting services, regularly splitting with clients has long been inevitable and, in fact, the nature of the profession. Clients outgrow your offerings, or often opt to take the finance department in-house.
While that trend may continue on the whole, I’ve seen a shift in the recent past of firms clearly reorienting their businesses to grow with their clients – to continue to add value long after the point where they would have parted ways – and set themselves up to maintain lifelong customers.
Firms are now not only establishing themselves as trusted financial advisors from the start, but diversifying their offering with additional services that support clients throughout their lifecycle. They’re positioning themselves as long-term partners, elevating themselves to provide strategic thought and vision.
Know their business
As a partner, you must show a clear understanding of your customer’s business and goals right out of the gates. Again, that’s true in any industry, but an absolute necessity in accounting. It’s essential to demonstrate an in-depth understanding of your customers’ specific needs, now and in the long-term, and move beyond the traditional role of only building quarterly or monthly reports.
One approach that has been successful is to focus business around “microverticals” or subsegments of larger vertical markets. Eight of our top 10 performing accounting partners at Sage Intacct are vertical-focused, proving that a heavy emphasis on niche markets, and identifying exactly what unique needs customers have in specific industries, is key to long-term success. It’s common knowledge that your for-profit clients require different financial solutions than your nonprofit clients do, but that’s not enough. Firms with a practice that work with nonprofit organizations need to make sure they understand the various markets within that space – such as health and human services or faith-based organizations – and perhaps focus on only those microsegments. This facilitates specialized attention and an in-depth knowledge of their businesses.
A great example of a firm that has pursued a microsegments is Wichita-based Profit Builders, who focuses only on franchise businesses, including owners of multiple locations of Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, and Papa Johns. Specializing in businesses requiring cloud functionality for multi-entity platforms has allowed them to grow quickly and also implement 40-plus restaurant clients since 2017.
Show value beyond the numbers
A long-term partnership is about so much more than simply numbers and reports. Any partner worth their salt can produce reports. And at a certain point, all clients that are doing well and growing will have the budget to bring at least some of those needs in-house. That means that if you want to keep working together, you need to grow, too.
From the start, there must be a plan in place to support clients’ needs throughout their projected growth. The trust required to do so is derived initially from understanding in the space combined with traditional number-crunching, but it has to evolve so that when clients do opt to take accounting in-house, partners can serve as a trusted advisor throughout the process.
It’s also important to keep in mind industry-specific regulations that might challenge those partnerships. Nonprofits, for example, are required to replace audit firms every three years, meaning that even if you are the top CPA firm in the country, long-term client retention could seem impossible. That is, unless you are able to show your value elsewhere. Put other services in place for your clients, whether it’s infrastructure, HR or another area where you can add value for your clients. Becoming an important strategic decision-maker aside from strictly being a financial advisor is essential.
To prove long-term value, you need to look at how companies grow, research historical growth statistics, and determine what technology and capabilities they will need as they become more developed and complex. This knowledge will inform your approach, as well as the services that your business offers.
Seek out like-minded companies
It’s fantastic to look outside your four walls to get some help in developing new solutions for clients. In fact, I recommend it. At Sage Intacct, we’ve seen many of our partners do this to remain integral even as companies change and expand. For example, we work with Houston-based AcctTwo, a partner that works in a number of specific microverticals, with particular expertise in the faith-based NFP space -- so much so that they’ve placed a special emphasis on hiring people with NFP experience, building a workforce that knows the language and financial intricacies of that sector. The AcctTwo leadership team attributes their high customer retention and renewal rates to maintaining a depth of knowledge in those defined lanes – and becoming known for it.
Go above and beyond
Like I said, it’s almost always better to keep a happy customer than to onboard a new one. The same goes for clients looking to outsource certain portions of their business: if a firm shows clear, continued value, it’s a lot easier to keep an existing relationship than to seek out another, or even bring those functions in-house.
It’s all predicated on value. To grow with companies long-term, firms must present themselves as a partner in their client’s growth, rather than a product that will be outgrown and discarded as the business reaches new stages. If you establish yourself as a partner in growth, rather than a step along the way, you’ll not only reduce customer churn and maintain great customer relationships -- you'll build a sustainable, successful practice.