How to upgrade a compliance-based client relationship

For many accounting firms, the majority of their clients will be what I categorise as ‘B’ clients. These are small business owners who are nice people, no problem to deal with and appreciative of your role as their accountant but who typically will only buy compliance services from you unless they have a very specific issue that they need you to fix. They will politely listen to you when you raise the possibility of higher value work but there will always be a reason why they can’t do it right now:- “Thank you but we’re too busy right now” “Thank you but we can’t afford it this year” “Thank you but I don’t think we’re a big enough business for that” “Thank you but we can manage”

We tend to let these situations slide because we are almost expecting the response that we get and because we’ve got plenty to be getting on with ourselves, but we shouldn’t forget the reasons why we raised the possibility of additional work in the first place. Many accountants want to provide more than just compliance services and advice for their clients. Obviously, There is a commercial benefit to us in doing so, but also its fundamental if we want to make a real difference to the lives of our clients, and that is a common driver for the accountant. Rarely would an accountant seek to sell a new service to a client purely for their own gain. We seek to offer services beyond compliance to our clients because we know that it will be good for the client themselves. It will fix the issues of time, money, growth and frustration that they face. If we could deliver just one more value added service, whether it be financial management, advisory or a support service, to each of our ‘B’ clients then we would make a significant and positive difference to both them and us.

How do you do it?

  1. Most importantly, you must believe in the value of the service that you offer. If you don’t believe that your advice or service will make a genuine and positive difference then don’t promote it. Instead, look inwards at how you can improve your offering. A belief in your service will give you the energy, commitment and drive required to promote your case.
  1. Create an environment that continually highlights the value of your services and expertise. If you seek a positive, creative, enthusiastic, entrepreneurial response from your clients then your firm needs to emit the same. Your offices, your team and you need to be continually seeking to inspire your clients to change. Your environment, messaging and behaviour are a key element of the sales process.
  2. Ensure your messaging continually supports your thinking. Online and offline your tone and content should reflect the direction in which you want your clients to travel. Most clients will sign up to an accounting firm for compliance reasons. That’s a good thing, it helps attract new business and builds trust. Your messaging needs to constantly develop on this though and get your clients thinking about what their business and life could be like with a few changes to their systems and thinking.
  3. Show the relevance to your clients. It’s okay talking about how to be a better business but if the client can excuse themselves by saying that it isn’t aimed at them then we give them an easy way out. Utilise case studies, testimonials and statistics to show that the services you talk about are aimed exactly at people like them.
  4. Walk the talk. This is crucial. Don’t try and sell what you don’t apply. Be your own advocate by showing clients how you do it.
  5. Tag your services to specific clients and know the journey. Look at your list of ‘B’ clients. Understand where you are trying to take each client, what service you will target as the next step on the journey and what benefits it will deliver. Know what you plan to sell (advise!) them.
  6. Have your tools ready. Clients are more easily swayed if they have something tangible in front of them. In this tech driven age we have a whole toolbox of digital offerings for our clients that enable us to do just that. Prepare a report, dashboard, plan or set of numbers that show the client the benefits that you want to talk about. “Let me show you something” is a powerful way to get your message across so make sure you have your digital offerings in place. If you don’t have software to back up the services that you want to offer then you must address that as an issue.
  7. Be persistent and consistent. If what you are offering is of genuine benefit to the client, and you really want to make a difference, then it is worthwhile sticking to your guns. People don’t tend to buy other than essential items on the first point of contact so have a sales plan for the year, not just for the meeting. Show the benefits using all of your marketing tools, don’t rely on a one-off meeting.

Providing more value added services for your clients isn’t about the profession’s drive to be more advisory based. It’s about helping your clients to address some of the frustrations, risks and challenges in the lives. In other words, it’s about helping to create positive change and make the difference that lots of accountants wish for.

Getting customers to buy is a challenge for any business. It’s not a challenge that we should be giving up on.

Richard Brewin

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