As a leader in your firm, you are persistently looking for the key to strengthen your CPA advisory relationships and build those long-term clients. However, advisory services can often be met with certain resistance and fears.
In this episode of Pulse of Practice “A Conversation with Angie Grissom”, Paul Miller, CPA from Business by Design, and I are joined by Angie Grissom, Owner and Chief Relationship Officer of The Rainmaker Companies. Together, we discuss co-creating with your clients, an innovative method of approaching clients in order to secure strong, profitable, and long-lasting client relationships.
Why should you start co-creating to strengthen your CPA advisory relationships?
The business climate is changing, the accounting profession is changing, and the world is getting smaller. Geographic borders are disappearing, and there is more competition. Businesses need workable solutions from advisors.
“It’s a new time,” noted Angie. “The best way for our CPA firms to really engage with their clients is to approach it in a co-development fashion.”
This means switching how we work as accountants. Don’t approach client meetings with only a checklist of compliance offerings. Instead, really sit down with clients and co-develop solutions based on their problems and what is happening in their world. It’s the best way to stay competitive and create those long-lasting relationships.
“CPAs are in the perfect position to become the trusted advisor to their clients, more so than other professions,” added Angie. “Many firms ask how to do it, or say they weren’t trained to do it. I find that they do practice advisory, they just do not know how to charge for it.”
Overcoming advisory fears.
There is a sense of safety in the crutch of commodity selling versus advisory. The concept of co-creation takes that fear one step deeper. Now you must step out on the ledge and give up some control in the service building process. But the fear is detrimental to your growth and strengthening your CPA advisory relationships.
“When you talk about co-creation, co-development and advisory services in general, it does elicit fear from people,” said Angie. “They say, ‘I didn’t go to school for this. This is not a checklist.’ Think about why you need co-creation. If you are competing with other accounting firms, you’re competing on price, location, how you look on your marketing materials. You honestly do not have a great shot of winning.
“The competition is fierce, and people are afraid of that. If you finally roll up your sleeves and start co-developing possible solutions with the clients in the pursuit phase, you’re stepping out ahead of them.”
In what Angie called the pursuit phase, you’re sitting with the client and asking about their personal and professional goals. You’re obtaining a clear understanding of where the client came from and where they are looking to go. As you talk through the goals together, you’re co-creating a vision for the future together. And as you move to the proposal phase, if you know the client’s hot spots and vision, why would a client not want to work with somebody who is in that position?
“It puts you in a position to really solve problems while working hand-in-hand on the right solutions,” added Angie. “Many times, targeting and pursing opportunities is equally as frightening as advisory selling. But, if you sell in a co-development way, the sales cycle is shorter, and your prospects already know how you work together.”
We are in a relationship business.
A client looking at accounting firms should not buy a service. They should buy a relationship. So, it’s important as accountants that we tee up a long-term relationship. While the fear of being wrong is all too common within firms, clients are looking to us for leadership, expertise, and perspective.
“People in accounting are trained to know the answers, and with that fear comes another fear of bringing up topics that are not in your sweet spot,” said Angie. “If you are unwilling to ask general questions about goals and businesses, you’re not positioning yourself in a way to truly serve a client.
“If I was working with a client that had a specific question I could not personally serve, I would see this as a sign that I’m truly serving them holistically. I don’t know all the answers, but I know the way to connect you with the people that do. We call that concept climbing the value ladder.”
We must be willing to put the time in and see the benefits not only for your firm, but for the clients. If they can trust us, and you invest the time at the beginning to truly understand them, you can begin to charge for co-development meetings and open the door for additional opportunities.
“We are in a relationship business,” said Angie. “We are not selling tires or widgets. The way we work with clients is based on if they trust us. We don’t want to be viewed as someone who charges for every conversation. We have to take a more holistic, global view, and I have found that clients are very loyal to their CPAs when it’s a personal business.”
Co-developing and pricing: where to start?
To start co-creating and strengthen your CPA relationships, what could you offer? Look at the scope of what you’re currently offering, as well as the value perception of those projects by the industry. Then, creatively go to market by talking to your top clients about what they need.
“When you co-develop, you are looking at a timeline, delivery metrics, the team,” noted Angie. “All of those things are negotiable. You’re looking at the scope, so you can very quickly create buckets of pricing based on levels of service and different types of offerings. One of my clients will not take any new clients until they agree to quarterly consultative meetings, and it’s baked into the fee of their firm.”
While we could go on questioning methodology, it’s important above all to have a starting point. Some action is better than no action when it comes to advisory.
“It’s about being open, getting in there, asking the right questions, being prepared, not thinking you have to know all the answers, and being openminded and confident in your ability to package and price,” said Angie. “It’s not rocket science, and the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become.”