We’ve talked before about how in the digital age your firm is going to have to reposition itself from being “just the accountants” to being a financial consulting firm for your clients.
We’ve discussed some of the methods you’ll make that transition from your own end. But it’s not enough to change your firm – you also have to change your clients’ way of looking at you.
Use your meetings to change your relationship with your clients
Previously, your interactions with your clients may have been as simple as them handing over a shoebox full of receipts and then some time later they would get back their compliance work and that was pretty much it. Or maybe you did some bookkeeping or some payroll work. The point is, they saw you and your firm as essentially nothing more than an advanced calculator.
In order for your firm’s transition to consultancy to work you have to get your clients to look at you as an essential team member in their business.
One of the routes that you can use to affect this change is your meetings. By taking control of those meetings you can shape them to help redefine your relationship with your clients.
Here are some tips that should help you move meetings in the direction that you want them to go.
1. Get your clients to set concrete goals
Have your clients set goals for themselves whether it be personal (e.g. retirement at a specific age) or for their business (hit a new revenue threshold by the end of the year).
When you introduce and discuss these goals in a meeting you’re putting the notion into the minds of your clients that you’re a part of the team that is helping them to achieve their goals. They’re going to become at least a little bit emotionally invested in you since you’ve made it your business to help them achieve their dreams.
If they’re not sure what those goals should be, this is an opportunity for you to shine. Get them to spitball – ask them to come up with four or five vaguely defined areas in which they’d like to see their business improve. Write the ideas down for them.
Next, drill down in each of those areas. If one of those areas is about gaining more referrals, get them to come up with four or five ways in which this can be achieved. Ask them which of these actions seem the most important to get done. Highlight them. You now have monthly milestones.
You also have a connection in your client’s mind to the moment when their game-plan took shape. In fact, you were the one coaching them into decisive action. At the end of the brainstorming session, once you have the milestones and goals laid out, ask them if they feel sure that they can get the milestones achieved on their own or if they might need a little help from their friendly neighborhood accounting firm.
2. Find out what kinds of ideas excite them
Let’s say that your client has recently met with a mentor figure, gone to a seminar, took a course… anything where they might have been introduced to new ways of improving their business. In your next meeting ask them which single idea excited them the most.
Really what you’re doing is returning them to point #1 – you’re asking what their dream is. The ideas that excite them the most are likely going to help reveal to you what their most desired goals are for their business or life.
Once you have that idea that excites them you can help figure out how to help them proceed from there.
3. Establish your client’s timeline
Your clients’ goals and dreams are at the future end of their timeline. But take them back the other way – what were they hoping to get out of their business when they first started it? If they’re (for example) five years into the business, where did they expect or hope to be by now?
Don’t let them be vague. If they thought they’d be bringing in more money per month by now ask them exactly how much “more” is. Again, this gives you a specific goal to work towards. You can take a look at other financial factors and determine what can be done to get them where they want to be as efficiently as possible.
4. When offering additional services, make it about them
You’ve begun to outsource your compliance work or maybe you have some new software; whatever the case, you’re able to offer your client more services. The walking-talking calculator version of your firm would simply state a version of “We now have Service X. Buy it please.”
The team member version of your firm however first gets your client to talk about pain points they’re having within their business.
For example they bring up that they’re getting run ragged because they can’t afford a new hire. Now you’re free to offer your analysis in which you may identify other areas that are not as efficient as they could be and, with your suggested fixes, they’ll now be able to hire on some help.
You’re not in the meeting to sell something; you’re there to look for opportunities where you can come to the rescue.
5. If you’re wooing a client, don’t make the meeting about prices
Lower prices are not as sexy as you might think. If the purpose of your meeting is to woo a client away from a competitor, you want to base your romancing on your services and your value-adds, not your price. In fact, a lower price might very well make you seem less competent – if you were better at your job you’d be able to charge more.
So in this kind of meeting do what we’ve already discussed above – make it about your client’s goals. Chances are their current accounting firm never bothered couching their relationship in these kinds of terms – they’re still the walking-talking calculators instead of a firm of people dedicated to helping a client meet their goals.
6. Use visuals
A good chart is going to have much more of an impact than a paragraph on a page. Even better are visuals that show past victories for your firm.
So if a potential client has previously stated that they want to be able to increase their monthly revenue by a certain amount, nothing is going to excite them more than if you can show them a rising chart where you helped another client’s business do exactly that. Clients are going to have an easy time relating their situation to that of other clients, and if your relationship to the other client is framed as being a team member (instead of as a mere calculator) then the new client is going to start seeing you in that light as well.
7. Put it on the agenda
Perhaps the best way to steer the course of a meeting is to write up an agenda. Write down the different actions listed above as concrete steps that you’re going to be taking during the conversation.
By taking control of the meeting you’re taking control of the client’s perception of your firm.