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What do clients really buy from you?
By Steve Mcintyre Smith
Mar 25, 2014

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Most clients know exactly what they want from their accountant, but they don’t know if their existing advisor offers what they truly want, or if they do, by the impression they have, it seems that their accountant is simply so busy right now that there’s no way that they could help them even if they did ask.

Many public accounting firms totally miss the plot when it comes to understanding what clients want. Many focus on compliance issues, not value-added issues.
  • We do not sell ‘Financial Statements Preparation’ services.
  • We do not sell ‘Review Engagements or Audits’.
  • We do not sell ‘Tax Return Completion’ or ‘Tax Planning’ services.
We basically take orders for this type of compliance work, and deliver an okay service just in time – often because of the ridiculous situation of world-wide governments expecting public accounting firms and tax preparers to get all their clients’ returns submitted on the same day!

If we were designing the nation’s tax system from scratch I sure hope they wouldn’t design it this way! Anyway, back to the point.
Steve, I hear you ask, ‘If it’s not any of the above, what on Earth do we sell?’

Well before I answer that, I want to prepare you for a shock. Remember all that sweating you did to pass the exams to get you into this wonderful profession?
Remember all the late nights, long days and initial boredom of some of the assignments?

Remember how you knew it would all be worth it one day, you just have to get through the first 30 months or so, get your designation and the world will be your oyster?

Well, here it is folks…

Clients don’t buy what we’re trained to deliver. We don’t sell technical services to our family business or owned-managed clients (they’re mostly incapable of understanding it in the first place, which is why they come to us).

We actually sell:
  • Peace of mind
  • Security, and
  • Hope
That’s it.

Nothing to do with the technical aspect that we focus 100% of our time on initially is it?

And yet, it is everything to do with the technical aspect. We just call what we do uninteresting names that clients couldn’t get excited about even if we fed them ‘speed’ intravenously!

The fact is, that in order to provide our clients with peace of mind, we need to be technically proficient in preparing their financial statements, organizing their tax affairs and so forth.

In order to help a client plan for their future financial security, again, we need to be technically competent (at least) and that requires all that ‘sweat equity’ we put into our careers in the early days.

Technical competency is our ticket to get into the game – it’s not the game itself!
And if we have an ounce of entrepreneurial spirit in our body, we might also be providing our clients with hope – by sitting down with them and planning their business out for the next year or two, by preparing cash flow forecasts and projected financial statements and then offer advice and guidance on how they can improve their businesses through ‘what-if?’ scenario discussions.

And that brings we full circle, back to my opening question.

What clients want is:
  • Peace of mind
  • Security, and
  • Hope
And translated into a more practical language that means you have to be:
  • Approachable
  • Easy to talk to
  • A good listener
  • Accessible
  • Proactive
  • Compassionate
  • Creative, and
Have the long term success of your clients at heart

Remember, many of our small business owners that we have as clients have no-one else to talk to about the financial condition of their business. It can be a lonely place for them to be.

Often they’re just dying to shout ‘Help me build a better business – PLEASE!’ but they don’t know what you could do to help, or even if you’re interested. Why? – because we don’t promote the value-added services. We focus on promoting what a great audit we do and similar services that clients see as a ‘distress purchase’ – they don’t WANT it, but they have to have it.

Clients don’t jump out of bed excited in the morning and proclaim ‘Today is going to be a great day – the Auditors are coming in!’

Indeed, a client’s view of an audit might be something more like…
  • Come into my place of work, where we’ve barely got room for ourselves, never mind you lot
  • Interrupt all the processes that make me money
  • Disturb my key people in their moments of deepest thought
  • Ask us all the same stupid questions you asked last year
  • Compile all of my short comings into an embarrassing letter to the board
  • And then, charge me $30,000 for the privilege!
Little wonder that most clients suffer an Audit rather than enjoy it!
We need to show our clients that we can do so much more than them than just the annual bean-counting exercise.

By talking to our clients more often, getting closer to them and letting them know how we can help them build a better business, we will develop a more profitable practice that will provide us with more gratifying work while making substantially more money!

Steve McIntyre-Smith

Steve McIntyre-Smith has been involved in and around the public accounting profession since 1980.

Today, he is rated as one of the World’s Top Twelve Consultants to the Accounting Profession (by ‘AVN’ and ‘Build a World-Class Accountancy Practice’ in 2013).

He spent the first 12 years of his career in public accounting, working in both very small and very large firms, and from 1985, as a partner up to the sale of his practice (which he grew from one to four offices and from 3 to 60 staff) in 1992.

Since then he has worked as a consultant to the accounting profession offering a wide range of services directly to public accounting firms and as a PD course leader for their professional bodies.

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