Donna Horrigan

Clients may not currently view you as a partner, and that’s because success in the past didn’t depend on it. But clients’ expectations have changed, with the choice being evolve or risk being left behind.

By Donna Horrigan

Over the past few years, CPAs have seen a dramatic change in the way they run their businesses, particularly as evolving technologies reshape traditional accounting. But even though rapid innovations are disrupting the industry and creating a host of new challenges, there’s also a huge opportunity to gain new ground and accelerate profits and growth.

With technology taking on more compliance-related tasks, CPAs are finding they can now shift their focus to advisory services and value-added strategic input. And that’s good news. In an environment where information is easy to come by but insights are in short supply, this is exactly what clients are looking for. But it also means you have to be more than just exceptional at your craft; you have to be able to build strong relationships and become a strategic business partner and trusted advisor to your clients.

The question is: How do your clients view you today?

The reality for many CPAs is that their clients don’t currently view them as partners, and that’s because success in the past didn’t depend on it. They could take a more transactional approach to the job — answering the client’s request, solving the immediate problem — and that was sufficient.

As the AICPA points out, it’s not enough anymore. Accounting professionals will have to evolve or risk being left behind. Clients’ expectations have changed, artificial intelligence is improving, and CPAs will have to adopt a new trusted advisor mindset and a new skillset to stay relevant.

Let’s take a closer look at three critical steps for making this shift.

  1. View selling as helping.

The last thing many CPAs see themselves as is a salesperson. It’s also the last thing they want to see themselves as. In large part, this comes from their view of selling. Many think of sales as something that you do to people — you’re getting them to buy something. By contrast, CPAs typically see themselves in more of a client service role — I’m here to ‘serve my clients’.

But imagine if you described your job not just as “I’m here to serve my clients,” but also as “I can serve my clients better by identifying additional needs they have.” How much more value could you offer your clients if you were able to dig deeper than just the immediate transaction or request they had for you?

To be successful today, CPAs need to view both service and selling in the same way. They’re both about identifying and filling needs people have, solving their problems and creating value for them. This is a mindset shift that requires, among other things, moving from a transactional to a client-focused approach to the relationship.

But it’s also about your own attitudes and beliefs. People are often held back by what they think they’re capable of or what their attitudes are about the role of selling. Those beliefs can become self-limiting behaviors that keep you from achieving more.

On the other hand, if you believe that selling is helping, you’ll be looking for those opportunities to add value. And you’ll be more self-motivated to commit to the activities you need to do to be successful.

  1. Ask More (and Better) Questions

To really understand what a client needs and how you can provide more value to them, you have to ask good questions. Examine your client conversations and consider how you might ask more high-impact questions to identify further needs. This is how you can find out what matters most to your client, create more value and strengthen the relationship.

Keep in mind, meaningful interactions with your clients will put them at ease. And when they’re talking and you’re listening, you can ask them about the challenges and opportunities they may not even be aware of. Then you can help fill the need or show them how other services can help address those deeper needs. This is where you can deliver the valuable insights that will set you apart from the pack. Doing so requires complementary skills to those traditionally sought after by CPA’s. But they are teachable and with a little practice can become a regular part of your client discussions.

  1. Demonstrate Value

Value-creation is the ultimate goal in selling. From your client’s point of view, value is the intrinsic worth they receive from you beyond your products or expertise.

Selling value requires that you:

  • Understand each client’s definition of value
  • Differentiate yourself from your competitors
  • Recognize how relationships influence the buying process — which means contacting the right stakeholders
  • Understand your client’s business environment and challenges

Moving to a strategic partnership role takes new skills and a new mindset, but it’s more than worth it. As Bill Reeb, CPA/CITP, CGMA, CEO of the Succession Institute and vice chair of the AICPA, said about the next generation of accounting firms:

“Once our professionals shift into spending more time in this higher valued advisory space, we’re going to go kicking and screaming to a place we will love to be. It’s a much more valuable, satisfying and profitable space for our professionals to occupy.”

About the Author
Donna Horrigan
Donna Horrigan

Vice President of Client Development

For the past five years Donna Horrigan has been partnering with our clients to drive business outcomes through performance improvement...
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