Client conversations are the starting point for most advisory projects and value-add engagements. But is your firm digging down deep enough when chatting to business leaders and their management teams? And what can you do to supercharge these client conversations?
Paul Surtees, co-founder and CEO of Capitalise, explains how your firm can offer a better service through deeper conversations – and how this helps you solve your clients’ problems.
Accountancy is all about the numbers, right? Wrong. As any seasoned accounting professional will tell you, accounting is a people business. It’s an industry based on building relationships, getting to know people and – vitally – having informed conversations with your clients.
But are you having the right conversations with your clients? And are you drilling down into the real ambitions, goals, challenges and pain points that are on their agenda?
How well do you know your clients?
We all know how basic compliance forms the initial foundations of a client relationship. You carry out the bookkeeping, produce their statutory accounts and file their tax returns. Job done. But that’s really just the first layer of sponge in the accounting cake. There are so many other layers of frosting and sprinkles that you can add to keep your clients happy.
Friendly advice and support is the icing on the cake, with 1-2-1 mentoring and coaching as the final cherry on the top. And to offer these advisory and mentoring services in a productive and valuable way, you’ve got to know your clients inside out. The deeper your relationship and understanding, the more you can do to help.
- How well do I know the client’s personal aspirations and goals as an entrepreneur?
- How up to speed am I with their strategic five-year plan for the business?
- How in the loop am I when it comes to their big pain points and challenges?
- How well am I embedded in their top team as an adviser and confidant?
If you’re just keeping their finances ticking over and making sure they file their returns on time, you’re not maximising that client relationship. And the ball lies in your court to improve this situation and get the conversations flowing.
What your clients want from their accountant
A great accountant/client relationship goes way beyond the numbers. Getting their finances in tip-top shape is definitely a big expectation of any client and sorting out the compliance is a given. But ambitious business leaders want so much more than just a tidy set of accounts.
In our recent Get Fit For Business report, we asked 500 business leaders how fit they felt going into 2022. The answers were revealing, and showed how client expectations are changing.
- 76% of business leaders are feeling optimistic about 2022 – we know that businesses are keen to push forward and stabilise their recovery. They have big plans for growth and need help to bring these plans to reality over the coming year.
- 65% of leaders rely on their accountant for advice – businesses want help to manage their funding, growth, cashflow and business planning – all areas where you can assist. So, there’s a clear opportunity to offer better advice across more services.
- 66% of leaders say their accountant was their most trusted source of business advice over the pandemic – business leaders still see their accountant as their most important adviser. They trust your advice. They valued your support during Covid. And they need your continued support and guidance to drive their long-term success.
- 58% of leaders are planning to engage with a mentor or coach in 2022 – this desire to find a mentor speaks volumes. The past two years have been tough for many business leaders. But there’s a growing realisation that an experienced mentor can help them greatly on their business journey – both professionally and personally.
It’s clear that the average business leader is looking for a new kind of relationship with their accountant. They want detailed advice on their finances. Better strategic guidance when making big business decisions. And they need a supportive shoulder to lean on when times get tough.
But to become this all-singing, all-dancing adviser, your working relationships have to improve. And this all begins by opening up the conversation and getting to know your clients better.
“Friendly advice and support is the icing on the accounting cake, with 1-2-1 mentoring and coaching as the final cherry on the top”
More talk, more action: the value of opening up the conversation
Relationships work best when there’s open and honest communication between both parties. Sit down regularly with your clients, so you know what’s on their mind. Check in to find out how they’re doing and set the groundwork for a more productive working relationship.
We’ve covered this concept in depth in our More Talk, More Action guide to supercharging your client conversations. We know how valuable it is to kickstart a new narrative, or open up a new discussion point with a client. So, we’ve brought together a host of tips and conversation starters to help you press the turbo button.
- Talk about people – talk to your clients about their wellbeing, the pressures of running the business and how they’ve coped with stress and burnout. Ask them how they’ve adapted their working practices and how they’re supporting their team in challenging times. Find out about their personal goals, ambitions and lifestyle aims. And ask them where they most need your help to drive their business strategy.
- Talk about relationships – ask them about their customer and supplier relationships and where you can pitch in to help. Offer them financial, strategic and emotional advice, to make their journey easier. Introduce them to other business leaders from your client portfolio and help them become part of a wider, supportive community.
- Talk about numbers – talk about training in them the accounting basics, so they can get more insight from their accounts and key numbers. Ask them about their credit score and what they’re doing to improve their rating. Put their business strategy under the microscope and ask how they aim to fund their big plans for the year.
It might sound simplistic, but regular, informal contact is what keeps the relationship alive and well. Picking up the phone and asking ‘How’s everything going? Anything we can help with?’ could be a catalyst to something brilliant.
Making yourself the go-to adviser
Asking ‘Is there anything we can do to help?’ may sound so simple and innocuous. It’s one small question, but it can have such a big impact. It’s this ability to kickstart the conversation that marks out a competent accountant from a truly exceptional business adviser.
Our Get Fit For Business report tells us that 59% of business leaders wish their accountant would make the first move when it comes to having more valuable conversations. Clients know the knowledge and expertise you have, and they want you to be proactive, hands-on and start asking the questions that matter.
As their go-to adviser, you can make such a big difference:
- If there’s a new opportunity on the horizon, you can make sure the client has the funding to strike while the iron is hot. And help them with the decision-making process.
- If suppliers are being put off by a low credit score, you can work with the client to improve their credit rating. This then opens a gateway to a better financial future.
- If poor cashflow is causing a headache, you can find the best way to deliver a cash injection and help them keep the lights on in the business.
- If a business leader is feeling stressed and overworked, you can lighten their load and help them open up about their stresses and worries.
- When a client is in need of 1-2-1 coaching, you can become their valued mentor. You can share your own business experiences. Guide their way along the road. And make sure they focus on their own unique skills and capabilities as an entrepreneur.
This evolution might mean changing your mindset and adding the right advisory tools to your toolbox. But at Capitalise we have the resources you need to help with this transition.
We offer CPD-accredited online learning to get you and your team up to speed with the latest advisory techniques. We give you and your clients access to over 100+ different lenders via our Marketplace. And you can use our Monitor solution to track clients’ cashflow and credit positions, as well as access a detailed Capital Report that you can share with them directly.
We’ve got the people, training and resources you need to become the best possible adviser.
Supercharge your client conversations
Becoming a great adviser isn’t something that happens overnight. It means building bridges and starting the best conversations. It means nurturing a feeling of trust and demonstrating your value. And it means wearing a variety of different advisory hats at any one time.
Embracing this change means slipping into the shoes of the go-to adviser. And by taking on this multifaceted role, you future-proof the long-term success of your clients and your firm.