"I can't believe how much I was charged to have my taxes prepared. How difficult can data entry be?" I discovered this statement made by an acquaintance of mine while glancing through my Facebook posts about two years ago. I can't remember if I was shocked, offended, or just surprised, but I do recall how disappointed I was that my acquaintance didn't value the services that accountants and CPAs provide. After holding my breath and counting to ten, I responded by pointing out that accountants need a bachelor's degree, and that CPAs need to pass a rigorous exam and work for a licensed CPA for several years before earning their own license. There! That's why people should think more highly of accountants. Don't they understand all the hard, difficult work they do? (Insert inflated ego here.) Fast forward to today: This episode got me thinking about a broader issue that the accounting industry as a whole is facing—How can CPAs and accountants better articulate the value they provide to their clients and companies? Here are several suggestions:
Focus on the relationship, not the tax return or audit
The cornerstone of any relationship in life, not just in business, is to understand the other person's motivation and agenda. Before talking balance sheets and income statements, learn as much as you can about your client's business by asking plenty of questions: "Tell me a little bit about how you started your company." "What kind of clients is your business targeting?" "What keeps you up at night?" Ask good questions; be an even better listener. When it comes time to talk about accounting services, your client will be more likely to appreciate the value you provide and not question the amount on your invoice.
CPAs are in a fantastic position to understand what a business is doing efficiently - and not efficiently. Creating a list of questions to give your client by glancing through their financial statements once or twice a year can show that you care about how well their business is operating:
- "Who's your most profitable customer?"
- "What's your most cost-effective lead generating tool?"
- "When was the last time you reviewed your loan covenants?"
Show that you care about the overall health of your client's business, not just about billing the tax return or audit that was completed. If your clients don't know the answers to these questions you have posed, that's your cue to provide a proposed course of action. If you show your client how hiring you to answer these questions can help them make or save an extra $50,000 or $100,000, chances are they will be more willing to pay a higher premium for your services.
Keep in touch
What do clients want more than anything else? A phone call. A letter. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But it's surprising how many CPAs don't follow through with proactive communication. Yes, demonstrating your technical abilities is important, but promptly returning a phone call - or being the one to make a phone call in the first place - can be more vital to sustaining a client relationship than showing how you memorized the Affordable Care Act. My little Facebook episode taught me that CPAs and accountants can't take for granted that their clients or bosses understand the value that they bring to an organization. Accountants can improve how they communicate their value to clients by establishing genuine relationships, offering no-cost consultations once or twice a year and consistently staying in touch.
About the Author: Bob Wolff is an accountant-turned-Channel Manager at BQE who helps to offer consulting and software solutions for BQE customers. He likes to share his business expertise here on the blog whenever he can.