“My clients won’t pay for advisory services.” This is the number excuse used by firms who resist making the shift from traditional services to advisory. Faced with pushback from clients who don’t like to pay by the hour for more traditional compliance services, these firms naturally expect similar concerns when they begin to offer proactive advisory services. Clients do not want to pay for services they don’t understand or worse, don’t value. When we are delivering services mandated by outside regulators, tax authorities, or bankers we are forced to compete mainly on price. These are traditional compliance services, which are generally provided once a year and often seen as disruptions to the day to day challenges of running a successful business. They are as popular as a root canal.
When we shift the nature of the services we deliver to those that can actually improve business outcomes, we don’t face the same pricing challenges (or the need to apply anesthesia). We can instead show the value of measurable results, standardized procedures, and motivated teams.
In order to deliver higher value services, we must first change the perception of current and future clients who we have trained all too well. We have taught them to expect poor communication, long detailed reports they can’t read, and late follow up. They expect us to limit our inquiries to finance related activities, while ignoring the day to day customer, operational and people challenges that can bring any organization to its knees.
The first step to changing their expectations is to start asking different questions. In that initial prospect meeting, or first financial statement review for existing clients, ask your client:
- “Are you getting the information you need to run the company? Is it relevant, accurate, and readily available?”
- “What systems provide the data you need to make decisions? Are they integrated?”
- “Rank the level of knowledge/ understanding of financial information by members of your leadership team from 1-5 (with 1 being no knowledge and 5 being they understand how to construct a financial statement from scratch).”
- “Who has access to critical business reports?”
- “What kind of financial and operational information do you share with your leaders? Front line workers?”
- What are you biggest challenges? Are they people or process issues?
Next, have them walk you through their systems and any connecting points between them. Ask them if their processes are documented and if so, ask to see a copy.
At this point, your client might start to ask you if you are in fact an accountant. Assure them that yes you are, but you are a different kind of accountant. You are an advisor. You price differently for project work and you are happy to provide them with a (fixed fee) proposal to document and review their current systems and processes.
Advisors rely on internal systems that support them in managing their own client interactions in a way that sets them apart from other accountants. From proposals to time and billing, these systems free accountants to manage their engagements, bill timely, and hold their clients accountable to agreed upon next steps. Take a look at BQE Core for Accountants.