How can I communicate the 'advisor' to my accounting clients?


David: How can I show up with the advisor relationship to someone who I’ve only been providing compliant service for many years. So they buy into this advisor mindset, client’s provider. How do you make the transition. For this question we’ll start with Steve and go to Angie and then next we’ll go Angie, Steve and back and forth. But Steve, you know in this instance, how you approach this question? How can they begin to communicate? How can they show up to move into a type of advisor status?

Steve: That worst thing that accountants can do, and this I do sadly see quite a lot, is basically to hide behind the fact, well we haven’t done it before, we don’t quite know how we’re going to introduce this subject with our clients going forward so we won’t bother. And so that inertia just continues. That’s a self-fulfilling and destructive prophecy. So you have to sort of break through that. And I think it involves actually some upfront candor with your client and saying something like, “We took a long, hard look at what our … ” So when you’re talking to a preexisting, long-established client, “Look Dave.” In my role plays, the other person, the client is always called Dave. That just happens to be your name as well, David.

“Dave, we took a long, hard look at what our clients really wanted as accountants and what they were telling us is they wanted us to use our skills with numbers in more valuable and insightful ways so that we could help them make better decisions and get better results as a consequence. So we’ve refocused the energy, the efforts, the services within our firm to meet those kinds of needs. Let me show you what I mean.” Now that’s a great sort of opening script to sort of explain the transition, not to hide away from the fact that you haven’t done this stuff in the past, to sort of acknowledge it in a nice gentle way, but explain that you’re moving practice forward and you’re responding to the needs of clients.

And then what I would say is that … And I love that phrase by the way, “Let me show you”, because as soon as you actually demonstrate something to them rather then immediately talking about it, the much sooner you’ll break through their skepticism. Words are easy. If you say, “Well we can help you in an advisory and consulting kind of capacity”, those are just cheap words. They’re vibrations in the air. They really don’t count for anything in most clients’ minds. What you’ve got to do is root it in a reality that they understand, that they see, that they perceive, that they experience. And the best way of doing that is by actually giving them a taste of it. “Let me show you what I mean”, and then you move to some kind of easy, simple but high-impact initial piece of advice, consulting advisory advice, that grabs their attention and then begins to establish the starting point for the ongoing conversation. I’m sure we’ll come back to what some of those deliverables, what some of those starting point might be, but in principle I think that’s a great way of attacking that question.

Yeah, and I want to follow-up with examples of deliverables. I know that the question that’s coming up … We’ll dive into that in a second, but I want to ask Angie the same question which is, for somebody that is a compliance-based firm, how do they begin to either mindset shift, action shift. How can they start to feel like they can make that transition to being more advisor-focused for their client base? What are some things that they might need to think about or set up in their firm as they’re making that transition?

Angie: Sure, David. Well I definitely agree with what Steve talked about in terms of changing the conversation. And I think it really comes down to being more comfortable with questioning versus telling or knowing. So what I mean is as practitioners, most people are trained to know the answer. So when you’re working on clients on compliance type services, you’re paid to be the expert and you’re paid to know the answer. So your meetings feel a lot different then they would if you were taking more of an advisory approach. So my advice would be, change the conversation. And Steve mentioned having a meeting with the client and saying, “Id like to look at your business maybe in another way.”

Those weren’t exactly your words, but I would just suggest having a different kind of meeting and invite the client out for coffee or tea or for lunch and ask questions about personal and professional goals. “What’s going in with your business? Tell me everything that’s on your mind.” Open up conversations like that so that you are being fed information around what the pain points or situation points are so that you are then able to offer a suggestion which might be a consultative or advisory kind of relationship that might be that you’re referring a center of influence into the relationship that has expertise and areas where you don’t, but you’re still providing an advisory kind of relationship to the client.

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