We’re all familiar with the refrain that clients want ‘more listening, more advice, more support in reaching their financial goals.’ However, we also know that, in reality, many of our clients will not pay for additional services, even when we can see that they need them.
So, there’s often a clear disconnect between what we believe our clients need and what they are prepared to pay for. What’s going on?
There are 2 distinct levels in our relationship with clients, the one based on transactions and outcomes and the other based on feelings and emotions. The transactional relationship very much focuses on the delivery of defined service for an agreed fee. In most cases, the service is based on tax compliance. It’s a good service provided by technical experts who know what they are doing. It defines us as accountants in public practice. In fact, it defines us too well! The emotional relationship is based on a real understanding of the client’s financial needs. Too often, we make assumptions based on the transactional relationship without even considering what the client really wants.
The first challenge is to spend more time actively listening to clients talk about their needs and to actually help them visualise their future in ways they may not have considered in the past. This process creates a stronger emotional connection, which is the key to extending the range of services we provide to our clients.
The second challenge in moving the client relationship to a deeper level is to convince your clients that you can offer them more than tax compliance services. This is no easy shift in perception for clients who have seen you do the same thing year on, year out, for many years. It’s like telling our life partner that the way we managed our relationship in the past is no longer appropriate for the future. For some, this may be welcome news. For others, it may deliver the response ‘but why change things, I accept the relationship as it is.’
Extend your perception
Try this simple exercise to ‘extend’ your perception of client relationships.
Close your eyes and think of your client relationships. Imagine a picture on a screen in your mind’s eye. See it in vivid detail. Now, imagine yourself stepping back from the picture and removing the frame from around the edges of the picture. Move the frame to another part of the picture, perhaps part of it that you did not see before. Study this “frame” and see how it is different from your first view. Repeat this process, moving the frame about your picture to see different views and reflect on the change of perspective.
Did this exercise give you a sense that there’s a different way of looking at your client relationships? And that, for many of your clients, the broader picture is already there, it’s just a bit fuzzy and indistinct.
Most clients are not aware of the possibilities for their future whilst they are trying to get through each day and week. This is a key reason why simply providing our clients with a list of services we can provide is rarely going to get them across the line with new services, unless they’re experiencing some sort of pain or fear.
A simple tool that I recommend firms use to broaden client discussions is called the RAIN professional selling model. RAIN focuses on asking open ended, probing and clarifying questions to gently uncover client needs. By helping clients to articulate their aspirations and afflictions, a value gap is created which then gives you the opportunity to discuss your value proposition.
The RAIN 5 step process is as follows:
- Build Rapport
- Help articulate aspirations and afflictions
- Uncover the impact of success and failure (value gap)
- Describe the new reality
- Craft a solution that closes the gap
Reframe the relationship
The key to broadening your service offering is to reframe the relationship you have with your clients. This requires courage and a clear vision of where you want your business to go. You need to be able to communicate your new ‘value proposition’ without hesitation and with passion. The people you work with also need to understand that they are in the business of managing client relationships as much as delivering accounting solutions.
How confident do you feel in having the following conversation with your clients?
What we used to do was good. Now what we do aims to make us more aligned with your financial needs. We are committed to better understanding your needs and objectives. I’d like to arrange a coffee meeting to discuss your plans for the future. I will ask questions I haven’t asked in the past. I want to work with you to focus more on the future. I do this with ALL of my clients. When would you be available for a meeting?
Become the trusted advisor
It’s clear that in talking with clients, most of them are looking for trusted advisors. The challenge is that they don’t necessarily know what they want and they certainly don’t expect that their accountant will be able to facilitate the sort of forward-thinking conversations required to challenge their mindset.
The secret to adding real value to clients AND getting paid for your advice is to start working on the relationship. Get out and listen to clients and you’ll see a significant shift in their perception of you and your firm.
New eLearning Program – CLIENT CONNECT
In April 2017, HTST’s eLearning Platform will feature a new 12 part online course ‘CLIENT CONNECT.‘ This course is designed to assist accounting and advisory firms put in place systems and processes to really connect with clients in an ongoing accounting and advisory capacity. For more information, click here.