What do your clients want?

There is an apocryphal story about a group of newly recruited executives at Black & Decker in the days when they only sold one basic product. They were asked what it was that their customers wanted from them.

The standard answer was ‘drills’.

“No” they were told. “Our customers want HOLES.”

In a similar vein the great Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt used to tell his students, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

How do you feel about this concept and the idea of focusing on the hole in the wall that your prospective clients want?

The longer I’ve been away from conventional practice as a tax adviser, the more I realise that although some professionals seem to be aware of this concept, the vast majority pitch for new work without an awareness that what our clients want are results and solutions to problems. They are often indifferent as to how we help get them. They will rarely care much about our internal processes and systems. I’ve also noticed that there seems to be far more emphasis on the client’s ‘pain’ in sales training these days than I ever saw in my past life. And it’s often the toughest part of networking too.

What do you try to find out when you meet with a prospective client or when you’re networking and hoping that you will gain new advocates for your work? Do you take a moment to find out what result they are seeking or what problem they have? And do you focus your comments more on whether their desired result can be achieved or their problem solved than on how you and your firm operate?

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Losing last year's new clients

I wonder how many readers of this blog know people who fall into any of the 7 traps I’ve listed below?  I suspect they are more common in larger firms than in smaller ones – or do you know better?

Do any of these traps seem familiar? I reckon that they’re all things that can happen very easily when we focus our energy on trying to win new clients at the expense of managing the relationship with newly won clients.

1. Once you’ve signed up the client, you disappear and let your staff ‘look after’ the client.
2. You show a consistent lack of respect for your client inside your own firm.
3. You hide the other ways your firm could help as this is “my” client.
4. You stick to the tried and tested approaches – doing things the same way you’ve always done them.
5. You never, ever check to see how you are doing and what the client thinks – ‘no news is good news’ is your mantra..
6. You make your invoices as confusing and indecipherable as possible and chase for payment before the due date set out on the invoice.
7. You bill by reference to the time you spend regardless of how this compares with the fee quotes you gave when you won the client.

What else are you aware of other professionals doing that  results in them losing the new clients they were so proudly proclaiming had been newly won just last year?

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Losing last year’s new clients

I wonder how many readers of this blog know people who fall into any of the 7 traps I’ve listed below?  I suspect they are more common in larger firms than in smaller ones – or do you know better?

Do any of these traps seem familiar? I reckon that they’re all things that can happen very easily when we focus our energy on trying to win new clients at the expense of managing the relationship with newly won clients.

1. Once you’ve signed up the client, you disappear and let your staff ‘look after’ the client.
2. You show a consistent lack of respect for your client inside your own firm.
3. You hide the other ways your firm could help as this is “my” client.
4. You stick to the tried and tested approaches – doing things the same way you’ve always done them.
5. You never, ever check to see how you are doing and what the client thinks – ‘no news is good news’ is your mantra..
6. You make your invoices as confusing and indecipherable as possible and chase for payment before the due date set out on the invoice.
7. You bill by reference to the time you spend regardless of how this compares with the fee quotes you gave when you won the client.

What else are you aware of other professionals doing that  results in them losing the new clients they were so proudly proclaiming had been newly won just last year?

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Networking with everyone and no one?

Networking (whether online or face to face) is all about building relationships.  A little part of my heart sinks when I meet someone at a networking event and they thrust their business card into my hand ‘just in case’.  Just in case what?  [I explained the consequences of this approach on an earlier blog: No one refers work to a business card]

I see little point in giving my card out to all sundry (or collecting dozens of cards in one evening). I don’t want to send everyone I meet an email or a brochure about the Tax Advice Network and I certainly don’t want to receive information through the post or by email from everyone I meet either. So I try to spend enough time with each person for us to decide if it’s worth continuing the discussion on a future occasion.

If I actively pursued everyone I met I fear my reputation would suffer. After all how do you feel when you get a brochure through the post or a salesy email from someone you spoke to briefly at a networking event?

I have been delighted to find on occasion that although a stranger wasn’t an accountant that they are married to an accountant, have a brother, father, sister, daughter, son or a friend who is an accountant. And by helping the stranger I have started to build a relationship with someone who may act as an advocate for me and my services for accountants.

I was reminded of this earlier when I saw a comment on Seth Godin’s blog about Catchers and Throwers. If you’re wondering why trying to build a big network isn’t working for you, you may find this helpful. In summary Seth suggests:

You can contact just about anyone you want. The only rule is you need to contact them personally, with respect, and do it months before you need their help! Contact them about them, not about you. Engage. Contribute. Question. Pay attention. Read. Interact.

Then, when you’ve earned the right to attention and respect, months and months later, sure, ask. It takes a lot of time and effort, which is why volume isn’t the answer for you, quality is.

That’s a great way to get a job, promote a site, make a friend, spread the word or just be a human.

These are wise words. If you think back to your own approach, is it effective or are you networking with everyone and (as a result) no one?

PS: I have written a 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to Network more effectively. Click here for full details>>>

If you would like to book me to speak on the subject at your in-house conference or training session, do get in touch. There’s an outline of my talk on ‘How to ensure your networking activity is successful’ here>>>  

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Whose relationship is it anyway?

You’ve been instrumental in bringing a new client into the firm and you’ve looked after them well. Or, perhaps you weren’t the finder, simply the minder of the relationship and the client thinks of you as their main contact at the firm.

What happens when you leave to join another practice or to start up by yourself?

  • Let’s assume that the firm will want to retain the client.
  • You may want to ‘take your client’ with you.
  • The client may want to go with you or may want to stay with the firm.

Your employment contract or partnership agreement will almost certainly contain a no poaching clause. I’m lucky. Whenever I’ve moved firms it’s always been on good terms and I’ve always abided by the terms of the agreements I’ve signed. The alternative approach is to look for legal loopholes and/or to risk legal proceedings.

New partners with a following are very attractive. I was going to qualify that and say a ‘profitable’ following. In practice what tends to matter is the value of the fees that are expected to follow the new recruit. Prospective partners in a firm are more attractive if they have client relationships that would be at risk if the individual was to leave and seek partnership elsewhere.

Whose relationship is it anyway? And does anything other than the client’s choice really matter? That’s a pretty simplistic view as a decent adviser can ensure that the client is more or less reliant upon them as individuals than might otherwise be the case. Is this simply down to morals? Good business sense? A commercial attitude?

Questions to ponder I think.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants who want to STANDOUT and become more successful. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Do you hold back due to fear of failure or fear of success?

What’s holding you back? Fear of failure or fear of success? That may not make sense initially but it’s a concept worth thinking about. I asked one of my mentoring candidates this question recently as I felt that they were inadvertently sabotaging their plans for the future.

I shared with them a famous quote by Marianne Williamson, taken from her book, A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles. I set it out in full on this blog last year. It starts:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…”

Are you one of those people who feels they are not worthy of success? Why? Of course you deserve to be successful. Your experiences to date have brought you to where you are. You have a unique lifetime of experiences to draw upon and to learn from. You are worthy. You can succeed in your ambitions. But first you need to believe that you are worthy and to take steps to realise your ambitions.

Or are you one of those people with loads of great ideas and yet you take very little action towards making any of them a reality? Hard to choose which way to go? Hard to choose which option to pursue first? Not choosing is an option in itself.

I’m all for trying to anticipate the consequences of our choices. Indeed doing this can help exclude some options. It’s not always possible to wade through our choices and options alone. You may need the honest support and challenge of a third party, be it a friend or family member with whom you are comfortable sharing your ambitions and who can ask informed challenging questions. Or someone completely independent. 😉

Or you may simply need to be honest as to what’s holding you back? Fear of failure or fear of success?

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants who want to STANDOUT and become more successful. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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How enthusiastic are you?

In January 2003 the ICAEW published a report “The Profitable and Sustainable Practice”. You can still access it online and I recommend it as many of the points covered therein are as relevant today as they were 5 years ago.

It was aimed particularly at small practices, which operate in the SME sector. Although it’s hard to pull out just one or two ideas I had to highlight this one.

There’s one pre-requisite, one ingredient that sells…and that’s enthusiasm. If you really enjoy your work, that shines through, and you will be successful – clients will want to be with you, and will hire you. It can’t be faked – at least not for very long.

Everyone who knows me recognises my enthusiastic nature. When I was younger I may even have been a touch too enthusiastic. It can unnerve those around you if you are evidently more enthusiastic than everyone else. That was an important lesson for me some years back.

To be enthusiastic means: having or showing great excitement and interest;

So today’s question – which you can answer by way of comment here or simply for yourself is:

How and where do you show your enthusiasm at work?

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants who want to STANDOUT and become more successful. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Clients will pay high fees for good advice

I have just read a report in Accountancy Magazine about some research published by the UK 200 group*. The report notes that:

Clients are more likely to ditch their accountants for giving therm incorrect or poor advice than for being too expensive……Clients only rate high fees as the THIRD most important reason for switching accountants behind incorrect or poor advice (87%) and lack of personal contact (66%).

Two other key points noted in the short report:

Tax planning was rated as the most valued service;

Around 60% of respondents had been with their accountants for upwards of five years;

I’m always dubious about drawing conclusions from surveys and reports when there are no details as to how the data was collected or of how representative was the sample surveyed. So with that caveat what do I conclude from this brief report of the UK 200 group’s research?

1 – It seems to vindicate my view that more accountants could increase their fees without losing too many clients. Indeed, those most likely to leave are probably the D-list clients that you want to ditch anyway. Much depends on how you raise the subject and how you implement the fees increase of course.

2 – It reinforces the rationale for the formation of the Tax Advice Network – which enables accountants to access vetted, independent, cost effective and expert tax specialists. Accountants can use our specialists to provide second opinions and so avoid giving “incorrect or poor advice” and to enable them to provide an appropriate level of “tax planning” to clients.

3 – It confirms my view that clients will pay decent fees for good advice. When I ran the tax support for professionals team at a large tax consultancy I noted that accountants were reluctant to engage the firm and often said things like “My clients are used to only paying £300 a year. They’d never pay £2,000 for tax planning advice.” I’d be the first to accept that an accountant knows their clients best. Equally I have long felt that some accountants undervalue the advice they provide and make incorrect assumptions about the level of fees some clients would pay if the cost/benefit ratio made sense.

The UK 200 group’s survey suggests that many clients are more interested in getting the right advice than in paying low fees – especially when it comes to the provision of tax planning advice.

So my message today is to ensure that you charge appropriately for good valuable advice.

*Strangely I can’t find any ref to the UK 200 group’s research online so cannot provide a link.

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Giving constructive feedback

I’m serving as an evaluator at my local speakers club, Harrovians, this evening. The club is affiliated to Toastmasters International and encourages evaluators to follow a well established structure when evaluating speeches:

Commend, Recommend, Commend.

I was about to post an item about this but then checked and realised that last July I posted an item here entitled ‘sandwich feedback‘ which is much the same thing.

I won’t repeat what I said last year. Instead let me amplify those thoughts.

I believe that when we provide feedback we do it to motivate the other person. One of the challenges is to get the balance right. The more experienced the speaker the more interested they will be in the constructive observations (the ‘recommends’ element of the praise sandwich. Certainly that’s true for me. It’s always nice when someone cares enough to package the constructive feedback inside some positive comments but what I’m most interested in is how to enhance my current efforts.  I’m lucky. I typically get rated 4 or 5 out of 5 by over 90% of every audience I address. But I’m not complacent and am always keen to improve and get better – whilst accepting that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

The degree to which someone packages their feedback is an indication of how constructive they are seeking to be or how simply critical they are. If the latter then perhaps they have their own agenda.

The bottom line is that constructive feedback is only worthwhile if the recipient is in listening mode and is interested in taking the feedback on board.  What can you do to help ensure that happens?

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Dealing with difficult clients

Last week I encouraged you to identify and ditch your duff D-list clients.

That’s fine if you’re in a position of authority in your practice – a sole practitioner or a partner for example. But what if you don’t have that level of authority? Then it becomes a question of how can you best deal with difficult clients?

So here’s my top 5 tips drawn from one of my business coaching modules for accountants and tax advisers. You’ll appreciate that many of the techniques can apply equally when you’re faced with difficult colleagues, partners and staff! If you have tips and ideas of your own please add them by way of comments to this posting.

1 – Separate the person from the problem
If you need to confront the client, be clear that it’s their behaviour rather than them that is the problem.

2 – Affirm rather than accuse
Be clear that you focus on how you feel as a result of their behaviour. “When you do that, I feel….” rather than “You make me feel ….”

3 – Promise yourself a reward
When you can’t avoid a meeting with a dreaded difficult client, promise yourself a reward if you manage to handle things well. Could be chocolate, a quick look at a favourite website, an extra treat on your way home or anything else that you can arrange as a reward for yourself. Or team up with a colleague and reward each other.

4 – Keep your cool
Don’t make matters worse by getting into a heated argument, shouting or going off in a huff.

5 – Keep notes
Ideally make your notes during the meeting or phone call but certainly as soon as you can afterwards. You’ll want to be absolutely clear about what transpired and any advice you gave. The clients from hell are the ones most likely to complain and to cause grief down the line. The more contemporaneous records you have the less mud can stick.

As well as addressing such issues during mentoring and business coaching sessions I also run a half day interactive, entertaining and educational course on dealing with difficult clients. More details on my website.

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