What do your clients really 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 equivalent of a hole in the wall that your prospective clients want?

In recent years it has become very clear to me how few professionals seem to be aware of this concept. The vast majority talk about what they do and pitch for new work without an awareness that what clients generally want results and solutions to problems.

Clients are typically completely indifferent as to how we help get those results and solutions – assuming it doesn’t involve breaking the law etc. So clients 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 rather 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>>>


STAND OUT career advice for young professionals

Around 25 years ago I wrote a series of articles for a now defunct magazine called ‘Career Accountant’. I had cause to reflect back on these recently when adapting my keynote talk on the importance of STANDING OUT from the crowd.

I was speaking to a group of young professionals and my presentation was on the topic of: How to STAND OUT and build a more successful  career.

Whilst there have been many changes in the professions over the last quarter of a century(!) some fundamentals of career development haven’t changed. What is different is how much easier it now is to build your profile and to STAND OUT as compared with in the 1980s.

Here is an outline of ten of the tips I shared during my recent talk:

  • There are many positive ways in which you can STAND OUT without being loud, brash or opinionated;
  • Your objective is to do sufficient to ensure that you are remembered, recommended and recruited for the roles you seek; what experiences, training, skills and qualifications will help you to STAND OUT for good reasons in this regard?
  • Career building relies just as much on building trust and confidence as does generating new clients or forming new ‘romantic’ relationships;
  • If you are evidently happy being seen as just another [lawyer] you may only be considered suitable for similar roles that slow your career progression;
  • Consider your answers to the question “What do you do?” and decide whether you want to come across as positive and motivated even if you are looking to move on. Who would want to promote or recruit a misery guts?
  • Be realistic and ignore the nonsense advice that suggests you need a USP;
  • Remember that technical skills will rarely be enough. Ambitious professionals get recruited as much because of their perceived business and personal skills; An absence of key qualifications will hold you back as you will STAND OUT as under qualified.
  • How positively can you talk about your work? You’ll STAND OUT positively if you focus on referencing your clients or colleagues, the problems you solve for them and the outcomes you secure – as distinct from the processes or day to day tasks you undertake;
  • Ensure that your Linkedin profile works for you and that you are well connected on that platform; endorse your connections for skills you know they have and they may do the same for you. Stick to those skills you want to highlight and endeavour to build up your endorsements so that you STAND OUT from others like you who have yet to do this;
  • It’s never too soon to start trying to STAND OUT online and in face to face interactions. You may be too late if you wait until you need a new job;

I also mentioned a free white paper I have prepared to help professionals to set up and enhance their Linkedin profile. The principles are widely applicable and you can get it via this link>>>


Reviewing 6 months of The Inner Circle for accountants

When I started The Inner Circle 6 months ago I could only speculate that members would benefit and find it of value. That was confirmed again this week after our 6th meeting.

Members explained why they had joined. There seem to be five explicit reasons which keep them coming back month after month:

  • To learn from others what they are doing better than me;
  • To avoid reinventing the wheel;
  • To focus on building the practice rather than just servicing clients;
  • To gain a greater commitment to achieving my goals; and
  • To learn new ideas I can adapt and implement to suit me, my practice and my clients.

When I started The Inner Circle I had other objectives in mind – and these are set out on the introductory page of my website>>>>>

Over the last 6 months we have addressed many issues of practical and commercial importance to this select group of smaller practitioners.

  • Distinguishing our practice from the competition
  • Business growth strategies and tactics
  • Effective use of technology and reviewing new ideas/trends
  • Making efficient use of social media
  • Attracting the right type of clients
  • Obtaining high quality clients through effective marketing
  • Attracting talented staff
  • Adding value (and fees) to our existing client base
  • Getting clients to give us what we need faster

The key learning points and follow up notes from each meeting are building up into a valuable pack that will also be available to new members – to reduce the temptation to ‘reinvest the wheel’ ourselves. And most members are keen for me to hold them to account when we have our monthly 1-2-1 conversations between meetings of The Inner Circle.

At this week’s meeting members agreed that I should set out the agenda for the next 6 months – which I will do after first running a short survey to ascertain the most popular topics from those members have said they want to address. We often sidetrack a little but my role, in part, is to ensure that we keep (relatively) focused and avoid repeating previous conversations.

If you’re tempted to find out more, do have a look at this introduction and let me know if you’d like to have a chat. We’re quite selective though as it’s important the members are comfortable with each other. The key criteria are not onerous but all members do satisfy them. You’ll also need to be able to get into London for our monthly meetings. You can see the basic membership criteria here>>>


STAND OUT advice from Spencer Wright of Dains

During the judging process for the upcoming British Accountancy Awards I spoke with fellow judge, Spencer Wright who is the Managing Partner of award winning accountancy firm, Dains. Later I mentioned my conviction that partners need to create a powerful professional impact so that they STAND OUT from the crowd. I asked Spencer what advice he gives colleagues in the firm as to how they can progress and develop themselves within the profession. I was delighted to learn that Spencer’s advice accords with my own. Here is the quote he sent for me to use:

Firstly they need to work hard on their relationship pyramid. They need to forget their contacts book which contains 100’s of ‘business card acquaintances’ and concentrate on the 20 or 30 that they can develop into formal and informal friends in business or even better ‘allies’ whether they be clients or professional contacts. This takes work and effort but will pay dividends in a few years. Secondly, I encourage them to really think about what they want to become ‘famous’ for both in Dains and the market. This can be anything but in my opinion everyone has something special that they can develop and exploit. Mine was simply guts and honesty!
With a leadership mindset like that it’s no wonder Dains is doing so well with Spencer at the helm. This Midlands based accountancy practice was awarded ‘Mid-Tier Firm of the Year’ at the National 2013 British Accountancy Awards. I suspect this is why Spencer was invited to join the judging panel for this year’s awards. I’m inclined to say it’s a huge honour, but as a fellow judge, I would say that wouldn’t I? 😉


“How we can grow our ‘social authority’ on twitter?”

I was approached recently by the marketing manager of a smallish firm of accountants who asked me: “How can we grow our ‘social authority’ on twitter?”  This followed my recent blog post in which I explained why it was UNsurprising that 10% of the largest firms have no twitter account.

Here is an extract from my reply to the marketing manager:

What are you hoping to achieve through being on twitter? This needs to be more specific than simply to ‘grow the firm’s social authority’. Who with? With what end-game in mind?

Have you achieved any of those objectives to date?
Have you taken any advice from anyone about how to use twitter effectively for the firm (and how credible was the person giving the advice)?
Do you have many clients who use twitter? Are they among your ideal client types?

I notice that while the firm has 2640 followers, you are following almost as many people. Who typically follows who first?

Does your account follow people who then follow you back; or do you simply follow back those who follow your account first? Or is there little overlap between your followers and those you are following? It’s quite easy to build up random followers by following loads of people who then follow you back.

Do you know how many of your followers are among your target audience? ie: the audience you want to influence in some way?

A quick look suggests that your followers include dozens of businesses keen to market TO you or that are simply fellow accountants.

A quick look through the firm’s tweets in recent months suggests you have fallen into the same trap as many other firms: There’s barely any interactions/conversation; they are largely self promotional or tweeting news items.

On the plus side there are a handful of tweets that mention Manchester (where you’re based) which is always a good idea; and I did see one RT.

The firm has a great looking website by the way. Love the branding, look and feel. That’s another big plus as when people click through from your twitter account, if the website doesn’t engage them it’s all been a waste of time.

My quick and simple advice to firms of accountants like yours is to review what you hope to achieve through being on twitter and then to determine how realistic that is.

Often firms start out with wholly unrealistic hopes based on misconceptions as to what is achievable. This is typically due to misleading generic articles and tips about how to use social media generally and twitter specifically. It also follows from some third parties who offer to run accountants’ social media campaigns for them. This makes little sense to me – even for the biggest firms, but certainly for smaller ones.

The question has to be what is the opportunity cost of the time (and of any money) invested in twitter? That comes back to your objectives, whether these are realistic and whether there are more effective ways to secure the desired outcome.

As head of marketing for a smallish firm (the ‘team’ seems to comprise just one director and one associate, per the website), what are your priorities?

I have been active on twitter for over 7 years, I have been advising accountants to understand what are realistic objectives when it comes to twitter for almost as long. Much of my advice from some years back remains just as true today. You can access more of it here>>>>


How do you develop the personal and business skills you need to succeed?

Most professional advisers build up their technical competence and experience over a number of years, often also while studying and taking exams.

In some professions the exams and studies endeavour to address related business and personal skills. These are invariably almost as important as the technical skills. There are some notable exceptions – such as the medical surgeon or consultant who has little in the way of bed-side manner. It’s a nice to have skill, but ultimately we simply want to be operated on by the best there is.

The specific personal and business related skills we each need to succeed in our chosen career will vary, by profession, by office, by colleagues, by clients and by ambition. Some years back I set out a dozen key skill sets that most professional firms need to have if they are to grow and succeed. In some cases the skills will be spread across a number of people. In other cases, especially for professionals running their own small practice, this can be more of a challenge.

How does the firm or business in which you work help ambitious professionals to develop key business skills? This is especially important as promotion is likely to depend upon such skills just as much as on technical competence and ability.

There are essentially only four options available to an employer. They will either:

  • pray, hope or make a wish that you magically develop all the necessary skills so they can justify promoting you;
  • send you on a range of generic personal skills courses and pray, hope or make a wish(!) that you pick up and practice sufficient tips to make the time and effort worthwhile;
  • arrange for you to receive personal, tailored mentoring that overcomes the problems inherent in the “courses” approach;
  • recruit someone else who already has proven business skills across the board.

Some employers combine the last two options and arrange mentoring as an additional benefit to attract potential recruits. In such cases the mentor is usually an independent third party; this evidences the firm’s commitment to the new candidate and will be a positive supplement to the firm’s conventional induction process.

Senior experienced colleagues can provide mentoring support. Or this can be bought in from a suitably experienced external mentor.

Mentoring can be equally motivating for sole practitioners, senior managers, directors, junior and established partners where traditional ‘hopes’ and courses have not enabled them to yet achieve their potential or to be as profitable as might be ideal.