Your (current) clients are only part of the story

Oct 1, 2019 | Business Strategy, Strategy

When I am invited to speak at a firm’s away day the organisers often want me to influence the older partners whom the management team consider to be complacent.

They tell me that some of these partners, with their well established client portfolios, are resistant to change and to doing things differently. That their attitude and approach risks holding the firm back as it seeks to evolve ready for the anticipated impact of the 4th industrial revolution.

Sometimes these concerns about the ‘older’ partners are well founded. Especially when such partners are approaching retirement – although their attitudes are often impacted by the terms on which they will be leaving the firm.  And these can vary enormously.

Other times I find, when chatting with the older partners, that they know things have to change.  And they don’t want to hold the firm back. Typically though they also don’t want to be at the forefront of change and doing things differently.

In order to engage the more reluctant older partners in my presentations I address a key issue that many other commentators seem to overlook:

The need for changing attitudes, systems and processes is not about your current clients. It’s about your future clients!

I agree with what many of you may be thinking, that most of your existing clients aren’t going to suddenly run off and switch to another accountant.

That’s not the issue here. The real question is how easy will it be for the firm to win new clients in the future?

How easy does the firm currently find this – to win profitable new clients and to get paid good fees for the work the firm does for them?

Remember, it’s not just about how easy do you, as a very experienced and well connected partner find this activity. We’re talking here about the rest of the firm and especially those who will be responsible after you’ve retired.

The world is changing. Future clients will be looking for different support and help from their accountants; firms like yours will be facing new competition; and your colleagues will need the skills to provide the support new clients require.

Your current clients may well stay with you and be happy, but the firm is going to find it increasingly challenging to win new clients or even to replace the fees paid by current  clients as they die, sell up or move off for whatever other reason.

As you listen to this talk, please think about what you and your successors are going to have to do differently to win your future clients. How will you get them? Where will you find them? And why should they come to your firm and pay you good fees?

The ways that you and the firm won new clients in the past, even the recent past, will not be replicable very far into the future. Referrals and brand name awareness will not be sufficient as business owners and CFOs become increasingly aware of lower cost options. And your younger colleagues will need to be able to evidence a broader range of skills perhaps than those that you needed to prove before you won your clients back in the day.

At some stage over the next few years, future clients will be far less interested in appointing accountants to help with recurring compliance work.

Please remember that some of your competitors may already have adopted some of the newest techniques and focus. And there will be more such competition over the next few years.

I find that this acknowledgement helps engage the ‘older’ partners. The need for change is not about your (current) clients. It’s about those that the firm needs to win in the future. Nothing is changing overnight, but, as I cover later in my talks, big changes are coming and the firm needs to be ready for these, or else ambitious managers and partners will leave the firm and set up practice elsewhere with a lower cost basis and more flexibility to operate in a modern way.

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