“These Americans don’t know anything about saunas. This isn’t nearly warm enough to be a sauna in Switzerland.”
I opened my eyes and recognized Kurt Wüthrich, who had just entered the sauna with his wife and daughter. Dr. Wüthrich had been the keynote speaker for the symposium we were both attending at Keystone Resort in Colorado. The topic was nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) of proteins. The symposium was conveniently scheduled in mid February, with ample time between sessions to hit the slopes, which was why I was warming my bones in the sauna.
The three continued to chat in Swiss German, and I could get the gist of what they were saying but not the details. Feeling it was rude to eavesdrop without alerting them that I spoke German, I introduced myself.
“Hello, my name is Liz Farr, and I work in John Markley’s lab at the University of Wisconsin,” I began in German. “I’ve been writing you letters about your research articles, asking for information we need for our database of protein NMR data.” Surprised to hear a German speaker in the US, Dr. Wüthrich swiveled his head and stared at me. He scrutinized me carefully, then broke into a friendly smile.
“Ah, yes of course. Now I remember your name. I will answer those letters immediately on my return to Zürich.” Dr. Wüthrich was a pioneer and perhaps the most revered and respected researcher in the field of protein NMR. A decade after our meeting in the sauna, he won the Nobel prize in chemistry.
Seizing the opportunity for a personal connection with a leader in the field was the beginning of a dramatic shift in his cooperation with the project. After that, he answered my queries for missing information promptly. Winning support from the great Kurt Wüthrich for the project was huge.
Client relationships = job security
For accountants, the need for connection with clients and prospects is crucial. As technology evolves, many of our services are becoming automated. This automation removes the tedium of data entry from our work, but it also can turn our work product into a commodity, if that’s all we offer our clients. But as Blake Oliver noted, contrary to the fears of many that this increasing automation will bring Uberization to accounting, it’s our connections to our clients that prevent this from happening.
Here are some ways to develop and deepen the relationships you have with your clients.
Start with your website
Your website is the first filter a prospect will typically apply when seeking a new accountant. Does your personality shine through? Or is your website like that of most accountants — inoffensive, bland and focused on your team’s experience and qualifications? Does your Home page or your About Us page extol your firm’s values of professionalism, quality and responsiveness? As Hitendra Patil noted in August 2015, so do the websites of over 462,000 other CPA firms .
If you’re not much different from your competitors, then your prospects may judge you solely on cost — which may be the only variable they’re aware of. Most non-accountants have only a vague notion of what it takes to become a CPA, CA, CGMA, CVA, or any of the other alphabet soup certifications you’ve earned. And they may have only a vague idea of the additional services that accountants can provide.
The most successful marketing focuses on the needs and desires of your prospects. Your prospects don’t really care about the letters behind your names, the awards you’ve won, or how many years of experience you have unless those attributes have a tangible benefit to them. Too many websites for accounting firms just focus on the accomplishments of the owners and ignore the needs of their potential clients.
Instead of focusing on your years of experience, describe how those years of working with a variety of industries and situations have given you insights to help your clients navigate through challenges. Case studies and testimonials from happy clients are golden here.
Who is your ideal client?
Remember that you don’t need to be attractive to everyone seeking a new accountant. You only need to get the attention of the prospects that you want to work with. Do you prefer working with startups and entrepreneurs? Or with high-net worth real estate investors? What services does your firm provide? What do your ideal prospects need from their accountant? What keeps them up at night?
Can you save a business owner on taxes? Do you have the expertise to guide a company from kitchen table start-up to millions in sales? Can you help them find and plug the leaks in their cash flow? Can you help with succession planning and estate planning? Do you know how to get the IRS off their back? Can you bring a business owner peace of mind that their taxes are done right? These are the types of questions a prospect wants answers to.
If you can articulate answers to those questions, those answers should be the first thing a prospect sees on your website. Use those answers as the starting point for the text on your website. You want that text to resonate with the people you want to work with.
Website visitors generally land on your website because they’re seeking answers to questions, and they won’t stick around if those questions aren’t addressed quickly. They’re less impressed with how much an accountant says they know than with how much an accountant is willing to share with them.
What sets your firm apart from your competitors?
Every accounting firm has something that makes them unique. Maybe it’s a unique expertise. Maybe you’ve found ways to leverage technology to get the work done faster. Maybe you only do tax returns. Maybe you don’t do tax returns at all.
But most likely what keeps clients coming back year after year, and what gets them to rave about your firm is the experience they have with you. If you don’t (yet) have any raving fans, then consider how you interact with your clients.
Communicate with your clients and prospects
The power of the internet means we now have the information of the world at our fingertips. We’re used to getting loads of information for free. Keeping top of mind is crucial. Customer loyalty goes to those who provide the most and best information in easily digestible bits. Every firm should have a blog where they post helpful ideas and answers to the questions they’re asked most frequently.
That blog can be repurposed as a newsletter. Or assembled as an ebook of tax and accounting tips offered as a free download in exchange for their email address.
Do you ask the questions that can change their lives?
As accountants, we’re more comfortable with questions with quantifiable answers. But those questions don’t always lead to the insights that can help a business owner transform their life and their business. It’s in asking those kinds of questions that we can help a client the most.
If you’re not quite sure how to come up with those questions, Paul Shrimpling has a brief report you can download to help you formulate powerful questions for your clients.
Seize the opportunity for a connection
These ideas should serve as a starting point to help you find ways to connect more deeply with your clients. Without that connection, your firm’s services run the risk of becoming a commodity, and you’ll be competing solely on price. There’s always someone else willing to go broke faster, so nurture those relationships!