Whether you’re part a massive firm or grinding it out as a one-person practice, the only thing limiting your revenue is how much new business you can bring in—that and your bandwidth to handle the work.
If you’ve got the room on your plate and want to drive new business your way try these seven tips from the experts.
1. Nurture Client Relationships
According to best-selling author Ramon Ray, one of the biggest mistakes accounting firms make is failing to wow the client once the initial engagement is complete.
“Firms should not ignore clients that return year after year,” Ray said. “Those clients are not locked in because it’s quite easy to switch accounting firms. Rather than get lackadaisical, it’s critical that business development professionals commit to staying top of mind with clients.”
To encourage return business and loyalty, business development professionals must continue nurturing those client relationships. Ramon suggests something as simple as sending a box of chocolates on April 1 with a reminder that tax time is right around the corner.
2. Know Your Clients and Their Preferences
Use the rich data you have to learn about clients and discover where there may be opportunities to cross-sell. For instance, are there tax clients who work for organizations that may also benefit from your accounting and auditing services?
Charlie Burns, a CPA and partner at Reid, Hanna, Johnson, grew her firm’s revenue by 33 percent in just 18 months—and half of that growth came from existing clients. The secret to her success? Her team created client profiles and made them accessible to the entire firm, making it easy for anyone to serve any client.
“Everyone has their client base where they do the same thing over and over,” explained Charlie in an Accounting Today webinar. “However, each client is growing and changing every day. We try to look at existing clients, not just run them through the mill, and have conversations about what they are doing and the services we provide them. We couldn’t have done that without a deep understanding of the information we hold about our clients.”
3. Specialize to Differentiate
The accounting industry needs to change how they think if they want to survive, according to Lauren Clemmer, executive director of the Association for Accounting Marketing. Specifically, Clemmer believes the profession must expand beyond compliance and traditional services.
For your firm to do that, you’ll need to adopt a laser-like focus on the services and industries you serve. For some, that could mean specializing in international tax, for others, by exclusively serving a niche industry.
“The more focused a firm, the better it can grow its business,” Clemmer continued. “In fact, a small firm can compete quite effectively against larger firms by specializing.”
The first step, she said, is for firms to gain a deeper understanding of their own business.
“Smart firms dig into their data and analyze the source of their business,” Clemmer said. “By understanding what their most profitable and loyal clients value, they can strategically focus to develop new product lines and new business based on their strengths.”
4. Consider the Full Client Experience
For more than 15 years, Mitch Reno has lead business development for Rehmann, one of the nation’s largest CPA and consulting firms. Today, as principal and Director of Client Experience, he is instrumental in driving client retention, loyalty and satisfaction, while working closely with firm leadership on strategy and growth initiatives.
He said the key to Rehmann’s success is that they make each client feel like they’re the center of attention. In this industry and others, he explained, more organizations are recognizing the need to consider the entire experience a client has with the organization.
“Every touch and interaction with a client has either an additive or negative impact on overall relationship satisfaction, loyalty and retention,” Reno noted. “As a result, organizations must determine what they can offer beyond providing a particular compliance deliverable for maximum interaction impact.”
5. Communicate Thoughtfully
But while accountants may be viewed as trustworthy, accounting firms must actively seek to build the kind of relationships that will ensure they will always outpace the competition.
“Don’t be blind to how you’re perceived, because we’re in a trust business,” Grissom advised. “To be known as someone who can be trusted, you must understand how you communicate and how others prefer to communicate.”
Grissom pointed out that while most accountants tend to be conscientious, task-oriented and introverted, client CEOs are often direct, fast-paced and decisive. So it can be easy for them to perceive accountants as passive, and therefore, not fully trust them.
“It comes down to you being aware of how you’re perceived and matching more closely the preferred communication style of the client you’re working with,” she said.
6. Keep Up with the Latest Technologies
“Every partner and owner of a professional services firm is investing in technology—mobile apps, cloud apps, automation, workflows—to make themselves and their people more productive and their firms more profitable,” he said. “Today’s technologies save time, improve data accuracy and elevate client service. Not keeping up on technology and making the wrong (or no) investment is a recipe for early demise.”
“A CRM system makes sure nothing falls through the cracks and no one in your firm looks like a dope when the client calls in,” Marks added. “…You know what people are doing with your clients and you ensure that your clients are being touched by your firm with good information… all of this strengthens relationships.”
7. Get the Most from Your CRM with Relationship Intelligence Automation
At the end of the day, relationships are still the backbone of not just accounting firms, but any business.
“In professional services firms, where relationships drive success, having the proper technology to capture and report on those relationships is key to stability and growth,” noted Ray Beste, a partner at Sikich. “Today’s technology allows for the ease of capture of those interactions so that users spend more time using the information rather than collecting the information.”
But, Beste pointed out, many firms struggle to get value out of their customer relationship management (CRM) software due to low user adoption.
“The key feature that any accounting practice needs in order to get the most out of a CRM package is ease of use—if it’s not simple, it doesn’t get used,” he said.
To jump this hurdle, Beste advises companies to define their processes, convince their employees to follow them, and then model those processes within the CRM. The key, he is said, is to automate these processes as much as possible so business development professionals don’t devolve into data entry clerks.
Enter a whole new kind of technology: relationship intelligence automation software, also called RIA.
RIA tools, like Introhive, automatically collect, analyze, score and map all of your firm’s relationships to arm you with easy-to-decipher relationship assessments across all of your team members, suppliers, clients and prospects.
How? From transactional data to customer service inquiries to social media profiles and other online activities, RIA passively collects any information it can from inside and outside company walls. This gives you a more complete the picture of who your customers and prospects are. (Request a demo from Introhive to see this in action).
Discovering “who knows who” and “who knows who best” through relationship mapping and scoring leads to stronger relationships—and can help you seal the deal when you meet prospects and clients face to face.
“If each user can access the CRM natively while living and working in Microsoft Outlook, Word and Excel, overall adoption of the product will naturally increase,” Beste noted.
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