Shore up Your Relationship Skills and Step up Your Results
June 22, 2015 | The Whetstone Group

I was reading an accounting industry publication on the airplane a couple weeks ago. The statistic was that 75% of all accountants now practicing will be retiring within the next 12 years. While there may be some debate as to whether this statistic is being overstated even if the true number is 50% there is serious challenge. For many firms this group of retiring CPAs contains many of the profession’s current rainmakers.
Without a plan to bring along the next generation of business developers it might not be a comfortable ride into the sunset for current partners over age 50. One key area that has changed for CPA professionals in the past 20 years is relationship development.
If you started in the profession during the 70’s and are good at business development you are used to building relationships face-to-face with both prospects and referrals sources. Without electronic communications, cell phones and other mobile technology—most business was conducted via phone and in-person meetings. Those who started in the profession after 1999 are used to responding to email with an email; a tweet with a tweet and a text message with a text message. It may work for some as a way to successfully develop opportunities, but public accounting is still a relationship business. Loyalty is created by building strong relationships.
So how can professionals shore up their relationship building skills? Here are five ideas to start:
1 Go ahead and email clients but plan a face-to-face encounter with “A” clients at least monthly. This will go a long way toward building trust, making them feel important, and giving you opportunities to assess their needs and figure out ways you can help.
2 Similarly, to build a strong referral relationship make sure your communications includes a face-to-face meeting at least quarterly with each referral source. Like your clients, a strong relationship with referral sources is based on trust—which is built between individuals over time. Also make sure you can articulate the benefits to the referral source of referring clients to you. Obviously the benefits of what you do for their clients is important, but what’s in it for that referral source to work with you?
3 Pick up the phone and have a conversation vs. replying by email every third time you communicate with a client or prospect. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn during the course of at 15 minute give-and-take conversation vs a 2 minute reply to email.
4 Have a “we care” meeting with “A” clients (and maybe high-level “Bs”) at least once per year. No agenda or objective other than to take the opportunity to thank them for their business and ask how are we doing meeting your client service expectations. Take notes and address any issues you uncover.
5 Put a hand written note on paper newsletters or an invitation to a firm event or a firm announcement for 3-5 clients each time one of them gets distributed to clients. Even if the client can’t make the event he/she will likely remember that you took the time to invite them personally and may also remember the topic of the article/event/announcement at a key moment when they need help in that area.

What Gets Measured…Gets Done!
July 3, 2014 | The Whetstone Group

Wow, I just realized it’s been a while since we posted something here. You know why? Just like most of our clients, this is our prime business development time. We’ve been attending conferences, reaching out through direct marketing efforts, and following up with clients and prospects who were unavailable during their busy season. Which is great (as long as all these efforts are producing actual results!).

If you are in the same boat — and I hope you are — it’s time to make sure you’re getting a return on your business development investments. Are all you people participating and contributing to firm growth efforts? Are your efforts producing new clients — the right clients? Are you getting referrals and following up with them? Maximizing new service opportunities with existing clients?

If you aren’t sure about the answers to any of those questions, take a look at our article on this topic. We present four pretty simple metrics with instructions not just on how to measure but also how to use the metrics to coach your people and build a culture of accountability.

You can access the article here. Be sure to call or email us if you have any questions or would like help getting started. And if you’re celebrating Independence Day this weekend, have a great holiday!

Process not Project: Creating a Growth Culture
August 9, 2013 | The Whetstone Group

Many firms we talk struggle to determine the best business development approach. Does it make sense to hire full-time sales people? Can’t we expect our marketing director to make sales for us? How will we compensate a full-time sales person?
Here are some ideas to keep in mind when embarking on the process of building a growth culture in your firm:
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What’s Next?
September 11, 2012 | The Whetstone Group

Perhaps one of the most telling characteristics of a successful business owner is the “what’s next” attitude. The understanding that you can’t just sit back and enjoy the spurt of growth you happen to be experiencing right now; the knowledge that unless you’re always moving forward, you’ll soon be moving backward.

So how to move forward? Well certainly one important step is understanding how your clients’ needs are changing and figuring out what you can do to help them. Developing the right services and knowing how to take them to the market is a challenge many firms struggle with; consider the following concrete action steps to make this challenge a little less daunting.
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Setting Realistic, Achievable Growth Goals
July 13, 2012 | The Whetstone Group

With summer here, many firms are planning retreats beginning to set growth goals for next year. It’s the perfect time re-think your goal-setting process. Don’t just think in terms of acquiring new clients when setting target numbers; it’s important to evaluate all factors that will contribute to your final growth goal.

  1. Average Useful Life of Clients: From mergers and acquisitions to changes in management — there are a number of factors that will lead to lost clients. Every client has an average useful life cycle. If your firm’s average is ten years, that means on average your firm will lose 10% of your clients every year. If your firm’s average useful life is 15 years, you can expect to lose 6.7% of your clients per year.
  2. One-Time Projects: You should also consider the amount of one-time project work your firm does in one year. Typically this averages 10-20% of a firm’s total volume.
  3. Net Growth: The net growth you want to achieve this year.

After evaluating these three factors, you can determine your growth goal. For example, if you have an average client life of 10 years, 10% of your revenue is one-time projects, and you want to grow by 10% next year, you really need to generate 30% of gross new business to achieve your 10% new growth goal.

As you can imagine, it takes a lot more activity to generate 30% gross new business than it does 10%. So it might be helpful to break down your goal and determine exactly what you’ll need to do to realize it.

  • How many new clients will your firm need to secure?
  • How much additional work to current clients will you need to sell?
  • How much of a price increase will you need to consider?

When you actively define you growth goals with these three components in mind you can easily assess how realistic or aggressive your goal is. Tracking each of these on a quarterly basis will give you the ability to measure how you are doing against your overall goal. If one of them is lagging, you can increase activity within that component or adjust to make up the difference another way.

Be realistic when setting goals. Make sure your firm can generate enough activity — and that you have enough money budgeted in your growth plan — to achieve your goal.