Marketing starts with the needs and wants of clients as they perceive them. It is therefore important to understand what clients and prospects want from you as an accountant. This includes the following:
Back to basics
It is possible lose sight of the basic reason why clients need accountants; it is money – ways to save it, keep it and make it. That’s the down to earth reason why most clients need and use an accountant. Do not lose sight of this or ignore it.
Help in solving problems
These are often financial problems such as larger than anticipated taxes, cash flow, declining profitability, and so on.
Help in preventing problems
This is an area where the successful accountant usually shines. Accountants need to develop the ability, not only to handle the problems a client already has, but also to look ahead on the client’s behalf and prevent problems from happening. Preventive medicine may not have as much appeal to the public as cure, but in the business world those who can anticipate and prevent problems stands out from the competition.
Background and expertise in the client’s industry or field
This is very high on many clients’ lists. In fact, the larger the client or prospect, the more important this becomes. At the very least, clients feel more comfortable with someone who understands their business. At the other end of the scale they don’t want to pay fees to educate the accountant in their particular business. Therefore the more accountants know about the client or prospect’s business, the better chance of winning or keeping the client.
The right amount of attention, or showing that you really care about the client, can overcome shortfalls in some other areas. We all tend to be more tolerant and understanding of those people who seem to care about us, even if they don’t always succeed in accomplishing what we want.
Many a client has switched to another firm because the previous accountant was not available when needed. Make sure that you are available to clients and respond promptly to their phone calls, letters and requests for meetings.
This is really more than just a desire of the client; it is expected as a normal part of the service. Therefore it is an essential part of the philosophy of a firm and to have a firm policy to improve the firm’s timeliness.
Confidence or peace of mind
A client must have confidence in their accountant. Even more, a client wants the peace of mind that comes from knowing that their accountant is competent and equal to the task.
The big name or recognised authority
Some clients want a “name” accounting firm, feeling it will bring prestige to them. This could mean an international firm versus a local firm. It could also mean a highly regarded city firm against a firm that seems to be gaining an adverse press.
Most business people are fanatical about this, particularly with their accountant and solicitor. If professionals say “I will handle this” or “I’ll have to get back to you on that”, then it is essential that we follow through on our commitment. We must not be too busy for our clients.
General business advice
Many clients look to their accountant as a source of general business counsel. Because of their business acumen, experience and intimate knowledge of the client’s business, clients often look to their accountant as someone with whom they can discuss general problems.
Value for money
Surprisingly, most clients do not want the lowest possible fee, even in the case of an audit. What they do want is value for money – the feeling that they received at least what they were charged for and generally much more.
The right chemistry
Clients and prospects have to feel they can work with their accountant and, if appropriate, that the people in their organisation can work with the accountant as well. Quite often the anxious but insecure professional goes overboard in an effort to be liked by the client or prospect. This is wrong. The real emphasis should be on striking the right note. Chemistry, respect, and all the other reasons considered above generally rate ahead of the client personally liking the accountant.
Not all of clients will want all of these things listed above. However, all our clients and prospects are looking for some of them in their relationship with their accountant. The particular wants and priorities will vary with each client, but the first (ways to save money), and the last (the right chemistry) will exist in almost every case.