In an increasingly competitive environment, CPA firms are hard pressed to focus on strategies around client retention. Some international associations of CPA firms recognize the value in fostering an environment among member firms to share best practices as a means of delivering outstanding value. One such organization, CPAmerica International, boasts a particularly top-notch group of marketing professionals from CPA firms across the country. At a recent mastermind session, client retention strategies were explored amid a candid discussion that was fueled by a presentation by consultant to the accounting profession, Lisa Tierney.
The Power of the Brainstorm
One powerful method for retaining clients is conducting a brainstorm session on behalf of key clients. (A key client is defined by offering large revenue or having the potential to do so). A brainstorm is a carefully facilitated “brain dump” of ideas to develop a long list of deliverables that the client would benefit from. These can be accounting and non-accounting related. A safe, open healthy discussion is encouraged among a small team of accounting professionals from various service areas and levels of expertise. The object of the brainstorm is to ask participants a lot of questions that are contemplated from the perspective of the client.
Larry Feld, Director of Marketing for the Hunter Group, based in Fair Lawn, NJ, describes a brainstorm as “…a proctored conversation, with an overall goal expressed to everyone upfront … among a good cross section of people to ask probing questions … to expose deeper layers of problems, issues or passions that unlock ideas for solutions.” Larry advises, “The key is that there are no wrong answers. No one cross examines or judges another’s comments. People can disagree, but should do so respectfully.” He adds, “In the right setting with the right mix, I think that (accounting professionals) are the best to uncover ideas, and it would be amazing if a 30-minute brainstorm didn’t articulate at least a few needs that are currently unmet.”
Katherine J. Farrow, Marketing Manager at Teal, Becker & Chiaramonte CPAs, located in Albany, NY, shares the benefits of brainstorming at her firm. “We have brainstormed on behalf of certain niches. For instance, we lost some government bids because of high fees, so we brainstormed about consulting engagements that we’ve done for other clients. We came up with a list of these types of non-traditional projects and then identified (governmental) agencies that could benefit from this type of consulting work and we are now trying to market those services as result.”
Here is an example of some questions to be discussed during a brainstorm:
- How does this client (i.e. business owner, CEO, CFO, etc.) define success?
- What do they value most about us?
- What have we done for the client that is above what they expected out of us?
- How can we add value in a nontraditional way?
- How are we capitalizing on the loyalty factor, if we have it (such as asking for referrals from happy clients)
After a successful brainstorm has been conducted, now what? One of the topics raised during the recent marketing roundtable of CPAmerica was the importance of having key conversations between accountants and their clients.
It was acknowledged that, overall, there seems to be an issue of CPAs’ resistance to connect with their clients outside of the accounting deliverables that they were hired to provide.
Larry Feld agrees. “There may be lots of agreement and participating during the brainstorming, but after the meeting, the challenge lies in creating action or support for the initiatives identified. Without accountability, these sessions are of very limited use.”
As part of the brainstorm process, there should be a consensus as to who will follow-up with the client in a meaningful way to discuss some of the most important/pertinent issues that were raised during the session. It is recommended that the professional present, serving in a role of “relationship manager” with the decision-maker at the client, open up a meaningful dialogue by way of a “Client Check-In”.
This article was originally published in Accounting Today, 2014