I I work a lot with business owners and when I explain what we do with the accounting profession (i.e. teaching them how to be trusted business advisors) they think I am kidding. More often than not, what business owners say is that they have a great accountant but in no way is their accountant a good business advisor. Norm Brodsky, a business guru and regular contributor to Inc. Magazine, has written many articles over the years encouraging business owners to hook up with a good accountant to ensure proper handling of their technical compliance issues. At the same time, he is quick to say that when it comes to business acumen and sound business advice, an accountant is the last person you want to rely on. As much as I want to dispute Mr. Brosky's perspective, I have to acknowledge that his statements are 98 percent correct.
Earlier this year, the AICPA collaborated with Dr. Geoffrey Moore, noted author of "Crossing the Chasm" to evaluate the current and future state of the profession. Here is a link to the whitepaper that resulted from that collaboration: http://www.cpa.com/Transforming/accounting_services.html
Dr. Moore's position is that there are three mega trends driving the profession at this time.
1) Digitalization. Moving information to the digital environment
2) Virtualization. Moving services to the cloud
3) Transformation. Moving client relationships from compliance to reliance
There are a lot of firms that are already on board with scanning, workflow, portals and cloud computing. But for every 1,000 firms that are staying on track with Digitalization and Virtualization, there are only a handful of firms that are focused on Transformation. None of these trends are unique to the accounting profession, but very few industries are as threatened by these trends.
As good a technician as you may be, as good as your firm may be at adopting new technology, if are not helping clients improve business performance, you are going to be left behind. If you measure your success as compared with other accounting firms you may look pretty good. But if you measure the increasing demand for decision support services coming from small-business owners, you are likely lagging far behind the management consultants of the world. Your competition is not coming from other firms. Your competition is with those who can close the gap between technician and advisor.
The good news is that you don't have to give up being a great technician to be a trusted advisor. Additionally, most of those management consultants that are working to seize the opportunity to be your clients most trusted advisor, don't have the financial management skills that you do.
Here are ten questions you must ask yourself to determine how far along you are on the technician - advisor continuum. Rate yourself on these statements:
1=never 2= sometimes 3= mostly 4= almost always 5= without exception
1) We have a formalized proactive approach to business advisory services that we routinely apply to our top 25 percent of clients.
2) We only accept clients that have the potential for upselling business advisory services.
3) We routinely fire the bottom 10 percent of clients to create capacity for higher-quality relationships.
4) We invest as much in the development of our team's "people" and advisory skills as their technical skills.
5) We view compliance work as a by-product of an advisory relationship.
6) Our revenue mix reflects a 1:1 or better ratio of advisory revenues to compliance revenues.
7) 95 percent of our referrals from existing clients are for advisory services.
8) We are very happy to allow new clients to retain existing CPA relationships and just focus on advisory work.
9) We routinely involve younger staff members in advisory engagements.
10) We believe the future of our firm will rely upon our ability to expand client relationships beyond traditional accounting services.
• If you scored 40-50 points, you are well on your way to mastering the transformation mega trend.
• If you scored 30-39 points, you should adopt a formal cross-selling program to review client needs on a quarterly basis. We recommend you put a bonus plan in place for harvesting new work from existing clients.
• If you scored below 20 points, you have a lot of work to do. It's time to rethink and re-invent your firm's position in the marketplace. You need to invest in the skills and advisory services' development to expand on your firm's current offerings.
Being a trusted technician is only the first step toward being a true trusted business advisor. Your measure of firm success should not be measured just in firm revenues. It should be equally measured in improved business performance for your clients. If you are not looking at those metrics side by side, then you are not measuring the right things.