Accountants – how to really upset your client! (1 of 2)

Recently I had a coffee with a friend of mine who happens to be a CFO of a big law firm in Australia. As always to protect the innocent let’s call my friend Jeremy as in Jeremy Irons.

Jeremy had been unhappy with the accounting firm he was using for the last couple of years. So to bring the matter to a head he arranged a tender and invited 5 major accounting firms to bid and to keep things fair he invited the incumbent to also lodge a bid.

After a few weeks, all submissions were made and the “beauty parade” commenced. Of the six firms tendering 2 were stand outs, 2 were average and 2, as Jeremy succinctly put it, “were rubbish”. Their old accounting firm was one of the bottom 2.

I asked Jeremy why the incumbent firm had rated so poorly; was their a bias in his business that they had to change accounting firms no matter what? Jeremy had said no – the selection panel was more than willing to give them a fair go. However, in the period leading up to the tender and during the process the incumbent firm did themselves no favours. Jeremy shared the following two examples.

Example1:

Not long before the tender was announced Jeremy got a phone call from a senior partner in the accounting firm. The partner told Jeremy that another partner who was working on an important piece of advisory work for Jeremy was leaving their firm to join a competitor. Jeremy thought to himself well this isn’t good news but at least we’ll have a month or two to transition to another partner so the work can continue. Jeremy almost exploded in anger when the accounting partner told him, ” by the way … today is his last day” Jeremy was furious. He since found out that the partner doing the advisory work had resigned 3 months earlier and here he was being told that today was his last day! Jeremy considered the height of unprofessionalism and an incredible lack of transparency. Not a good look to say he least.

Tune into the next post to read example 2

James E

Are you able to have a conversation?

Are you an accountant that can easily have a conversation with anyone? I hope for your own sake that you are.

In working with accounting firms and individual professionals for many years, I have been somewhat surprised to learn a few things about Partners and staff.

The one thing that I have uncovered  is that a lot of senior accounting professionals (and lots of others for that matter) are not good at having conversations with prospective clients.  It may be that they don’t like being out of their comfort zone or lack confidence in building new relationships or they simply haven’t been given the necessary training. I’m just not sure.

One of my clients, is a senior partner with a big 4 accounting firm. A while ago I asked him what % of partners in the top 10 accounting firms within Australia, in his view, are able to proactively engage with prospective clients and build a mutually beneficial relationship. What do you think he said? 50%, 60%? He told me, in his opinion as a 30+ year veteran professional, it was around 10 to 20%. Wow! That is not good. I’m concerned that the professionals coming through the ranks – the graduates, supervisors, managers, directors and the rest not being shown good role models by their Partner-Principals.

Its not too late. Anyone – young or old, male or female, graduate or partner can change and improve the way they work. The first thing to change is to learn the art of conversation.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Come on James … you’re being waaaaaaay too simplistic!” With respect I don’t think I am. Sometimes I think that professionals be they accountants, lawyers, management consultants, engineers, architects, financial planners etc… tend to over-complicate their interactions with clients and prospective clients.

Let me leave you with this one thought –

There is no such thing as a worthless conversation, provided you know what to listen for. And questions are the breath of life for a conversation.

This was a quote by the American author, James Nathan Miller who lived and worked in the late 1800′s.

See you next post,

James E.

Accountants – this video will help you win more business!

This will more than likely be the shortest post I have ever posted!

Go to the Video below. Watch the video right through. Then think about how the lessons & exercises suggested by Professor Amy Cuddy of Harvard University apply to you & your practice.

See you next post.

James E

Accountants – how to really upset your client! (2 of 2)

Following on from the last post, here is the second example of how the incumbent accounting firm upset “Jeremy” the CFO of a major law firm (as if the first example wasn’t enough!)

Once the tender was announced, and the accounting firms invited to prepare the documentation and presentations ready for the selection panel, Jeremy noticed that the incumbent firm didn’t show much energy or enthusiasm for the process. When they came around to actually present to the panel they came up with a standard, average run-of-the-mill pitch. Nothing really stood out. Jeremy got the impression that they had already given up.

Ironically, in spite of the weakening relationship over the last couple of years, the incumbent firm still had the advantage of knowing practically everything about the law firm since they had been the auditor/adviser for the several past years. They knew things about the law firm that none of the other 5 firms could possibly know.

I get the feeling from Jeremy that if the incumbent firm pulled something put of the bag and had directly addressed the problems with the relationship they would have been in there with a much better chance. Also I was surprised to learn that the incumbent accountants had helped (and were quite successful) in referring clients to the law firm. In spite of helping the law firm grow their fee base it wasn’t enough to help the incumbent accountants keep their business. They needed to do their core job better. Just goes to show – accounting firms need to do much, more more to keep their clients happy. Being a “standard accounting practice” is simply not enough these days.

The other lesson here is to not give up. There is always scope and room to reinvent & strengthen the relationship you & your practice has with its clients no matter how difficult or strained.

In summary, the law firm they went with a big 4 accounting firm and the incumbent lost between $100 to $150k of ongoing work a year – not including special advisory projects. Quite a price to pay!

Catch you next post,

James E

Should accountants exaggerate?

If you’re more than a one time reader of this blog you’ll know that I’ve been a big fan of the work of David Maister.

Here is a piece David originally posted in June 2006 which was titled “Maister’s Exaggeration Ploy” It is definitely worth a read!

I have noticed something very strange about engaging in discussions (and even disagreements) with people.

The more you disagree with them, taking the other side in an argument, the more vehemently they push their original point of view. However, if you don’t disagree, but restatetheir point in an exaggerated form, they often back down, or at least tone down their original statement.

This works so well, I’m thinking of copyrighting the idea and calling it “Maister’s Exaggeration Ploy.”

(I know, I know, there’s little new in this world and someone else probably thought of it before me, but I don’t think I stole this from anyone. And if I did, I can’t remember from whom.)

To see how my principle works, imagine a family member, say, a brother, who is upset at how he has been treated by a cousin. Your brother says: “I’m really upset with Jimmy. He had no right to speak to me that way!”

Because you want you brother to calm down and get over it, you might say: “Don’t let it bother you. Perhaps he really didn’t mean to be unkind.”

As valid as your point may be, you can bet your remarks will only serve to annoy your brother. After all, you appear to be defending cousin Jimmy by downplaying his intentions. This will set your brother off on another tirade, and also, probably, cause him to get annoyed with you, too.

But what if you had said: “You’re right! Jimmy’s a louse. He always has been! I think we should have nothing to do with him, ever again! Let’s leave him off the invitation list for all family gatherings from now on!”

Nothing with people is a certainty, but I would bet that your brother’s next remarks will be something like: “Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad. I’m upset, but there’s no point over-reacting.” You have calmed him down by agreeing with him and exaggerating his own point!

The same principle of exaggeration applies in the workplace. If your boss (or client) berates you because you were late in delivering something, don’t fight back, saying it was his or her fault (especially if it was!)

Instead, say: “I realize what a problem this has created for you. I’m really sorry that I caused you such turmoil. Can you help me figure out a way to prevent this in the future?” The boss (or client) will, with high probability, calm down and you’ll survive! Or at least the odds will be more in your favor!

Try my approach out. Let me know if it works for you!

See you next post.

James E

How should accountants communicate?

You would have heard the old saying, the medium is the message made famous by Marshall McLuhan the renowned Canadian educationalist and communication expert. Although Marshall coined the phrase almost 40 years ago, in today’s information smorgasbord, it is as relevant as it was back in the 1960′s.

Below is an excerpt from a good friend of mine – Antoni Lee. Antoni advises clients on how to perform at their peak when communicating in public. He is one of Australia’s most in-demand communication trainers for journalists, business leaders, corporate spokespeople, politicians, academics and the arts sector. Suffice to say he knows a thing or two about communication.

Below is an excerpt from Antoni’s site. It is titled “Which Communication Medium is Best?” You can read the full article by visiting http://www.rhetorica.com.au/?p=404

Given the need for accountants/advisers to clearly communicate to their clients and stakeholders, Antoni’s wisdom below will be most useful.

Choice confers freedom—or paralysis

An overload of options kills decision-making. At gut level we know, and statistically it’s true, that the more options we have, the lower the chance we’ll choose the ‘right’ answer. A prevalence of opinions and conflicting theories doesn’t help. In communication, it’s rich media versus media naturalness versus social naturalness, etc. How can we know which one is right? Neither do Internet searches provide clarity. Google’s 200m results for ‘Which communication medium is best?’ gave several stupid answers on page one, including three links to psychic hotlines.

Before answering our headline question it will be helpful to ask a few more questions to narrow down the communication context:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. Why are you communicating?
  3. What is your message?
  4. What is your urgency?
  5. How much money do you have?

Your answers will likely point to some media over others.

Qualifications aside, below is a non-exhaustive, non-academic, discussed-over-coffee, list of strengths and weaknesses in a short list of mediums.

Internet video is best kept short and sharp

  1. Easy to record and upload. Sometimes too easy. See (2).
  2. Weak content and production are obvious.
  3. Easy to find, download and watch, if your audience have broadband connections and can find your content.
  4. File sizes can be a drag.
  5. Requires full audience attention. Most of us don’t watch videos while driving.
  6. Can work for big screens or small. Think before you leap.
  7. Potentially engaging, human, intimate, but too often wooden and inauthentic, in spite of the potential.
  8. Relatively inexpensive to produce, even if you decide to buy cameras and chromakey screens, etc.
  9. Relatively visual. You can creatively incorporate demonstrations, locations, props and other aids.
  10. If loaded to a public site (e.g. YouTube), your video could be on the Internet for a long time.
  11. Linear, chronological. Great for stories and gags and conversations, but offers limited audience selection and control.
  12. Prone to rambles and inefficiency, the hallmarks of natural speech. Proper planning and preparation can alleviate these problems, without harming effectiveness.
  13. The illusion of spontaneity.

Summary: Video is mostly one way, but great for short lists, updates, entertaining and conveying personality.

Podcasts offer portability, repeatability and the opportunity to educate

I have downloaded more than 500 podcasts onto my MacBook Air and iPod—but only listen to a couple of podcasters regularly.

  1. Podcasts are easy to get repeat access and to download.
  2. Portable. Audiences can download podcasts to all kinds of devices, including smart phones, and listen while walking, riding, commuting, gardening, etc. (Hopefully not while performing brain surgery.)
  3. File sizes are usually much smaller than video.
  4. Easy and inexpensive to make.
  5. Unless it’s instrumental, you’re reliant on words and how you say them. There can be a lot in that. Requires a broader communication repertoire than most people have, to pull it off well and consistently.
  6. Prone to rambles and inefficiency.
  7. Linear, chronological.
  8. Searching through is not as efficient as with text, but the fast-forward and rewind tools are getting better all the time.
  9. Great for conversations, interviews.

Summary: Podcasts are also mostly one way, but great for updates, lectures, seminars, lessons, conversations, interviews—and telling stories.

See you next post.

Keep well,

James E

Are you an accountant who asks good questions? (3 of 3)

Lets recap.

In the last 2 posts we have discussed the two hallmarks of effective communication – being simplicity and the ability to listen. We now explore the third hallmark – asking good questions.

The third hallmark of effective communication is the ability to ask good questions.

You would have heard me bang many times over the last year about one of my favorite maxims – “If you want a better answer … ask a better question … then listen”

Clients are impressed by accountants and advisors that ask questions they weren’t expecting or that they haven’t been asked before. It shows a preparedness on the part of the questioner that he/she invested time and effort in understanding the clients business and circumstances.

One of the best questions one can ask is “why?” If asked in the right way, the question of why can uncover a treasure trove of insights. There is a body of work that claims that asking “why” at least 3 times in the one meeting or conversation can uncover the root cause or motivation behind any aspect of business activity undertaken by people both internal and external to an organisation.

For example, a business owner may be asked the question, “Why are you in business?” The first response would most likely be “to make money” Further in the conversation, the business owner may then be asked “Why is it important to make money?” The next reply could be something along the lines, “so I can invest in my business” At a later point in the same meeting, the owner can then be asked, “why is investment important to you?” The answer may well be, “my core market is declining and I need to develop offering to new markets.”

By asking “why?” just 3 times the questioner has moved from making money to the business surviving. How interesting. The quality of advice that can be given based on the 3rd response rather than the initial 1st answer is chalk and cheese!

The above of course is an obtuse example but you get the idea!

Keep well,

James E.

Are you an accountant who listens? (2 of 3)

Hi everyone!

Hope you all had a great Christmas & New Year.

Sorry about being a bit spotty in my blog posting over the last few weeks. In 2013 my intention is post a blog everyone Monday & Thursday (Australian time).

My last real post was on Monday 17 titled – Are you an accountant that can talk simply? http://whatdoclientsreallywant.com/are-you-an-accountant-who-can-make-things-simple-1-of-3/ so I thought it best to continue the next 2 parts – so here we go.

The second hallmark of effective communication is the ability to listen – really listen. In earlier posts you would have heard me bang on about the importance of listening when meeting and discussing issues with clients and pitching for new business.

I found an excellent list of barriers to effective listening and strategies to promote better listening.

Barriers to effective listening

There are many reasons as to why individuals fail to listen successfully, These include:

  1. Interrupting
  2. Faking attention and tuning out
  3. Becoming emotional
  4. Jumping to conclusions
  5. Getting distracted
  6. Pre-judging the subject
    Wrong focus
  7. Gathering only facts
  8. Inflexibility while listening
  9. Avoiding complicated subjects

Strategies to promote better listening

You can improve your listening skills by following some of the strategies mentioned below:

  • Maintain eye contact with the speaker.
  • Provide clues that you are actively involved in listening.
  • Focus on content, not delivery
  • Avoid emotional involvement
  • Avoid distractions
  • Refrain from formulating an immediate response
    Ask questions
  • Use the gap between the rate of speech.
  • Be willing to accept revisions
  • Choose the right environment
  • Stay active by asking questions for yourself

(Source: http://hubpages.com/hub/Importance-of-Listening-Skills-in-Professional-Life)

I remember my dad saying to me years ago … “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a very good reason … make sure you use them in the that ratio” It took me some time to work out that meant you should listen twice as much as you talk! Admittedly I was quite young at the time 🙂

Until next time.

James E

Are you an accountant who can talk simply? (1 of 3)

What are the hallmarks that make a professional services provider like an accountant be an effective communicator?

As I see it there are 3.

The first hallmark is simplicity.

Have you ever been in a presentation or a meeting when someone insists on using long & complex words and phrases rather than simple and plain language? Of course you have! It’s as if they believe that they will impress people with their command of language by using words & jargon that show just how smart they are. Doing this helps no one.

I’d like to share with you a story. The moral of this story will give you a tremendous insight into how to more effectively communicate with your clients, prospects, staff, suppliers … in fact anyone you need to speak with and whom you want to understand the words you are using.

Many years ago I attended a student residential conference whilst at university. The conference was held in a wonderful bushland setting a couple of hours drive south of Sydney.

The keynote speaker was a terrific & engaging guy with the somewhat unusual name of Winkie Pratney (that is a name you don’t forget in a hurry ) He was sharing insights on leadership and value-driven work.

Winkie’s style of instruction/teaching was great. He peppered each seminar with real life examples and anecdotes. One such story has stuck in my mind since (25+ years!). Winkie called it the “3 Stages.” Here is how it went.

There are 3 stages in effective communication – be it written or oral.

Stage 1 – This consists of small ideas in small words. We all go through this stage. From our first acts of speech we use smalls words like da-da, mummy, bye-bye and eat to convey simple greetings and requests. As children grow & develop, the volume of words increase but not so much their length and the ideas behind them are still small … “Dad can I have $10 please?” I think you get the idea.

Stage 2 – This stage is big ideas in big words. This is the use (& sometimes overuse) of jargon and technical language. Have you had a meeting with an “average” tax lawyer lately? Tax legislation is typically complex, verbose and detailed. However, sometimes the interpretation or the explanation given by the tax lawyer is equally complex, verbose and detailed – a definite case of big ideas in big words.

Stage 3 – The 3rd and final stage in effective communication is simply this: you will never become a great communicator until you translate big ideas into small words.

To unpack this simple rule a little more, consider this. If a person knows and understands their subject matter extremely well then he/she should be able to explain the material to someone new to the area. For example, I have no understanding of physics whatsoever having done no study at either school or uni – it just doesn’t interest me for some reason. However, I once saw an interview with a Nobel Prize winning physicist on television explain in small words the big idea of Einsteins General Theory of Relativity. Not bad!

Conversely, if a person doesn’t know their subject matter that well they will tend to hide behind jargon or big words. Keep this in mind when listening to a politician speak about some so-called “complex issue.”

Here is a question for you – “When you communicate with your clients do you use small words or big words?”

See you next time,

James

Are you an accountant who can sell?

It might sound harsh but most accountants that I meet are no good at selling themselves or the services they/their firm provides. Its not because they aren’t intelligent or capable – far from it. Why is this the case?

I think there are two reasons accountants aren’t proficient at selling. Firstly, they aren’t trained specifically in the areas of business development & selling. Secondly, a lot of accountants believe it is beneath them. How sad!

Earlier this week I was in a meeting with the MD of a small to medium business (annual revenue around $12m) and he specifically told me that he believes that not only accountants, but all professional services people & firms, aren’t really any good at looking beyond their immediate assignment/project. Or put another way they don’t tell clients and potential clients what else they can do for them, that is sell.

A few weeks ago a good friend of mine told me about a simple sales methodology called the Gaddie Pitch. I’m not going to pretend that I can do justice to the Gaddie Pitch by trying to summarise it. So read it for yourself at the Anthill magazine link below. I’ve been using this technique now for the last week or so and it is great and most importantly … works if you let it 🙂

http://anthillonline.com/gaddie-pitch-training-centre/

See you next post.

James E