A bad adviser

As mentioned in the last post I wanted to share with you two real life examples of an indifferent adviser and empathetic adviser. They come from my own experience.

This post is about an adviser who was (and maybe still is) indifferent.

A while ago I was in a meeting with a top ten accounting firm. The purpose of the meeting was for me to introduce a friend of mine who needed some specialist advice regarding an upcoming transaction.

My friend & I were on one side of the table; two partners on the other side. Lets call them B1 and B2.

B1 was engaging and attentive to my friend and the concerns of his business. He was a good listener and asked the right questions. But let’s not focus on him since this post is about indifference not empathy.

B2, to his credit, seemed to be very interested for the first ten minutes of the meeting and then for some reason “turned off” for the remainder. In the following forty or so minutes he looked at his Blackberry about 10 times and sent at least 3 emails or txts during the meeting. He asked a few questions but gave the impression that he was too important for such a “small” client.

B2 is an absolute expert in his field and commands  high fees for his services. However, in spite of his technical prowess he didn’t get the assignment. I was so disappointed by B2’s attitude and behavior in the meeting that I spoke to his boss about it. The boss agreed and had a discreet chat with B2. I hope for B2’s sake he changes how he views and treats people.   I think my friend said it best soon after we left the meeting… “what a w_ _ _ _ _ !”

What more can I say?

Please tune in to the next post and read about an adviser that shows empathy. A real study in contrasts!

Keep well,

James E

What kind of adviser are you?

I was chatting with a friend last week about what makes a great professional adviser. My friend, let’s call him Phil (as in Phil Dunphy – the geeky father character in the TV series Modern Family) is a senior executive in a multinational fashion retailing group. Phil’s expertise is in organisational development & learning and he has worked in fields as diverse as investment banking to food processing. Phil knows his stuff – trust me.  By the way, just in case “Phil” is reading this … mate don’t worry – you’re much smarter and more handsome than the actor 🙂

Phil has been around long enough to know what makes a great professional adviser. He has had experience in working with all manner of professionals – accountants, lawyers, management consultants and organisational psychologists just to name a few.

In chatting with Phil about professional advisers he reminded me of a quality that is often overlooked in many disciplines including accounting. The quality is empathy. Before we go any further lets be clear on what empathy is.

According to the online Oxford Dictionary … empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Another definition I found which I like very much is  empathy is the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings.  I think you’re getting the idea. But lets dig a little deeper.

A great way to fully understand the meaning of something is to look at its opposite. So what is the opposite of empathy? After searching high and low and thinking about it the best opposite I could come up with to empathy is indifference.

Indifference is defined as someone showing a lack of interest, concern, or sympathy.

Now for the big question … are you an accountant/adviser that shows empathy or are you one that displays indifference? I would like to think that you are someone who not only has the ability to understand and share the feelings of another but also imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings.

To help you understand what camp you fall into, over the next two posts I will share with you the profile of an empathetic adviser viz an indifferent adviser. Both are based on real people working in the accounting profession. After comparing the two, I’d love you to tell me which adviser type you think clients really want!

Until next time.

James E.



How professional are you?

Scanning the web the other day I came across an interesting article published back in 2005 by a group called the Appraisal Institute. Although the original intent was to help professional appraisers (i.e. valuers) the following professionalism tenets can serve as guideposts for all of us. (I’ve made some slight adjustments to better suit the purpose of this blog)

Ethics/Integrity: The professional adviser strictly adheres to all applicable standards and ethical rules and acts with honesty and integrity in the performance of all their services.

Competency: The professional adviser develops competency through advanced education, continuing education and experience; relies on education and experience to develop judgment and sound reasoning; and continually strives to improve his or her knowledge and skills.

Image: The professional adviser strives to present a positive image of the profession to clients and to the public.

Services: The professional adviser strives to consistently provide high-quality services, reports and other products to clients and other users of their services.

Reliability: The professional adviser strives to meet commitments to made to their clients.

Accountability: The professional adviser recognizes and accepts responsibility for his or her actions.

Public Trust: The professional adviser recognizes the vital role that appraisers play in the well-being of our society and strives to promote and maintain a high level of public trust and confidence in the profession.

Courtesy: The professional appraiser strives to act with civility and courtesy to all.

Membership in a professional association: The professional adviser joins and actively participates in a professional association and in the processes of self-regulation.

I must say the above list is not a bad starting point. How do you rate on the above checklist?

All my best,


I am not an animal … I’m a human being (2 of 2)

Continuing from the last post we have the 2nd part of Keith Farazzi’s 2006 article in Fast Company titled Give Clients What they Really Want.

This method might require you to find outside partners to deliver–yet another reason to develop larger networks of friends. In fact, the first couple things you “sell” to someone may have nothing at all to do with your own product.

For example, I frequently strengthen relationships with clients by aiding their personal career pursuits, entirely separate from what they’re procuring from my firm. When I learned that one of my clients ultimately wants to be in politics, I got him invited to join an advisory council to Bill Clinton comprised of people under age 40. When another client confided in me his desire to be an actor, I took him to dinner with a leader of William Morris Agency. A third client was struggling with earning the respect of his CEO, so in addition to the consulting services we provided his organization, we coached him personally on how to leverage the work we were doing and even just how to behave in the CEO’s staff meetings to build the credibility he needed to become a key player in the executive team.

Another person who has a knack for giving clients what they really want is Ty Pugh, a Seattle-based financial advisor. The financial products and services he has to sell are true commodities. You can get the same stuff from many other places. But Ty is building lasting relationships for revenue growth by providing clients additional investment opportunities in real estate, independent of his core offerings.

After Ty made a personal investment in a waterfront resort community in North Carolina, he generously made the opportunity available to many others. He convinced the developers to lease a jet to fly investors from Seattle to the east coast. He brought in former professional football player Nesby Glasgow to serve as the real estate agent and to lend some cachet to the deal. And he invited 42 investors to check out a new investment opportunity, take a free trip to a beautiful resort community while hobnobbing with a pro athlete, and get to know a whole bunch of like-minded investors.

This amazing demonstration of how he’s much more than your average financial advisor won Ty clients in the developers, the real estate agent, and some of the investors. You, too, can make your business boom if you find and deliver what clients really want before selling your core product.

Hope the last couple of posts have been helpful and maybe have given you a little taste of the potential benefits that are achievable in treating clients like human beings.

See you next time!

James E

I am not an animal … I’m a human being (1 of 2)

As the URL for the site suggests this blog is all about the sharing of ideas and insights into what clients really want – specifically professional services clients – accounting, law, management consulting, engineering and the like.

I came across a wonderful article written by Keith Ferrazzi that was originally published in Fast Company back in June 2006. Despite being 5 years old the lessons contained within are as fresh and relevant today as they were back in the pre GFC world of 2006.  I love the idea of sharing with you knowledge available on web sites, journals or magazines that professional advisers like those listed above  may not have on their radar. By the way … the reason for the photo of the Elephant Man made famous by John Hurt in the 1980 movie of the same name is his famous haunting statement during a particularly cruel scene – “I’m not an animal I’m a Human Being!” It will make more sense as you read the piece below. I’ve also included the video clip link to give it more context.

Enjoy the article!


Build real personal relationships with your clients–so they’ll reveal to you what they really want, what could really drive their decision but can’t be written in an RFP.

You may remember the 1990 movie Crazy People in which Dudley Moore plays an advertising executive whose idea to write “honest” advertising copy like the following lands him in an insane asylum:

Volvo… they’re boxy, but they’re safe.
Porsche…you can’t get laid in one, but you will once you get out.

As outrageous as those taglines were, they were successful in the movie (and probably would have been in real life, too) because they spoke to what people really wanted–far beyond what car companies learn from customers in rank-the-features surveys. In these cases, customers didn’t just want cars that got them from point A to point B. They bought a Volvo for the peace of mind and the Porsche for a new hope of finding romance.

Our organizations face the same problem automakers do. I certainly don’t think my firm’s marketing and sales consulting services or training offerings are anywhere close to commodities. I believe we have deeper insight, more experience, a watertight methodology…a laundry list of reasons why we can provide value no one else can. I bet you feel the same way about your core products and services. But the truth is that many other organizations claim to have the same things we have. And if you delude yourself thinking that what’s on your website and printed marketing collateral is significantly different from what others have written down, then you’re full of it.

That’s why we have to build real personal relationships with our clients–so they’ll reveal to us what they really want, what could really drive their decision but can’t be written in an RFP. Then, and only then, do we get opportunities to offer generous solutions to their problems that convince them to purchase our core products and services.

You have to approach them as people as well as professionals. Show them you’re human by letting your guard down. Share your passions and learn about theirs. See yourself as a combination of consultant, life coach, therapist, and friend. Ask insightful questions, actively listening for what really motivates or frustrates them personally. Then, when you have a deep understanding of what they really want, try to bundle a solution that, first and foremost, solves one of their problems and, ideally, includes your product or service.

Watch the Elephant Man YouTube Clip to get the full impacthttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2KEN8XBL0

See you next post for part 2.

All my best,


What is professional services all about?

When looking at the meaning of words & terms it is helpful to go back to basics and look at the components. In the case of a professional service we have two words: professional AND service. So lets individually look at the meanings of these two words.

A professional is a person who is expert at his or her work (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/professional).

A somewhat more comprehensive defintion … a professional does something as a profession, or receives payment for some activity. The adjective “professional” can indicate that someone has great skill in a craft or activity, or that something demonstrates such skill. To conduct oneself as a professional (exhibiting “professional behavior”) would indicate that the person’s actions remain in accordance with specific rules, written or unwritten, pertaining to the standards of a profession. (http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Professional)

Now lets look at the word service. I saw several definitions of service on the web, but one struck me as capturing the gestalt.

Service is the action of serving, helping, or benefiting; conduct tending to the welfare or advantage of another; friendly or professional assistance (Oxford English Dictionary)

Putting the two above meanings together we get something like …. a professional service involves a person or group of persons who are experts in their field who aim to benefit the people and/or organisations  that seek their help. Now I know this is not an “official” defintion but it should serve us well as a starting point. For the sake of reinforcement lets repeat this definition and put it in bold typeface.

A professional service involves a person or group of persons who are experts in their field who aim to benefit the people and/or organisations  that seek their help.

For this blog this will be our reference point when it comes to a professional service like accounting, law, engineering and the like. If you’re not happy with the above definition please drop me a line and we’ll talk!

See you next time.

James E

Think about relationships more than you do now

In the last post you’ll remember reading about Reece – our highly skilled accounting professional who lacked a network and needed to learn how to sell.

As a self-employed headhunter, the way I feed my family is through the network of contacts and relationships I have built and maintained over many years. In the case of Reece she has worked for the same accounting firm for most of her professional career and has only really built a network internal to the firm. If Reece aspires to be a Partner she will need to start building relationships that (sooner or later) will help her attract new businesses or more business from existing clients. So how does Reece get networking? Given the readership of this blog I will assume a few things so we can get to the heart of the matter.

1. Choose your area.You can’t be all things to all people. If your professional interest lies in say, the biotechnology field, then focus on relationships in that arena and around it.

2. Serve that area. Once you have selected the area start serving. By this I mean get involved in all the associations/forums/groups you can that make up your chosen area. Getting involved means not simply joining but doing things for and with others, e.g. give free advice, volunteer help, sit on steering groups/committees, make speeches and the like. Get to be known as someone who helps others – no strings attached.

3. Build a reputation as a “go to” person. Closely linked to the above point is the building of a profile as the person who becomes the hub for activity. Like a hub of a bicycle wheel that connects the spokes be the person that can link others together. Through a simple introduction over a coffee much kudos and creditability can be and is created. You will find that the hub becomes involved in all sorts of interesting situations and conversations that will lead to new opportunities.

4. Be genuine. If you are getting involved and helping others for the sole purpose of getting business and making sales you will fail. People can see a phony a mile away. So don’t be one!

The above points are not just useful for our young friend Reece to think about; they are a good reminder to the seasoned professional services campaigner!

Until next time,

James E.

Passion is not enough

A while back I met a potential candidate on behalf of a client of mine. Lets call her Reece as in Reece Witherspoon.

Reece was a lovely lady in her early 30′s. Bright, warm and friendly. After the first five minutes of our coffee meeting I felt I had known her for years.

Reece is a senior accountant with a highly technical background and a wonderful skill-set in problem solving and working on complex projects with big end of town clients. In addition, she has a passion and enthusiasm for her work that is contagious. I think it would be safe to say that there would probably be around a couple of hundred professionals with her particular skill-mix in Australia. I’m not joking … she is that good! This coupled with her engaging personality makes for a formidable combination.

At first glance she seems to have all the makings of a first rate professional. But there is something  missing – her ability to network and sell.

To date Reece has focused on honing her technical & professional skills to the detriment of her capability to build effective relationships both within and outside her accounting firm. In fact during our coffee Reece clearly stated that it was only in the last year or so that she had come to realise how vitally important “networking” is.

As I think I’ve said in past posts I hate the word networking.  The word has unfortunately come to represent the attitude and behavior of  “what can I get out of other people.” I don’t want to sound twee about it, but true networking is about meaningful relationships. In Reece’s case she has not spent the time to identify, establish and cultivate relationships in the wider community. For it is these relationships with others that will help her on her way to building new business contacts and deepen her bonds with existing clients.

Reece is not yet a Partner in her firm. If she wants to not only be a Partner, but an effective, one she needs to learn how to build relationships and sell her services. Her passion for the profession is (sadly) not enough.

So how can Reece do this? Tune into the next post!

All my best,

James E

Never ask this question (2 of 2)

A couple of chaps presented some interesting findings in a post last week on the Harvard Business Review blog titled “The Worst Questions a Salesperson Can Ask” See below for an extract. For the full piece go to http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/10/the_single_worst_question_a_sa.html

Although the article specifically refers to salespeople, it is important to note that all professionals, including accountants, have to be skilled at “selling” their offering to current clients and prospective clients. Some great lessons can be learned from what these chaps write about.

To understand what makes this question so destructive, we need to first understand where it comes from. For years, most sales training has focused on a single core principle: the shortest path to sales success is a deep understanding of your customers’ needs. If we can understand what’s keeping customers up at night, we can build tight linkages between their problems and our solutions, thereby improving our chances of selling something.

As a result, companies have poured money into teaching their reps to ask better questions. But while it sounds great on paper, this approach suffers from two major problems. First, improving reps’ ability to diagnose needs on the fly proves colossally difficult — especially among average performers. Second, and more to the point, this approach is based on a deeply flawed assumption: customers actually know what they need in the first place.

But what if customers don’t know what they need? What if customers’ single greatest need, ironically, is to figure out exactly what they need? If this were true, the better sales technique might be to tell customers what they need.

In the past we described a type of sales rep we call a Challenger. These gifted, high-performing reps succeed by doing just this, revealing to customers problems — and solutions — that they don’t even see. This isn’t your standard solution-selling approach, focused on open-ended needs diagnosis. A sales conversation with a Challenger provides valuable insight to customers instead of extracting it.

What does this sound like in practice? In our book, we present several case studies, but one of our favorites is from W.W. Grainger, Inc., the distributor of maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) supplies. In the past, Grainger reps led with facts and figures about their company — how old they are, how many items they stock, how many distribution centers they have, and so on, all leading to the inevitable “So, that’s who we are. Now tell me, what’s keeping you up at night?”

Today, a conversation with a Grainger rep is very different. It focuses almost exclusively on a series of proprietary insights Grainger has developed about its customers that prompt them to think very differently about how to manage their MRO spending — in ways that could potentially save them millions. Rather than trying to convince customers to go with Grainger as their supplier of choice for planned MRO purchasing (which inevitably leads to a price-focused discussion), Grainger reps start by showing them how much money they are likely wasting every year on unplanned purchases, which Grainger’s research shows can be up to 40% of the average company’s MRO spending.

No supplier wants to be in the business of free consulting — and Grainger is no different. The key is to teach in a way that leads customers to your unique benefits as opposed to leading with them. After reframing the way customers think about MRO spending, Grainger reps create an opportunity to talk about a set of capabilities they can offer to better manage that spend, ultimately leading to higher-level sales conversations and bigger deals.

These conversations aren’t happenstance. There’s a specific art to getting them right. We’ve found that insight-led sales conversations like Grainger’s follow a distinct choreography that’s markedly different from your standard sales pitch. Importantly, this isn’t something to leave to your individual reps to figure out. Marketing plays a critical role in identifying these teachable insights and equipping reps with the tools to deliver them to customers.

Done well, this sort of sales approach creates a powerfully differentiated interaction for customers because it leads with insight, not tiresome questions. And, as it turns out, that difference really matters.

In a survey of more than 5,000 business customers, we found that of all of the possible factors that could drive customer loyalty — including brand, product and service quality, and price-to-value ratio — by far the biggest driver is something most companies don’t even think about: the sales experience, accounting for 53% of the overall total.

Customer loyalty, it turns out, is more a function of how you sell than what you sell. Specifically, customers reward suppliers who “offer unique and valuable perspectives on the market” and “educate them on new issues and outcomes.”

See you next post!

James E

Never ask this question (1 of 2)

A few months ago I wrote a post titled “The Worst Question an Accountant Can Ask”. I was in a meeting just the other day with a senior partner from a top 10 accounting firm. To cut a long story short – he (to my great surprise) asked the question an accountant should never ask!

In the book, in between the chapters of the interviews with accounting firm clients are little vignettes called “a view from the other side” which are the responses of accountants I’ve have met and known over the years. They respond to one of four questions I pose them, one of which is, “What is the best question you have ever asked a client or prospect?”

I asked the above question of three senior accountants, two of which were partners and surprisingly two came up with the same answer: they would ask their client or prospect, “What keeps you awake at night?”

At the time I thought it was a fair enough question to ask since it had been used in sales and business development contexts for many, many years. However, in the last few days I read something that completely changed my mind on the whole subject.

During the last week, I read the blog of well-known and respected management journal that blew my socks off. They claim that the worst possible question a professional could possibly ask of a client or prospective client is I fact “What’s keeping you up at night?”

So who are these people that claim that such a simple question that has been asked countless thousands of times all around the world for the last few decades is not only so completely wrong and but can and will simultaneously prevents sales while also destroying customer loyalty?

Well they must know a thing or two since they were published by no less a journal than the Harvard Business Review. Tune into the next post to find out more!

All my best,

James E