The power of shoes (2 of 2)

Here is the rest of the extract from the David Maister article. In this piece David specifically looks at the range of human emotions going through the mind of a prospective client.

I’m skeptical. I’ve been burned before by these kinds of people. I get a lot of promises. How do I know whose promise I should buy?

I’m concerned that you either can’t or won’t take the time to understand what makes my situation special. Will you be one of those typical professionals who are hard to get hold of, who are patronizing, who leave the client out of the loop, who befuddle the client with jargon, who don’t explain what they’re doing or why, who…, who…, who…? In short, will you deal with me in the way that I want to be dealt with?

To a degree, I am also exposed. Whoever I hire I’m going to have to reveal some proprietary secrets to, not all of which are flattering. I’m also a little threatened. You will be working on things for which I am responsible (marketing consultants are hired by the vice president of marketing, lawyers by the general counsel, actuaries by the benefits manager). By the very fact that you are suggesting improvements or changes, there is the risk that you will uncover things that I haven’t been doing right up till now. Are you going to be my ally or my enemy?

What all this reveals is that from among the set of qualified candidates I am looking for the one I can trust. The act of hiring a professional is, by very definition, an act of faith. I must, inevitably, believe a promise. In selecting a professional I am not just buying a service, I am entering into a relationship. Your selling task is to earn my trust and confidence—with an emphasis on the word “earn.”

See you next post.

All my best,

James E

The power of shoes (1 of 2)

As most of you have no doubt discovered by now I’m a big fan of the writings of David Maister. Here is an extract from an article he wrote 20 years ago. Although there has been much change in the world since 1991 – the internet probably being amongst the biggest sources of change – its amazing to see that core human nature are still at the heart of how clients make decisions.

This article, written in 1991, was published as a chapter in David’s book Managing the Professional Service Firm (Free Press, 1993)

Buying professional services is rarely a comfortable experience. Among the unpleasant emotions frequently felt are the following:

First, I feel that I’m taking a personal risk. By hiring anyone, I am putting my affairs, or my company’s affairs, in the hands of someone else, and I’m giving up some degree of control. This is my area of responsibility, and even though intellectually I may know I need outside expertise, emotionally it is not comfortable to put my affairs in the hands of others. Even if the matter is a relatively routine one, I need to be convinced (beyond protestations of good intentions) that my problem will receive prompt and serious attention.

I’m feeling insecure. Since I find it hard to detect which of you is the genius and who is just good, I’m going to have to commit myself without feeling totally confident about my decision. What is more, I don’t yet know if I’ve got a simple problem or a complex one; that’s why I need you, the specialist, to help me. But I’m not sure that I can trust you to be honest; after all, it’s in your interest to convince me that my problem is complex. Professionals are always making mountains out of molehills. Nothing is ever easy.

There is a lot of power in standing in your prospective client’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective. Tune in next time to read the next installment.

All my best,

James E

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’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 impact

See you next post for part 2.

All my best,


My lunch with Liam Neeson

Last week I was having lunch with a CFO of a company that I had interviewed last month for the “What do Accounting Clients Really Want?” book. As always to protect the innocent lets call this CFO Liam as in Liam Neeson one of my favourite film actors.

In my humble opinion the best way to get to know someone better is to “break bread” with them – be it lunch or morning tea it doesn’t matter. There is something quite special when you sit down with someone and simply talk over food and drink.

In the example of my lunch with Liam a simple meal allowed us both the time and space to get to know each other better. It was a good & enjoyable exchange: I told Liam about my family and he told about his; he told me about his work; I told him about mine and on it went. The conversation went in all different kinds of directions and at the end of the lunch I can say with complete certainty that we both got to know each other better and trust & respect began to build.

Following the lunch, we went back to his office and Liam gave me a tour of the business operation. I lost count of how many staff he introduced to me during our walk around the facility but it was great to have a first-hand look at how their business operated.

After the tour, Liam reminded me of an item we had spoken about over lunch involving me introducing to Liam a chap I know who may be able to help with them with some new ideas for their marketing offering. In my line of work I’m often looking for opportunities to put people together in some mutually beneficial way. And here was the opportunity.

If you are genuine and sincere and want to get to know people better two things will follow. 1. You have a relationship with a new friend. 2. Business opportunities will just flow.

Lunch is good for business!

All my best,

James E


The other week I was meeting someone in their offices in an outer Sydney suburb and was surprised (to say the very least) a prominent sign posted in the entry way to their foyer.

We are a organisation that is professional and proud of what we do.

If you want to do business with <inset their brand name here> we expect
you to be dressed appropriately. If you are not wearing a neck tie, one will
be provided to you at reception. Thank you.

During the course of my working life I have been in thousands of office buildings. This is the only time I’ve seen such a sign.

The person in the above organisation I was meeting with told me that the owner of the business was an elderly gentlemen who for reasons of proprietary and respect refused to meet anyone (including his own male staff) who was not wearing a tie.

At first I just put this down to the owner being old fashioned and perhaps a little eccentric. However, on further reflection, I changed my mind and decided that he has ever right to insist that everyone he deals with in his business should dress and behave according to the values and standards of his organisation.

As an adviser to your business clients I think it is crucial to be understanding of those elements like speech, dress & demeanor if you are going to build a strong and lasting relationship with your clients and start to build bridges to prospective clients.

See you next time,

James E

Do advisers have honeymoons with their clients?

The other week I had a great meeting with a CFO of a medium sized retailer. To protect the innocent lets call this CFO chap, Wayne.

Wayne was a guy in his late 40’s but looked younger. I was impressed by Wayne’s sharpness, warmth and knowledge of his business & the market in which he operated.

Wayne had been with the business around 4 years and was an experienced operator when it came to working with external advisers – in particular accountants & accounting firms.

In his first year at the retailers, Wayne wanted to shake things up a bit so he informed their current auditors  and tax advisers that he would be going to the market to see what other firms could do for him. Obviously he gave the incumbents  the opportunity to, as it where re-apply for their role as auditor/adviser, but they weren’t successful. They went with another firm.

At this point Wayne pauses, sighs, bows his head slightly, smiles (as if to himself) and is genuinely excited as he recalls the first year working with the new accounting firm which provided him with audit and tax consulting services.

James … it was like the first year of any marriage. Everything just clicked. All of my phone calls were returned almost immediately, any request was never too much trouble, open communication flowed freely and love on both sides abounded. Ah … the memories of the honeymoon. A sweet and lovely time between a client and their accounting firm.

Then suddenly as if some hidden switch had just been flicked, Wayne’s face went dark and gloomy. He was thinking about the state of play with his accounting firm.

Now its year 4. They do their work and its fine but I get the feeling that they’re just going through the motions. The phone calls aren’t returned as promptly, communication is more about me giving and them taking and there is less spring in their step when they come in for meetings. I think sometimes they take the relationship a little for granted. Hmmm … I’m thinking it might be time for a change.

We all get excited about winning a new client , but isn’t it equally important to keep the clients you already have and invest in the relationship?

How is your client “marriage” going? Is your Wayne looking for a new spouse yet?

All my best,

James E

I expect ideas from all my advisers!

Last week I met with a CFO of an Australian retail icon and interviewed him for the “What do Accounting Clients Really Want?” book I’m working on. Due to restrictions with my Publisher I’m not permitted to release any name details until the book is out.

That being said I had a really good meeting with this chap. Lets call him Matt as in Matt Damon – I’m sure the CFO won’t mind.

We were talking about his expectations of the external accounting firm they use and he made a very interesting comment which I dare say all accountants can sometimes be guilty of when servicing clients. Please note: I don’t have the transcription of the interview back yet from the person I use so the following is a paraphrase.

You know James, the accountants we use are just great. Because of their long history working with us they really understand our business. Our operation is vertically integrated – we manufacture, wholesale, retail and export our products – so there are a lot of moving parts to our business. Our accountants have an appreciation of practically everything associated about our business and as such we have a close, open and trusting working relationship with them.

That being said, although our current accountants are excellent if I was asked for one area of improvement it would be their level pro-activity in bringing new business ideas and opportunities to the table. Our accountants are top-notch when it comes to all the compliance work they do and value-adding advisory services they provide, but they seem to still operate in the traditional “accountant’s box”

Given their deep and rich understanding of our business I want them to come to me with new ideas to help us improve the business. These ideas could be anything from new products to retail alliances to opportunities in new markets. In fact a lot of ideas I would expect wouldn’t have any link to accounting per se and that is completely ok.

In fact I want all our external advisers & consultants to be sources and generators of new ideas. Be they accounting, legal, technology, human resources, marketing, supply-chain or whatever. I want them all to help us – not just in their respective fields of expertise but, if for example,  our lawyer has a good idea to do with marketing bring it on. I expect ideas from all my advisers!

Are you generating ideas for your clients outside your area of expertise?

See you next post,

James E

“Do you know anyone … ?” (part 2 of 2)

In the last post we were talking about the the importance of helping clients with introductions to people that may help them in their business and personal lives.

You might have thought to yourself , “James … its fine for you to be introducing people to your clients that’s your job and you have a huge network of contacts and you get paid for it.”

The above thought has two parts to it. Firstly, yes … I do have a large network of  friends, associates, contacts & acquaintances. But I’ll show you a way that is both inexpensive and quick to allow you to build a circle of friends and others that will help you in your business and career if you use it the right way. Secondly, I do a lot of favours for clients and others that I don’t get paid a brass razoo for. For me, its all about strengthening relationships and giving before receiving. To some of you this might sound corny and trite – but I’ve found it is the best way to become a long-term professional that people will trust.

Many of you have heard of LinkedIn and a few of you use it. For the uninitiated, LinkedIn is an online business networking site that connects people through 3 degrees of separation: your friends, friends of friends and friends of friends of friends.

LinkedIn (I prefer this business network because I have spent the most time and effort in building it!) is akin to a huge virtual bucket of business cards. You can search LinkedIn members by criteria like name, position title, company, university/college and location. It is seriously useful if you use it correctly.

At the time of writing my LinkedIn network numbered just under 20 million people around the world. This of course didn’t happen overnight, but through a regular investment of a little bit of time my network has got bigger and bigger. Some of you might be thinking – so what? What is the use of being linked to people in Botswana when I’m in Australia? With complete respect … thats not the point. By having access to these type of networks you can reach people you wouldn’t normally know or even think of contacting.

As mentioned in the last post my client needed access to someone within a specific field in Australian Agribusiness industry based in Sydney. I used LinkedIn to start an initial search and within about 10 minutes I had 20 contacts. Now from experience I know that not all of those contacts will be the right ones but with some further screening I will find my client 2-3 high quality people with whom he can meet.

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever that you can’t do the same for your clients. To help get you started send me an invite to join your LinkedIn network. By doing that my 2nd degree of separation will become your third degree which means about 3.3 million people will be added to your network instantly.

If you’re not a LinkedIn member then sign up otherwise you’re missing out on a quick and inexpensive way to help your clients – accounting or otherwise.

See you next time.

James E

A word from the streets

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you will know that over the last few months I’ve been working on a book titled “What do Accounting Clients Really Want?” The book is scheduled to be published by Thomson Reuters in May/June this year. Its is a series of interviews of 25 people who buy accounting services.

When I’ve mentioned the book to friends, clients, business associates and people I bump into, almost without exception, they have asked me the obvious question, “Why?”

Since the why question has been asked of me so many times I have developed an almost scripted response that is built around one  statement, “Most advisers be they accountants, lawyers, management consultants or whoever, fall into the trap (more often that not) of assuming what their client or prospective client really wants”

I then go on to unpack with my audience at the time (usually consisting of 1 or 2 people who I have cornered somewhere!) why the above statement tends to be fact than fiction. Lets face it, the adviser in question may well be a partner in a big accounting or law firm, a director in a management consultancy or a principal within a marketing agency. They are, for all intents and purposes, a subject matter expert; they have deep technical knowledge, years of industry experience, well developed networks within their discipline, proven methodologies and processes and the list goes on.

It then becomes a little more understandable to my audience that advisers may, by default rather than be design, take on the mantle of “I know best” viz their client.

Set against the above  explanation, my audience start to nod their heads slowly in understanding. My business audience is usually one of two groups: a member of the adviser community or a client of that community.

If a thought bubble were to appear above the adviser(s)  heads it would read something like, “Oh … that’s what he means. Hmmm … have I fallen into that trap?”

On the other side of the coin, the client thought bubble reads, “Yep I know how that feels. Why on earth do they ask me questions and not listen to what I have to say?”

The above of course is a little exaggerated to make the point. If you’re an adviser, irrespective of the discipline, what does your thought bubble say? I’d love to know. Leave a comment and please tell me and others.

See you next time,

James E