Give clients what they truly want – and demonstrate your value

Give clients what they truly want – and demonstrate your value

James Hickey, CEO of PKF International, discusses how accountants can move from a compliance focus to advisory – and what this means for international accountancy networks.

Give clients what they truly want – and demonstrate your value

There’s been a lot of talk in the accountancy media about firms evolving their service offering – and thinking carefully about how that’s presented to the market. But there isn’t much focus on the fundamental starting point: understanding who your potential clients are and what they really want from you.

The vast majority of businesses are small and owner-managed. And most accountancy firms want to serve them.

But what do these small businesses care about? Well, they want to grow, but also protect the business and family assets, while rewarding themselves with a good and sustainable lifestyle. Accountants, however, present themselves from the prism of accounting, tax and audit.

Can you help a business de-risk, be more efficient or work smarter? These potential clients wouldn’t know if you can help based on your websites, marketing material or even initial conversations with a practitioner. They really want value, not just a tax or annual return filed.

Technology is freeing up practices’ time – giving them the chance to move away from processing. Even better, client information can be accessed more quickly and accurately than ever before.

So, there’s an amazing opportunity for firms and networks to listen and help their clients. But typically, the profession is not well-versed and trained to have deeper or value-driven conversations.

Perhaps some firms will look at their people and place the ‘business-minded’ in front of clients while technicians sit in the background. There are lots of potential new models. And as suggested at the start, practices will have to be active in considering how they present themselves to their chosen market – the profession is currently very flat with everyone offering the same thing, presented in the same way.

For myself and my colleagues in an international accounting network, our role is to meet the challenge of understand markets across the globe. Then, set a strategy and cascade it down through regional, national and local levels.

Marketing is very important for us too. We need to control the language in message and clarity to help our members around the world to get greater access to the marketplace. Most of these networks are 30-40 years old, but only now are we really exploring how we take our resource to market.

There’s not been much in the way of good news in the marketplace at the top end but there is still a willingness by buyers to purchase professional services. However, the story needs to be about the difference we can provide – be honest and promote the independence of our members but also highlight the hoops they jump through on quality. We’ve also got to tell that story better and more consistently.

It’s a time for accounting firms to be courageous and believe in their knowledge and have the value-added conversations with their clients – and for networks and associations to step up and help them both deliver these offerings and showcase themselves.

James Hickey is CEO of PKF International

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