For as long as I have been engaged in the accounting profession, almost every firm I have been involved with or spoken to has acknowledged that there are additional services that they could provide to fulfil unmet client needs. A number like 20% of additional fees could be generated is often cited. Yet many firms consistently fail to unlock the opportunity.

Time for a fireside chat?

Why is that and what should we do about it? In an era when organic growth can be difficult for some due to local economic or other reasons, this seems an all too easy way of generating additional growth. Lack of resources and being unable to escape the compliance vortex are common reasons.

But all too often the reason is much simpler than that. It is a failure to engage effectively with clients - to have meaningful discussions that will unlock the client’s objectives and the issues which are concerning them.

For younger firm leaders, it is often a lack of confidence to conduct these discussions in a meaningful way that builds deeper client engagement and trust that is the biggest barrier. So how do we overcome that challenge? Like most things in life, it’s a bit of carrot combined with a bit of stick. 

Here are a few things to ponder:

  • Team members in client meetings. This seems so obvious but for many firms so hard to achieve on a consistent basis. There is no better way to learn that to observe the firm leaders engage in an effective way with clients. Over time, the team members should be encouraged to start to participate in the discussions to start to develop their questioning skills. When attending the meetings they should become responsible for taking the meeting notes and action items.

    It requires discipline to do this. When organising meetings, availability of team members must also be taken into account. Sometimes I’m told that clients won’t like team members present or will be concerned about cost. However, I have spoken to many clients about this and when properly explained they understand the benefits in terms of team members having a better understanding of their affairs. 

  • Mock needs reviews. Conducting mock needs reviews is where one person takes the role of the client and the others question them. It is an effective way to develop skills. I have seen in firms that have adopted this idea that in doing so they have discovered:

    a) Things that they don’t know about the client
    b) Areas where they have opportunities to help the client

    That means that when an actual meeting occurs with the client they already have some issues to raise. This boosts confidence in conducting the meeting.

  • Using a sheet to prompt them on questions they could ask. Our 10x10 needs review is one example of this. It can be downloaded here. Note, however, that it is not a checklist to be completed, merely a sheet to give you an idea of questions that can be asked to get the client talking. The key, however, is to listen intently and while listening, consider the next question you should be asking to drill deeper into the issue. 

  • Conduct meetings at a comfortable location. The intention is to get the client talking often about issues that may make them feel uncomfortable. Think about the location that may make the client feel more comfortable. It could be a coffee shop, their office or home, driving in a car, going for a walk along the beach. 

  • Have the courage to ask the tough questions. To help clients effectively you need to understand what’s going on in their world. Often the most sensitive issues are the most important to be discussed. Issues relating to their health and relationships can have a critical impact on a client’s financial affairs. As long as the client knows why you are asking such questions they will appreciate your concern and will further cement the trust in the relationship and show that you care. Of course, there will be some clients who may not want to discuss such things - that is their decision but even those clients will not be critical of your desire to help them. 

  • Create a scorecard with performance benchmarks. Here’s the stick! Create a scorecard detailing the number of needs reviews done, number of proposals for new work submitted, number of proposals won, fees generated. Give people targets. Monitor regularly. Mentor and coach. Behaviours need to change. Peer pressure and accountability is an important tool. 

Every client, every year should have one of these “needs review” meetings. People’s circumstances change, life events occur. It is clear that firms that have been successful in conducting these client discussions have developed deeper relationships with their clients and enjoyed growth from additional service offerings resulting from unlocking the needs of the client.

Developing client relationships is just one topic in our upcoming Young Guns Conference to be held on the Gold Coast on July 29-30. Mark your diary now and watch for further information later in April. 



David Smith Smithink