If you have any doubts about the importance of customer service and building solid client relations, consider the following statistic from a Harvard Business Review study: Increasing customer retention by 5% can increase profits from 25 to 95%.
Today’s highly disruptive business climate has clients looking to reduce risk. A study by Hinge Marketing reports that for buyers, the importance of an existing relationship in making a buying decision jumped 111%. Clients want to work with partners they already know and have a positive relationship with.
But client management is just one approach to growing your firm. A business without a program to acquire new customers is stagnant or shrinking. Client acquisition allows the firm to build up its client base, expand market share, and increase sales, which can boost profits.
- 9 client management best practices that contribute to your bottom line
- What you need to know about successfully offering client advisory services
- 10 examples of leading client advisory services
- How to build a compelling brand identity
- 11 proven tactics for acquiring new clients
2 crucial approaches to growing — and sustaining — your firm
Successfully growing your firm’s business comes from two core activities: client acquisition and client retention.
Client acquisition deals with all activities associated with creating demand for the firm’s services, thereby gaining new business. Client retention focuses on keeping customers engaged, active, and satisfied over time through quality of service and building strong relations.
Retention grows lifetime value and yields a higher ROI on marketing spend than acquisition efforts; however, acquisition expands your client base and is crucial to it’s long-term growth. You need both to gain and keep customers to achieve sustainable success.
Strategies to increase client retention
Client management includes managing, coordinating, and overseeing a company’s interactions between potential and existing clients. Among the top benefits of effective client management:
- Higher client satisfaction
- Increased retention
- Greater potential for referrals
- Better collaboration between the firm and the client
Client management best practices
Successful client management emphasizes personal interaction, regular and productive communication, and timely responses to client requests.
- Adopt an advisory role in learning and understanding the client’s needs, problems, and goals for success.
- Engage clients through multiple channels: calls, email, video and onsite meetings.
- Use scheduling tools to remain accessible.
- Manage the client’s journey to set proper expectations and ensure productive collaboration.
- Think holistically — bring all the firm’s intellectual assets to aid the client. Remember the adage, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
- Use technology to leverage personalization.
- Educate your clients on the value of your services.
- Engage with clients by sharing firm and industry news.
- Implement an onboarding program that sets clear expectations with each new customer.
Ultimately people like working with people they like, which is why Deloitte found that B2B customers are on average 32 percent more likely to renew a contract with B2B companies that have mastered customer experience.
Remember the following quote by Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
It is why according to Sage’s Practice of Now 2020 study, 46 percent of accountants believe that relationship building is the most critical skill for future accountants.
I’ve found Plooto to be a great partner and instrumental in helping me grow my firm. Because Plooto enables me to offer payables processing, I can provide my clients more value. If a company is busy looking to grow, we can take on its back office payables so that they can focus on other aspects of their business. By offering my services as needed — whether episodic or long-term — I can generate more revenue streams and service more clients faster.
By providing payable processing, we can have deeper and more collaborative conversations with our clients. We can advise them on managing their cash flow and how it impacts their business. Plooto’s services allow us to approach a client and say we can do much more to help you.
- Alissa Bryden
Founder, Virtual Heights Accounting
Client renewal of contracts
Client renewal of contacts is also essential to sustaining growth. Here are some tips to improve the renewal of contracts:
- Demonstrate value
Explain the services provided.
- Highlight risks associated with not renewing
Costs that the client could incur, opportunities missed, and loss of knowledge gained from client-firm collaboration.
- Ask for feedback
It may allow you to address and resolve outstanding issues that could lead the client to renew the contract.
- Be proactive
Start communicating the value of your service and the need to renew before the contract’s renewal deadline. Set up an auto-renewal email campaign to keep in front of the client.
- Propose alternative solutions
With aging products and services, promoting a new offering may be better than renewing a contract.
The success of the renewal process is deeply connected to the value that is communicated to the client. The value demonstrated during the renewal process must align with what was initially promised. So, account management must understand the customer’s journey, desired outcomes, industry, and challenges.
Client Advisory Services
Client Advisory Services (CAS) help CPA firms provide more value to clients through expanded offerings. By providing expert recommendations, CPA firms can help business owners achieve their strategic, financial, and operational goals.
Sage’s The Practice of Now 2020 reports that “79% of accountants say that client expectations have expanded to include the provision of business and finance consultancy.”
Accounting Today reported that CAS is extraordinarily profitable area, with growth rates that are often double those of the accounting profession's more well-established service lines. According to the CPA.com and AICPA PCPS Client Advisory Services Benchmark Survey report, CAS has been the fastest growing service area in public accounting.
The survey also reported that CAS practices are continuing to use technology to innovate and embrace new business models to maximize value for staff and clients.
Examples of Client Advisory services
- Cash Flow & Spend Management
- Human Capital Management
- Business Funding
- Financial Planning and Analysis
- Trend Analysis & Benchmarking
- Business Advisory Board Assistance
- Internal Audit and Risk Advisory
- Corporate Advisory & Structuring
- IT Systems Assurance and IT Solutions
- GST - Advisory and Compliance
CAS best practices
- Focus on a few key niches
- Secure buy-in from firm leadership
- Educate clients and staff on CAS and its value
- Use fixed-fee or value billing
- Establish a dedicated CAS staff as well as allow for outsourcing
- Select clients that align with the firms CAS direction
- Use technologies to drive efficiencies that enable staff to focus on premium services
- Stay in closer touch with clients throughout the year to collaborate on a much more frequent basis
Benefits of offering CAS
Demonstrating expertise in a particular area builds trust and credibility with clients, prospects, and referral sources, contributing to more sales. Marketing efforts also become more efficient and cost-effective when you focus on a few key niches. In addition, you can charge higher fees when you offer premium services. The synergies generated by offering CAS elevate your firm as clients see you as more than providing a transactional service.
New client acquisition
From bringing in new clients to increasing revenue, from growing market share to building brand awareness, new client acquisition is crucial to a firm’s success and sustainability.
Differentiating your firm
Competitive differentiation is how a company's product or service differs from its competitors. What customers value — including functionality, brand, pricing, or customer service — defines competitive differentiation. Your marketing should help potential buyers understand what sets your firm apart from your competitors. Companies gain a competitive advantage and market share through product differentiation.
12 steps to differentiating your accounting firm
- Know your market — both your target customers and your competitors.
Gain a competitive advantage by identifying and providing what your clients value most — and what your competitors are failing to deliver. Knowing your ideal client will help you improve every aspect of your business.
- Develop a field of expertise.
Clients buy services to solve problems or identify and capitalize on opportunities. The more your clients or prospects see your firm as an accounting authority, the more they will trust you with their accounting needs.
- Respond quickly.
If you respond faster than your competitors, not only will your speed stand out in the minds of your potential and current clients, but your firm can speed up the sales cycle, leaving the competition behind.
- Invest in technology.
Customer relationship management software, artificial intelligence, data analytics technologies enable your firm to deliver more personalized, strategic services.
- Harness your happy clients.
Broadcast your differentiations via testimonials and customer success stories.
- Build personal relationships.
Creating a personal and genuine connection with your clients creates a memorable and lasting impression. Harvard Business Review’s The New Science of Customer Emotions shows how emotionally attached customers may repurchase and recommend the business and why 44% are less likely to shop around for options.
- Niche specialization.
An industry specialization can quickly set you apart from your competition and let you command premium prices.
- Evolve as your clients change.
As your client’s needs change, your firm must adjust its services to keep up with market demand. Your agile response will burnish your firm as an innovator and help you stand out.
- Make yourself known.
The internet and social media make it easy to establish a public presence and promote thought leadership. Joining industry forums and online associations, writing guest blog posts, and hosting webinars can provide platforms for promoting your expertise. Identify opportunities such as public speaking at industry events, writing trade publication articles, and publishing books to show your knowledge.
A study by the Hinge Research Institute for professional services found that almost 60 percent of the professional firms surveyed stated “they would be making their expertise more visible in the marketplace.” According to Hinge Research Institute: “Our research has revealed that developing visible expertise is one of the best ways for professional services firms to differentiate themselves from their competitors, gain a significant marketing advantage and achieve a high growth rate.”
- Have a “results” mindset.
Talk about your firm and what you do not as a title — I’m an accountant — but what you do and the results you produce. Talk about how your clients benefit from your services — how you help them achieve their goals and solve their problems.
- Establish your firm’s story.
Explain what your firm brings to the client through experience, expertise, skills, and connections. Talk about your firm’s approach to serving clients and its core values to build a more personal bond.
- Publish useful, quality content regularly.
Write about relevant topics that provide real value to your target clients. Address problems or answer questions your audience finds very important. You generate more qualified leads by offering helpful information that shows your knowledge and understanding of your clients.
11 proven tactics for acquiring new clients
- Become a thought leader.
Establish your firm’s expertise in areas your clients value highly.
Prospects are more likely to engage with you when you offer them something relevant and educational rather than trying to “sell” them.
- Build a compelling identity.
You can attract new prospects and build credible relationships by managing your business reputation through producing quality content, profiling company expertise, and engaging with your sector on social media.
- Proactively look for referrals.
Search LinkedIn to find former contacts of good customers who have moved to a new company.
- Communicate the problems you solve and for whom.
Generously share your ideas and solutions to produce quality leads, build trust, and generate demand for your services.
- Host virtual events.
Give prospects a chance to learn more about your firm and the clients you’ve helped.
- Interview ideal customers.
Invite people you think are your ideal customers to interview on your YouTube channel or podcast. Repurpose the content for newsletters, blog posts, and social media.
- Ask for referrals from satisfied clients.
Nothing is more genuine and insightful than the testimonials of those who have already experienced and benefitted from working with your firm.
- Network at industry and business events; join client on- and offline professional organizations and trade groups.
Networking is a proven way to understand the needs and challenges of your ideal clients and the industries they’re part of.
- Engage in social media.
Today, clients and prospects expect multichannel access to your firm.
- Invest in search engine optimization (SEO).
A study of 500 professional services firms by Hinge Marketing — Online Marketing for Professional Services — found that “SEO was the single most effective tool for generating online leads. It is also probably one of the single most cost-effective approaches for generating high-quality accounting leads.”
Create a marketing strategy for your accounting firm
Building a powerful marketing strategy starts with establishing your firm’s story.
Take inventory of your firm’s intellectual assets
What expertise, experience, and skill set does your firm offer? What sectors, industries, and markets do you excel in? What relationships and connections give you a competitive advantage?
Be sure to include your technological assets
Does your technology help automate and streamline your systems workflows, enabling your team to focus on delivering high-level revenue-generating services? Does your technology help collect, manage, and analyze client data, allowing you to offer personalized, quality service?
Go deep in researching your ideal clients
What are the pains points you can cure? The answers will help you determine topics of interest and messaging that will gain you the most attention and position you as an expert.
Develop your differentiators
In what ways are you different from your competitors, and what value do your differentiators offer your audience?
Create a narrative
Put it all together— who you are, your relevance, the value you offer — all from the perspective of your target audience.
Orchestrate and iterate
Once you promote your story to your target audience, monitor the results and fine-tune your message to maximize its value.
The core of your firm’s marketing strategy is knowing your strengths and how you bring those strengths to market, yet being agile in responding to changes in the market.
Create a marketing plan for your accounting firm
The power of a marketing plan is it will help keep you focused and reinforce your business plan and vision for your firm. The marketing plan should include:
- Your USP (unique selling point)
What sets you apart from other firms? Why should prospects hire you instead of your competitors?
- SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis
Know what you’re good at, and where there’s latitude for improvement. Also be aware of business risks and opportunities.
- Business targets
Make a list of ideal potential clients.
- Services to be marketed
Start by identifying which of your firm’s services are the most profitable? Which ones are likely to be of interest to prospects? Which are the easiest to sell?
- Realistic goals and time frames
What are you aiming to achieve? How long should it take you to reach your goals? How will you measure your progress?
- Marketing tactics
Put together a schedule of the actions you’ll take to reach your goals.
Successfully growing and sustaining your firm is not the result of one major effort but implementing a few proven approaches daily. Think of your firm as a garden where you cultivate current clients while sowing seeds for future growth and profitability. Like a garden, your firm can be fruitful if well tended.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What are the best ways to successfully grow and sustain an accounting firm?
Successfully growing a firm comes from two core activities: client acquisition and retention. Client acquisition deals with all activities associated with creating demand for the firm’s services, thereby gaining new business. Client retention focuses on keeping customers engaged, active, and satisfied over time through quality of service and building strong relations.
Why is new client acquisition crucial to a firm’s success and sustainability?
New client acquisition brings in new clients, increases revenue, and helps grow market share. A firm without new customer acquisition is stagnant or shrinking.
What is client retention?
Client retention management is simply all the things your firm does to promote good relations and brand loyalty with current customers beyond the initial purchase of services.
03 Proven strategies to help your firm retain, attract clients