The Active Ingredient: The Key For Truly Being ‘Proactive Accountants’

By Posted in - Public Blog on September 15th, 2014 2 Comments

The Active Ingredient

In our previous post, The Proactivity Paradox, I explored the lack of clarity the accounting profession has regarding how to define and measure proactivity, especially in light of there being so many self-anointed ‘proactive accountants’.

Clientshare™ is a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) we coined as the most relevant measure for aspiring proactive accountants to measure just how proactive their firm really is.

But it’s a result. A lag indicator. To create change in a business the focus needs to be on vital behaviours that can be tracked as lead indicators: the actions that inevitably lead to the desired results.

In my experience guiding accounting and business advisory firms internationally over many years, the lead indicator that matters most is the number of Future-Focused Advisory meetings (FAMs) the firm conducts with clients.

As with Clientshare, FAMs can be measured across the entire firm, per Partner, per Client Manager and so on. Being an activity, they can also be measured across timeframes—per year, per quarter, per month, per week, even per day.

I often say, “Whoever has the most conversations, wins.” And by conversations I mean future-focused, advisory conversations.

Remember (from our last post) how business owners want their accountant to “make suggestions”? How many suggestions did you and your team make to your clients last year? Last month? This week so far?

You don’t know, do you? You’re not measuring it because you never identified it as a lead measure, or even clearly defined it.

You’re not alone. It seems to be the norm for accounting firms.

But normal doesn’t equal good. In many countries being overweight is normal, but that still doesn’t make it good.

Unfortunately “make suggestions” and “number of conversations” are too vague. So how do you measure them?

The conversations I’m referring to aren’t the casual just-made-in-passing suggestions made to clients at the tail end of other conversations or meetings. You can’t measure or track these. And this ‘ambush selling’ approach—the accounting profession’s most common form of ‘selling’—doesn’t work anyway.

No, Future-Focused Advisory Meetings are different. And here are ten traits that set them apart from other conversations.

    1. Advisor Profile: The advisors conducting the FAM need to have the Expressive and Driver traits in their social style (‘personality’) profile so they can make suggestions and sell advisory services. Management should profile all team members and discuss their profile results with them, especially with client-facing advisors. It’s crucial to ensure the advisor conducting the FAM is naturally suited to it.

      A word of caution: Don’t put high Analyticals and Amiables in front of clients if you want to deliver a good client experience in that meeting. Analyticals should focus on producing technical work instead of communicating ideas, suggestions and the value of them to clients. They’ll fail, and everyone will lose—the advisor, the firm and the client.

      But don’t try to shore up their weaknesses. It will only lead to frustration and disappointment. Instead, build on the strengths of your Analytical and Amiable profiled advisors. (You can read more about this topic in The People Paradox.)

    2. Formally Invited: The client has accepted the meeting invitation, delivered by a support team member (over the telephone or via email) on behalf of the advisor. (We teach firms this process in our Modern Marketing Academy and Masterclasses.) It can be delivered by the advisor, but we prefer delegation. (I’ll explain why later in this post.)

      So as you can see, a FAM doesn’t just happen by accident. It’s a scheduled meeting, not a spontaneous conversation.
    3. Permission on Topic: The client knows the meeting is about implementing certain services to help improve their current and future situation. These specifics are briefly explained in the invitation. The client knows the meeting’s purpose and scope when they accept the invitation—no ‘ambush selling’ here.
    4. Permission on Time: The client knows (and has agreed to) the length of the meeting. It won’t be a rushed conversation tacked onto the end of another meeting to, say, sign off on year-end financial statements and lodgements.
    5. Purpose and Structure: The advisor follows a structured process to discuss:
      • the client’s current situation
      • the gap between where they are now and where the advisor and the client believes they could or should be
      • how the gap can be bridged by implementing the proposed course of action.

      As an advisor, you are selling courses of action to your clients. As far as your future-focused advisory services and capabilities are concerned, you never get to deliver what you never learn to sell.

    6. Full Preparation: The advisor is well trained in the ‘product knowledge’ of the service they are suggesting in the meeting. They’re also trained in the FAM process and structure, and have competent advisory professional selling skills. Even though the meeting has a clear purpose and defined structure, they can still sound natural and conversational, rather than ‘reading from a script’ or rigidly following a checklist.
    7. Aligned Belief System: The advisor conducting the FAM is 100% on board with The Moral Obligation belief (see previous post). They believe they should act in the client’s best interests by making them aware of this issues and offering suggestions.
    8. Invited to Take Action: During the FAM, the advisor asks the client to take action—to buy the proposed solution, and then go ahead and implement it. Yes, there’s a risk of rejection, which is why many accountants avoid it. But not asking the client to buy guarantees failure. Rewards are on the far side of risks. Risking rejection—by asking someone to buy—is something that not everyone is emotionally resilient enough to do on a regular basis, which is why the Advisor Profile we mentioned earlier is so crucial.
    9. Measured and Monitored: Each FAM is planned and scheduled. Each (client-facing) advisor agrees to conduct a weekly and monthly quota of FAMs, and the number of FAMs they conduct is tracked.

      They form part of the firm’s normal operations (instead of being an optional activity), and a core metric—a lead indicator—in the advisor’s role in the firm.

      The number of FAMs conducted is recorded, reported and discussed. Advisors are held accountable, and non-performance leads to conversations about that accountability instead of being let to just slide by.

      From these figures comes the No. of FAMs Conducted, the No. of FAM Invitations Completed and the resulting FAM Invitation Conversion Rate (%). What you can measure you can manage, and what you focus on tends to improve.

      And the team thinks what the management team measures and discusses is important. As a management team you can ‘talk the talk’ about being proactive, but to prove you’re serious about it you need to ‘walk the talk’ and actually measure, monitor and truly manage performance around these lead indicators.

    10. Systems and Support: Advisors running FAMs aren’t left to go it alone. They’re not solo operators who are ‘dropped in the deep end’. They’re supported by systems and the support (admin) team.

      Don’t ask advisors to schedule their own FAMs. They’ll get drawn into the whirlwind of everyday busy-ness, and the FAMs won’t happen. Once an advisor agrees to conduct, say, four FAMs each week at specific times on specific days, a designated support team member trained in the process should be accountable for the agreed No. of FAM Invitations Completed each week. Their objective is to keep the advisor’s calendar FAM slots booked on a two-week rolling basis. An objective that’s simple, measurable and 100% achievable.

      We help firms achieve this predictably, systematically.

We share more details of the process with firms as part of teaching them this Clientshare Growth Process, including:

      • tools used to identify who to invite to a FAM
      • training scripts on how to do the invitation calls
      • checklists and forms to use when preparing for a FAM
      • tools to use when conducting a FAM
      • process checklists to use after a FAM to ensure follow-up communications, workflow setup and invoicing.

This focus and process works.

I recall when we taught a Melbourne accountant and his support team the Clientshare Growth Process. In the past he’d had the aspiration and goal to ‘be more proactive’, and had even paid various coaches significant fees to teach him how to do it and to hold him accountable.

But he still failed to get results.

After following the process for a month he said the Clientshare Growth Process was “like picking apples off a tree”. When I asked him what he meant by that, he explained his apple analogy to me.

“You don’t set a goal to pick an apple. You don’t hope you pick an apple. You see the apple. You get the ladder, climb up and pick the apple. It’s a predictable process. Just do the steps and you get the results. That’s what we’ve found in implementing the Clientshare Growth Process. It’s methodical and predictable and just works.”

But it’s what he said next that I remember the most.

“I was in a bit of a flat spot before this. I was bored with public practice because I was doing the same ol’ same ol’ tax and compliance work for clients. The fun had gone out of it for me. I was even thinking about selling the practice. But over the past couple of months—sure, the financial results have been great with clients taking up the additional services—but what’s been fantastic is the clients’ reactions. They love the fact that I’ve reached out to them, been clearly thinking about them, and have bothered to set up a meeting and make these suggestions to them. They’re stoked. And they aren’t just buying the services. They’re rapt about the whole process. This sort of client interaction and positive feedback has reinvigorated me. I’m pumped, to be honest.”

This is why I say business is as much about meaning as it is about money. Making money isn’t that difficult once you know how. But combine that with a greater sense of meaning and professional satisfaction through the positive difference you’re making to your clients’ lives, and your business becomes less like a struggle and more like a fun and rewarding game to play.

So, do you think you’re being proactive? What about your firm?

What’s your firm’s current Clientshare? What’s your potential Clientshare? Do you have a plan to bridge that gap?

How many FAMs did your firm conduct this week? How does that compare to the target? How many FAM Invitations happened this week? What was the conversion rate of FAM Invitations Completed to Scheduled FAMs? Are these lead indicators on track? If not, what needs changing—the targets, or the firm’s processes, tools or skill levels?

Go forth. Grow your Clientshare. And make a difference in your clients’ lives.

  • Christian Borkowski says:

    4 FAM’s per week – I like it – seems so simple!
    The comments you make around Adviser Profile are the key – you can’t make people do this stuff if they aren’t cut out for it.
    I’ll commence the routine of my assistant booking the meetings, follow the steps and see if I can’t “pick the apple”

    • Michael Carter says:

      Awesome Christian. And let’s have a Member Focus Session to guide your execution, once you start the process. Advice is always best once in motion. As they say, you can’t steer a parked car. And let’s catch up tomorrow to update you on the Ways We Work With You diagram project, and logo re-design. I’ll email you.

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