By Rob Nixon
If you ask the right questions in the right order you will find out what your clients really need – not what they want.
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Not doing so is doing your clients a complete disservice.
Changing Accountants – Part 1
I was running a teleseminar with over 500 firms listening. I was interviewing an accountant (Shane) who specialized in medical businesses. He said that he dedicated every Wednesday to visiting his clients at no cost. The purpose of the meeting was to find out what the clients needed and if appropriate, to sell additional services to satisfy their needs.
My existing accountant at the time (Peter) was listening in and he called me immediately after the meeting and said that it was a great idea to visit clients and he should start with me. I had been a client of Peter's for 11 years and never once had he visited me – even though for nine of those years my office was no more than 1 km from his office. I guess it was too far to walk. I was paying Peter for compliance-based services only. That night I went home to my wife and said, "You’re not going to believe this, but Peter is coming to visit me next Tuesday – I think he is getting better!"
So Peter turns up and I did what clients do. I explained my business, showed off my premises and indicated I had a few problems. I told him I had some overseas income coming in and didn’t know what to do with it. I told him I wanted a referral to a lawyer as I felt I needed to do some IP protection and I questioned if my structure was right for tax effectiveness. Peter says, "I’ll get right onto it." That was in October and by April the following year I had had enough of waiting for Peter to get right onto it so I left and found a more proactive accountant.
Changing Accountants – Part 2
I know thousands of accountants and I finally chose a three-partner firm I liked. I called the first meeting and told my new accountant (Matt the partner) that the first project they needed to work on was tax planning – I am a proactive client.
Matt dismissed my request and said, "Before we get into tax planning let me understand everything about the Nixon group – what you have now and what your objectives are." He was in control of the meeting at this point. Matt drew a line two thirds of the way across on my whiteboard. On the left hand side he wrote "now" and started asking my wife and I a whole series of questions about our structures, profit, cash flow, kids, wills, assets, liabilities, insurances and so on. He drew diagrams and pictures and when it all unfolded I turned to Nat and said, "What a bloody mess that is." Nothing seemed to link together or resemble any sort of order.
Matt ignored my comment. He then went to the final third of the whiteboard and drew a large "T." On the left he wrote "Rob" and on the right he wrote "Nat." He then asked a whole series of questions around our goals and ambitions. He started with my wife then me. The whiteboard was eventually filled. He then said the following, which I will always remember:
“You have great goals and ambitions and to achieve them you need to be financially well organized. You are not financially well organized, you are financially disorganized. Your structures are not right, you have debt in the wrong places, your wills are out of date, you do not have the right share structure and your trusts are not set up for maximum tax effectiveness. You are financially disorganized. With every new client (and every three years thereafter) we make sure you are financially well organized from the outset. We will work with you to get this right so your estates are looked after and you are set up for maximum tax effectiveness. Our fee to do this is $10,000 (I was thinking $15,000) plus legal fees to get this right – when do you want to get started?”
I said yes, and that’s how we started a great relationship.