Clients want many things from their CPA, but at the top of that list is usually proactive advice. While it seems like a simple thing, many accountants drop the ball and leave their clients wanting more.
Whenever you have the chance to sit down with your clients to talk about the business, you need to fully understand the company’s obvious needs, but you should also use the opportunity to uncover the not-so-obvious ones. Every business owner is facing a challenge that needs a solution. That’s where consultants help.
What does it mean to be consultative? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it means: giving advice; having power only to give advice and not to make decisions. We know that to be true, but that’s often not enough, hence the request for proactive advice that can help the business prevent problems and capitalize on opportunity.
To understand what consultative is, you have to look at what it is not. First and foremost, it’s not about telling others what you can do for them. It’s not talking about what you did this past year or restating information from financials that are a couple months old. Yet, this is the way many client meetings go.
To be consultative, you need to listen. Ask questions and wait for answers. Have real dialogue. By connecting with one another you are developing a level of trust that is imperative in long-term relationships. But as you are listening and truly trying to understand your client, you also need to bring ideas to the table. You aren’t the one making the decisions, but you should strive to put enough information in the room to help the client make better ones.
In simple terms, it’s about putting the needs of the client first.
Ways to Be More Consultative
The following are a few things you can do to position yourself as an advisor to your clients:
- Ask Questions. Consultants ask questions. It’s how you get to a deeper level of understanding. Pull on your experiences and become a source of information. Make sure your questions are open-ended and dive deeper into an issue. And if in doubt, ask “why?” It’s a simple question, but it will give you a deeper understanding than you had before.
- Remember to Pause. Don’t underestimate the power of a pause. It not only encourages others to respond, it allows you time to look for nonverbal cues which sometimes provide more insight than verbal ones.
- Know the Business. You also have to know your client’s business inside out. This mean going beyond the numbers. Understand the key drivers for the business, the owner’s personal financial and business goals and the industry in which the business operates, to name a few.
- Share Experiences. Another tool you have in your arsenal is all those first-hand experiences you have had with other clients that you can use as examples. No, you can’t share specifics without permission, but you can share non-identifiable information as context. This may be the most valuable thing you can provide your clients. They want fresh ideas, but they also like to hear when those ideas have produced successful results.
- Tell Stories. When you tell a story, people begin to see themselves in it. There is actually a chemical reaction that happens in people’s brains that help them better relate to and remember stories. It pulls them in and keeps them engaged as they wait to hear how things turned out.
Benefits of Being Consultative
When done right, being consultative creates a win-win relationship for you and the client. And all you really need to do is focus on the needs of the client.
If you put in the effort to truly understand the client, you can provide the proactive advice they are looking for. You can share relevant and timely information while delivering exceptional service. This directly translates into more loyal clients. You become a source of advice they couldn’t get elsewhere. It differentiates what you do for them and they trust your advice because they know you have their best interests at heart.
You will also see a bump in revenue as a result. As the client turns to you for advice, your charge hours go up. And that should be more profitable work as you can charge and realize a higher rate. To help solve a problem for them, you can refer the client to someone else in your firm and cross-sell a new service. Even if you have to refer the project to someone outside the firm, hopefully that referral relationship pays you dividends in other ways. And your costs are reduced because you don’t have to spend dollars replacing lost clients.
You are in a professional services business. What sets you apart from others is – you. No one else has your knowledge, skills or abilities. Use them to your advantage to help your clients and your business.
To learn more about being consultative, download a whitepaper – Developing Relationships and Revenue with Consultative Client Meetings – that we authored for Sageworks.