Tracy Crevar Warren
Tracy Crevar Warren

Have You Failed Your Clients?

Are you cross-serving or cross-selling? It does make all the difference.

September 13, 2010
by Tracy Crevar Warren

It’s probably no secret that one of the biggest turnoffs to most practitioners is the thought of appearing like a pushy salesperson to their clients. After all, you worked hard to earn those impressive credentials and after much effort, you are enjoying trusted-advisory relationships with many of them. You don’t want to throw it all away by looking like a used car salesman (no offense to the car business) to your clients. Shouldn’t your hard work and superior track record speak for itself in the war to win new business with your clients?

Unfortunately, expectations for professionals to win new business continue to increase due to the struggling economy and a more competitive accounting environment. Not to mention that clients are just more demanding these days.

So what’s a professional like you to do?

Think of Yourself As a Trusted Advisor, Not a Salesperson
Forget about being a salesperson who is trying to get your clients to buy something. Look at your role in a new light. Rather than thinking of it as cross-selling, view it as an expanded function of being a trusted advisor. It’s all about identifying new opportunities to help your clients, which involves indentifying new services with which you and your firm can assist them. Consider it an extension of your function as a service provider.

“We have a relatively small firm, but we offer multiple service lines, and have found a lot of success when proactively informing our current clients of the other services we offer,” says Travis Nielsen, a founding partner of Salt Lake City, Utah-based consulting firm, The Cadence Group. “We’ve found that a lot of our SAS 70 clients also need help with PCI, or with internal audit functions.”

When looking at your position from a new perspective, it makes not only palatable, but an important part of your obligations to your clients.

Consider Cross-Serving vs. Cross-Selling

In the new book, Bull’s-Eye! The Ultimate How-to Marketing and Sales Guide for CPAs, recently produced by the AICPA and AAM, business development veteran Russ Molinar discusses a concept known as cross-serving. It offers another favorable approach to cross-selling, while highlighting the importance that the trusted advisory role plays in serving clients.

In its simplest form, cross-serving can be defined as:

The process of identifying unmet client issues and needs and offering specific products, services and solutions from your firm to fulfill their individual and organizational needs.

In other words, it is the process of enhancing your relationships with clients by expanding the number of services provided to and the fees received from your clients.

Your Clients Are Counting on You

When you get right down to it, helping your clients find new and better ways to achieve their goals is a big part of why they often hire you in the first place. That goes for problem identification and resolution too.

In a recent survey conducted by Rick Telberg, president and CEO of Long Island, NY-based Bay Street Group, two out of three (63%) of clients indicated that proactive advice and consultation is an important criterion in selecting a CPA firm. However, just under half (44%) noted problem-solving ability as a top factor.

Bottom line: Clients are counting on you to help them. They don’t have the time, much less the knowledge and experience that you do. It is not just about doing the commodity-type work that anyone can do any more. It’s about using those engagements to help your clients find more ways to be efficient and profitable. It is what a trusted advisor is all about. If you skip over this important function, haven’t you in a sense failed your clients? Two big questions to ask:

  • Have I really made good on those promises I made to my clients when they hired me?
  • Am I continuously offering additional ways to help them achieve their goals and resolve problems?

Five ways to enhance your role and build your practice:

  1. Change your mind-set. Embrace an expanded advisory role. Know that your clients rely on you to bring new opportunities their way and that includes new services that you can help them with.
  2. Make it a part of each engagement. One of the easiest ways to put your expanded role into action is to bring this new focus into each client engagement. This is the time when you will be working most closely with your clients so you have the best opportunity to observe potential problems or areas for improvement. Make notes of your discoveries along the way.
  3. Share your findings with your clients. Many practitioners have good intentions of bringing new ideas to their clients, but often don’t because they feel it’s too aggressive or forceful. Own your expanded role by sharing your money-saving and profit-making solutions with them.
  4. Meet regularly with your clients beyond the engagement to discuss new ideas. Don’t stop at client engagements. Take this new responsibility a step further. Initiate meetings with your clients throughout the year to find out what’s new, and what they are struggling with or working toward. Take the time to match firm offerings with their needs. They will appreciate your efforts to help them.
  5. Keep in touch with clients in between meetings by sharing additional ideas. One of the best ways to reinforce the new ideas you share with your clients is to keep those messages coming to them long after your meetings are over. Reach out to them at least once every month. Many practitioners are experiencing great success with simple, inexpensive tools such as e-newsletters, blogs and social media networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Don’t forget about the power of a good old-fashioned handwritten note with an article attached.

Attend an AICPA Trusted Business Advisor Workshop and become part of a growing group of CPAs who are learning practical tools, techniques and skills for strategic client planning. Learn how to translate the issues clients face into opportunities for consulting with them. View upcoming dates and locations.

If You Don’t, Someone Else Will

According to Telberg’s findings, more than one-third (35%) of clients indicated that the primary reason they would change CPA firms is because their CPA was not proactive enough. Like it or not, your competitors are calling on your clients regularly. And, they are offering up new ideas and insights targeted at helping your clients solve problems or achieve goals like making more money, operating more efficiently and reducing expenses.

“Conversely, we have found that when we don’t take advantage of those opportunities to expand our relationship with clients, a competing firm is oftentimes there to fill that void,” added Nielsen.

If you fail to be proactive in your approach for offering ideas and assistance to your clients, many of them will consider new advisory relationships.

Don’t wait. Start today. Your clients are counting on you. If not, they will be counting on someone else sooner than you think.

Rate this article 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor). Send your responses here.

Tracy Crevar Warren, founder of The Crevar Group, helps professional services firms win more new business and build more profitable practices. A sought-after consultant, facilitator, author and speaker, she advises clients on practice growth through marketing, sales and client service. With a proven track record and positive high-energy style, she inspires and empowers local, regional, national and international groups to do more of the work they love. She has just finished working on her first book Bull's-Eye! The Ultimate How-to Marketing & Sales Guide for CPAs produced by the AICPA and AAM. You can reach her at 336-889-GROW (4769) or www.thecrevargroup.com.