Transform Client Relationships from Transactional to Consultative

By Alexandra DeFelice

Accountants can elevate their status to trusted advisor by changing their business from transactional to consultative.
During a presentation at AccountingWEB Live! in Dallas this month, Ian Vacin, vice president of marketing at Xero, walked the audience through twelve steps to transitioning into the help desk for their small business clients.
Before reviewing the steps, it's important to realize that this solution is not for every client, Vacin said. "Identify two or three clients who have the right situation and right mind-set to change. Understand the clients' willingness to change to something that will provide greater benefits beyond accounting," he said. "Work with these clients closely, train, support, and build trust. Once you have the change procedure nailed down, then duplicate it for other clients." 
The "right" situation in which to make such a transformation is when a client is looking for greater efficiency, financial flexibility, growth/change, and is tech savvy. Clients who only desire one service, such as write-up work, and aren't looking to change their business practices, are the wrong ones to pursue on this journey.

12 Steps to Consultative Engagements

  1. Listen: What problem is the client trying to solve?
  2. Understand: Ask questions about the client's business.
  3. Decide: Is taking the engagement worth it? 
  4. Educate: Articulate the value of working with you.
  5. Demonstrate: Show the client what tools you use and how they work.
  6. Communicate: Be clear on services, prices, and ownership.
  7. Train: Set client up for success.
  8. Deliver: Be sure client's "ask" is satisfied.
  9. Support: Be proactive, not reactive.
  10. Analyze: Leverage your inside knowledge and skill.
  11. Delight: Over deliver; "sample" your services.
  12. Recommend: Serve up services as appropriate.
The best way to identify the right opportunities is to listen to your clients. Ask questions about their business and what problems they're trying to solve, then decide if it's worth engaging with them further.
Once you identify them, educate clients on the value of working with you in a deeper role. If technology related, take the time to demonstrate the tools you use and how they work to ensure clients are comfortable using them. Be clear on who's responsible for what, how you wish to engage with them, and the costs involved.
"Train clients up front on how you want them to behave and keep an eye on them," advised Vacin's co-presenter, Michelle Long, owner of Long for Success, a company that specializes in QuickBooks consulting, business coaching, and training. "You can let them know it's OK to call you, but don't be afraid to set boundaries."
"Don't open Pandora's box," Vacin added. Define what constitutes an emergency and when it's OK to call after hours. 
As time goes on, analyze the nature of this new relationship, recommend other services, and be sure to ask whether the client is satisfied with the results.
Related articles:
About the author:
Alexandra DeFelice is senior manager of communication and program development for Moore Stephens North America, and a regional member of Moore Stephens International Limited, a network of more than 360 accounting and consulting firms with nearly 650 offices in 100 countries. Alexandra can be reached at


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