What Makes Your Accounting Firm Stand Out?

By Alexandra DeFelice

Is your firm unique? If so, in what ways? Would your clients agree, or is that something employees of the firm, or maybe just the partners, want to believe?
It's a fair question and one that I've been thinking about since speaking with Lee Eisenstaedt, a partner at L. Harris Partners. Eisenstaedt has done a lot of work with Moore Stephens North America member firms, and dozens of other accounting firms throughout the nation, around client loyalty and grabbing more wallet share of existing clients. Eisenstaedt conducted a webinar for Moore Stephens in April and explained the results of a recent survey L. Harris Partners conducted, which found that 40 percent of clients don't find their firms "unique."
That word stood out because it seems increasingly difficult for firms that provide traditional tax, accounting, and audit work to look any different from the firm down the block. Many choose to specialize in niches and micro-niches, but that also limits the client prospect list substantially. 
Rather than aiming to be unique, or in addition to doing so, firms should think about what they can do to stand out. The two may seem synonymous, but the difference became increasingly clearer during Eisenstaedt's webinar in which he shared that many of the firms' clients he interviews report having two or three accounting firms. Most of the time, the clients report being "satisfied" with all the firms with which they do business. Next, he asks the clients to rank the firms in order of preference. After that, he delves deeper and inquires what factors drove those rankings; in essence, what made one firm stand out among the others to put that firm in the top slot. The winner of this scenario is the firm that pays attention to this information and is able to add those stand-out qualities to what the firm already brings to the table (or more likely already has, but the client doesn't know it), thereby eliminating the threat of competitors grabbing a share of its clients' wallets.
Eisenstaedt provided a non-accounting firm consumer analogy. Let's say you're the owner of one of the big-box stores Walmart, Kmart, and Target. You're all fairly similar in the products you offer, you compete on price, and you target (no pun intended) the same general audience. Many Americans may be customers of all three stores. Most of them may even attest to being "satisfied" with all three. But if you asked your customers to rank the stores in order of preference and then tell you why they did so, you'd discover a gold mine of information that could lead to getting a leg up on the other two stores. 
Taking that concept into your firm is not only realistic, but quite easy. All you have to do is ask your clients questions and listen to their responses. You'll be amazed how much they'll reveal.
Read additional articles about how you can retain your clients.
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 adefelice@msnainc.org.

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