By Kara Haas, CPA
Congratulations! You've made the commitment to move your practice to the Cloud. Are you finding your clients moving forward along with you with equal enthusiasm?
How can you prepare your clients mentally when they are ready to move to the Cloud or use online products as a solution for maintaining their financial data?
Consider what is most important to your client. You know your clients and you know whether features, access, security, costs, or scalability are their primary concerns. Identifying the important topics allows you to investigate these areas of the proposed solutions prior to having the initial conversation with the client.
Alleviate any fears. It is important to address concerns, not avoid them. If security is the biggest concern, determine if the issue is internal controls among users, external, or a combination of both. If the information provided on the vendor Web site does not satisfy their concerns, offer to explore some of the terminology further. Understand the size of your client and how quickly the client may outgrow the solution or if the solution is designed to keep pace with growth.
Promote the benefits. There are several benefits to online solutions that are likely important to your client.
- Together you can enjoy simultaneous access to data.
- You will be able to work with your client over the telephone or at an impromptu meeting without having to transport additional hardware or data.
- For small business clients, initial start up costs and limited capital make a monthly, no commitment solution attractive.
- Web-based solutions are hardware indiscriminate.
- Most Web-based solutions require an Internet connection and a browser. It does not matter if it is an older operating system, Windows, Mac OSX, or a mobile device.
- Small business owners can use their existing hardware.
- Both you and your client are always working in the most current version.
Have a clear, defined plan for execution and exchanging of source documents. Clients that are converting from a desktop solution or a manual process want to understand the differences of how data will be exchanged and how the transition will occur. If you will be eliminating the need for a regular pick up and drop off of source documents, they may fear losing the relationship that they have with you. This may be their only time to communicate with you, and they might have concerns that the personal connection will be lost. Have a plan for how you will maintain and enhance your relationship, offering more time for analyzing and disseminating the financial information. Define a timeline for the conversion and a backup plan for any obstacles that may occur during the transition.
Develop a strong relationship with the vendor. Prior to proposing a solution, investigate and learn more about the various aspects. Understand the type of security used, the backup process, and when updates are typically applied. Familiarize yourself with the company's install base, method of support, and plans for growth. Ask the anticipated timeline of certain features and how to submit requests.
Maintain a test account for yourself to easily explore and experiment with issues that your clients might develop. With your skill set and knowledge, you may be able to quickly determine and test a solution for a client without initiating a support ticket with the vendor.
Become familiar with integrated solutions that may be beneficial to your client. Most online financial solutions are designed to work with third party applications and programs. Test a few applications. Generally, the integration of third party, advertised solutions is seamless. Taking a few minutes to determine the location of mapping accounts and understanding the reports available offers enough of a base to have a conversation about how the third party solution might benefit your client.
Read support forums and blogs. Online programs tend to have a strong presence in both of these areas. While often times these serve as a venting platform for uninformed users, by paying attention to vendor input and responses you can filter some of the noise. Support forums and blogs tend to provide a pulse on the vendor attitude, response time, user preferences and anticipated feature releases.
Finally, participate in the support forums, blogs and social media. Chances are good that in your search you learned a tip that helped you with a client. Pay it forward to a fellow peer or end user with something that may benefit them in their search. By participating, you tend to work through your words and learn to better anticipate prospective clients' needs and concerns.