How Long Do You Keep a Client? (Warning: The Client's Answer May Differ)
By Jean Caragher and Rick Telberg
SevenKeys CPA 
New studies conducted by The Bay Street Group and the Capstone Marketing Group illuminate several very significant gaps between the opinions of clients and their CPAs. These studies allow us to begin to understand what our clients really think.
We used a combination of survey responses and interviews in our research. We surveyed both clients and CPAs. Our client respondents are high-ranking decision makers from companies that are the bread and butter of every CPA firm.
• 89 percent of the clients surveyed are senior executives
• 51 percent of them carry the title of CFO or Comptroller
• Another 22 percent are owners or CEOs
• Another 17% identify themselves as senior management.
All client respondents come from good-sized companies. Sixty percent of them work in companies employing more than 100 people. When we slice and dice the data by company size, the findings are consistent. This means that our client respondents essentially know what they want from their CPA firms. Whether the companies are big or small, they know a good accounting service when they see it.
They are a tough, knowledgeable, understanding and informed audience. They are the professionals. They are the kind of clients we want for our business.
GAP #1: THE TENURE GAP
We asked clients “How long has your CPA firm worked for you?” And, we asked CPAs “How long have you worked with your clients?”
Most of the clients interviewed say they have worked with their current CPA firm for one to five years. However, when asked the reciprocal question, CPAs in Public Accounting said they worked with their clients on average more than ten years.
This gap appears significant. However, it might not be as big a gap as it seems. This comparison might tell us more about personnel turnover rates in client companies than about a misunderstanding between CPAs and their clients.
If the average tenure of a corporate CFO, especially in the largest companies, is three to five years, the data might point to service disruptions when personnel changes occur in the client companies.
Brief tenure on the client side of the relationship makes it incumbent upon the CPA firm to nurture multiple relationships within client companies.
Building and maintaining those relationships is critical to ensure that strong enough relationships in the client company will remain despite personnel changes. These relationships will be necessary to keep the client company with your firm.
For more about the Seven Keys to Successful CPA Firm Management, download the executive summary (PDF, 11 pages) at http://sevenkeyscpa.com/exec .