By Robert Nichols, CPA
The majority of our society is familiar with the phrase "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." While the inherent logic of the phrase is apparent, our minds typically associate the phrase only with an initial face-to-face encounter between individuals. Such interaction is critical to the development of both personal and business relationships; however, the opportunities to make a successful first impression can extend well beyond an initial face-to-face meeting with a client or potential client.
In an attempt to emphasize the importance of performing important tasks correctly the first time, in particular as such a mind-set and course of action applies to the audit profession, the following discussion emphasizes the beneficial effects of making a positive first impression in relation to several key areas of the audit profession.
As auditors, we inherently work in a service industry in a somewhat unique position, whereby the accounting department is a profit center. Accordingly, we, as auditors, must perpetuate our ability to obtain and retain clients, while performing our jobs as efficiently as effectively as possible.
Additionally, from a narrower view of the internal workings of an audit department, each individual auditor, from a new staff member to the managing partner, must represent themselves in the best possible light from both an internal and external perspective.
An audit firm has many assets, including its employees, the physical assets contained within its office, and its reputation, just to name a few. However, the most important assets that a firm maintains are its clients – a firm without clients would be relegated to the history books with due haste. Because clients are the most important asset maintained by an audit firm, it is vitally important to be able to obtain and maintain a client base. In a world absent competition, the first impressions firm personnel make on a new or prospective client would be irrelevant; however, the industry is, obviously, extremely competitive, and the first impression made on a client or would-be client is vital to the sustainability and growth of a firm.
There are several key factors to consider when working toward making an endearing first impression with a new or prospective client. The use of proper business etiquette is the most obvious aspect to consider when preparing for an initial meeting with a client or prospect. Business etiquette includes proper dress, speaking with proper grammar and about appropriate subject matter, listening intently to what the client has to say while maintaining eye contact, exercising proper dining habits, and silencing and putting away cell phones, among others.
Above the minimum business etiquette requirements of an initial meeting, firm personnel must ensure they are knowledgeable about the client's specific business, the industry in which the client operates, and any accounting standards specific to the client's business or industry. The ability to be both knowledgeable about the client and its industry, and also to confidently impart that knowledge to the client, is critical in helping to gain the client's confidence in your abilities, both individually and as a firm.
In addition, it is equally as important to impart to a client or prospective client that firm personnel have superior technical abilities and resources as well as to tout other features of the firm that will be of benefit to the client. In many cases, a firm's reputation will precede it; however, with care taken to avoid sounding arrogant, personnel fortunate enough to work for a firm with a sterling reputation must emphasize that fact to a prospective client.
Personnel should emphasize any aspects of the firm that might benefit the client, such as firm size, geographic location of offices, recognition as an industry leader, services provided in addition to audit services, expertise of individuals within the firm, and pricing advantages. Also, reinforce the fact that the firm will undoubtedly exercise strict adherence to professional standards, but will also be willing to work with the client in every situation to provide the best solution to an issue.
In order to gain and retain clients, a client must feel that a firm possesses the necessary technical and people skills, along with other beneficial aspects, and, if a firm does not make a positive impression initially, then the chances of gaining and retaining clients will decrease accordingly. The ability of firm personnel to maintain and expand its client base is the single-most important factor by which to measure and predict the success of an audit firm, as the firm cannot survive without its most valued assets.
About the author:
Robert Nichols, CPA, is a manager in the Accounting and Assurance Services practice at Lattimore, Black, Morgan, and Cain, PC (LBMC). He has diversified experience in a variety of industries, including manufacturing and distribution, employee benefit plans, staffing, restaurants, not-for-profit organizations, and health care.