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Keeping Your Clients (and Yourself) on Track During the Pandemic


Have you ever had a prospect who was initially excited to start working with you drop off the face of the earth? Chances are, they developed shiny object syndrome. Billie Anne Grigg explains what that is and how to prevent it in her latest article.

Aug 3rd 2020
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A prospect comes to you with a series of problems in their business. You develop a plan to help them overcome these challenges. The prospect is excited to get started, and at first, their behavior shows it.

The prospect – now a new client – sends you documents on time and responds to your requests for clarification in a timely manner. They show up early for meetings with you, questions and talking points in hand. You start making progress with them.

Then, something strange happens. Your client seems to drop off the face of the planet. You’ve requested the same information three times, and you still haven’t gotten it. They miss meetings, won’t return your phone calls, and you start to see signs that another accounting professional is accessing their bookkeeping software. When you finally speak with the client, they tell you they’ve found another professional to work with…one who doesn’t expect them to do so much work.

If this sounds familiar, there’s a good chance your client has the dreaded shiny object syndrome. Fortunately, there’s a way to overcome it and keep the client on track. Before we get into how to do this, let’s take a closer look at what is actually happening to your client psychologically.

What Causes Shiny Object Syndrome?

When we first embark on something new, we have what is called “uninformed optimism.” You see your clients experience this, but you’ve probably also noticed it in yourself. When we start something new – whether it is a training course or a new professional engagement – everything is fresh and exciting.

All the new things we are learning and doing seem like stepping stones to something even better. We get things done before expected, and we are excited about doing them…even if they are outside of our comfort zone.

Unfortunately, this stage doesn’t last long. The next stage is called “informed pessimism.” We see this in our clients when they start taking longer to respond to us, and we see it in ourselves when we start procrastinating.

The informed pessimism stage is when things start to get really hard. The client gets disillusioned, and so do we. The shine wears off of the engagement (or program or course…remember, this applies to everything we do.)

At this critical stage, we long for the feeling of uninformed optimism again. We want the excitement of something new – something not so hard – and so we find a new shiny object to distract us. For our clients, this shiny object can come in the form of a different accounting professional who promises to do all the work for them. It can even be technology that purports to eliminate the need for an accounting professional altogether.

Some make it to a third stage, known as the “valley of despair.” You can think of this stage as “the grind.” It’s where a lot of work is happening, but it doesn’t seem like the work is getting you anywhere. For our clients, this stage can come when you’re working diligently on their books or tax return, but they don’t see any progress happening.

All they can see is that you are asking them for a lot of information, and they feel like they are doing all the legwork when that’s what they paid you to do. In some cases, they might not hear from you at all, which leads the to thing (incorrectly) that you aren’t doing anything for them.

Most people don’t stay in the valley of despair long enough to push through to the final two stages – “informed optimism” and “success.” And it’s no surprise: the valley of despair can last for weeks or months, and who wants to live in “despair” that long?

The Secret to Overcoming Shiny Object Syndrome

There is a secret to overcoming shiny object syndrome. Actually, it’s not much of a secret at all. You have to keep pushing through the valley of despair until you start seeing results.

This is where things fall apart for our clients…and for us. No one wants to feel like they’re wasting their time with no results. We’ve been taught to cut our losses and pivot quickly.

But this is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. You’ve probably seen the cartoon of the man digging for diamonds, only to give up and walk away when he is a mere fraction of an inch from hitting pay dirt. Too often, our clients give up on us – and we give up on ourselves – right before we are about to make a critical breakthrough.

Helping Your Clients Push Through and Stay on Track

If the secret to overcoming shiny object syndrome is to “do it until it works,” then the secret to getting clients to stay on track is to have a strategy to get them through the valley of despair.

  1. Create an inoculation strategy, and incorporate it into your onboarding conversations with your clients. Forewarn them that the valley of despair is in the distance. Let them know there will be times when it seems like you are asking them to do a lot of work, and it might not seem like they are getting any results. Reassure them this is not the case, and remind them of what success looks like in your relationship with them.
  2. Maintain communication, even when you don’t feel like you have anything to communicate. Simple, weekly updates letting your clients know you are working on their accounting and making progress will help them push through the valley of despair.
  3. Practice “reject and retreat.” This sales technique, introduced by Dr. Robert Cialdini in his book Influence, also works when you need information from a client to keep them moving through the valley of despair. If you need five things from the client, ask for all five. Then, if they don’t reply, ask for the three things you really need right away. Your client is more likely to comply with your requests, which will keep the relationship moving forward.
  4. Celebrate successes. Even little successes are worth celebrating. When you celebrate a small success, reinforce the larger success that awaits the client. This not only keeps them motivated, but it helps them keep their focus on their ultimate goal (and it keeps their eyes away from new shiny objects.)

When you are aware of what causes shiny object syndrome, you can help your clients (and yourself!) navigate it better. Not only will your clients avoid costly and time-consuming distractions, but they will also begin to experience the success that brought them to you in the first place…a win for your clients AND for you.

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