How to Advise the Resistant Client
One of an accountant’s core strengths is clearly seeing the steps a business owner needs to take to increase their profitability, but advising that same client about how to make those changes presents more of a challenge.
Sometimes it seems our clients are deliberately doing the opposite of what we suggest. This is frustrating and many accountants are tempted to stop advising a client who resists every suggestion they make. While we cannot force clients to take our advice, in order to become their favorite (and trusted) advisor we must determine how to stop our clients from resisting us.
It may be hard to believe based on their behavior, most of our clients really do want our advice, but resist because of our approach.
There are three very successful techniques I have used to advise resistant clients, and the accountants and bookkeepers I have shared these with have had tremendous success with them as well.
1. Focus on what the client has done right
In an effort to maximize our meeting time with our clients, we often dive right into what the client needs to change. This immediately puts the client on the defensive. Even if you aren’t blaming them for the challenges they are facing in their businesses, starting with what is wrong will make it seem that way.
Instead of focusing on the problems, take a few minutes to focus on what the client has done right. Have they increased their profit margins over the last quarter? Point that out.
Have any of their expenses decreased? Even if every single expense except for one has held steady or gone up, start by acknowledging the one the client has decreased.
By starting your meeting on what the client has done well, you help the client feel more at ease. This makes them less likely to resist your suggestions for improvement, even if you ask them to make difficult changes.
2. Ask for permission to share your advice
While the permission to share advice is implied in our relationship with our clients, asking before sharing puts the client in a more receptive frame of mind. Asking for permission to share builds an atmosphere of respect between you and your client.
Even if the client isn’t particularly happy about the advice you give them, he or she will be less likely to outright resist the advice once you have built this atmosphere of trust and gotten their permission to share your advice with them.
3. Acknowledge change is hard
This last technique isn’t always required. Sometimes focusing on what the client has done right and asking for permission to share your advice is enough to halt resistance from the client. However, if you still sense the client isn’t completely in agreement with your recommendations, acknowledge you are asking them to do something difficult. Suggest making a small change as a short term test.
For example, let’s say you advise your client to set aside 10% of their revenue for taxes. Though you are trying to save your client from having to scramble to pay their tax bill at the end of the year, all they can think of is “losing’ 10% of their revenue to a savings account.
Rather than setting aside the whole 10% immediately, suggest they start by reserving 2% of their revenue. 2% is small enough to go mostly unnoticed, but the client will still be making a positive change. You can revisit this allocation again next month, or even next quarter, and encourage them to increase their reserve a bit more.
Though we always have our clients’ best interests in mind, we accountants aren’t always the best at delivering advice in a way that doesn’t invite resistance. Human nature dictates our clients will resist our advice from time to time, sometimes even going so far as to do the opposite of what we suggest.
This seems to be especially true of entrepreneurs, who often have a “rule breaker” mindset. Implementing these three techniques as you meet with your clients will help you overcome their resistance to your suggestions. Their successes will, in turn, move you closer to favorite advisor status.
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Billie Anne Grigg has been a bookkeeper since before the turn of the century (this one, despite what her children think). She is a QuickBooks Online ProAdvisor, LivePlan Expert Advisor, and a Mastery Level Certified Profit First Professionals. She is also a guide (coach) for the Profit First Professionals organization. Billie Anne started...