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How to Build Strong Relationships with Top Clients

Dec 15th 2015
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When I was asked to write an article on the need for CPAs to be proactive with their top clients, I realized that although the entire CPA profession and the majority of conferences in the country are emphasizing the fact that CPAs need to be more proactive, few, if any, are offering ideas on how to do that! They invest ample time on the “why,” but very little on the “how.”

This is not surprising: The “how” is the challenging part, while the “why” is fairly simple. Why be more proactive? Because proactive is better than reactive! Because your best clients don't need more of your help with what they have done, but are in desperate need of you to help them more with what they are doing, will do, want to do, and need to do. And there's the rub.

Most CPAs believe the way to go about being more proactive is to become more knowledgeable in the area of solutions they believe their best clients need. They build a bigger, faster, stronger toolkit. They find a handful of solution providers they can trust and approach their clients' problems by leading with their artillery as the solution. They say, “Mr. or Mrs. Best Client, I'm being proactive. I've noticed you have problems. I've got answers and people who I trust to deliver those solutions, so let's fix those nasty problems and live happily ever after as my client.” And herein lies the need for this article – being proactive without being connected is nebulous.

Proactive is just a fancy word, and being proactive is just an exercise – an exercise in futility devoid of the relationship. If you want to do great work, you need a great relationship. If you want to do amazing things for your best clients, you need an amazing relationship with them. If you want your relationship with your best clients to last, build a lasting relationship. If you want them to trust you enough to do incredible things for them, then develop incredible trust. Your best clients' appetite for complex or sophisticated solutions is in direct proportion to the strength of their relationship with you.

Your artillery can never lead the way, no matter how strong or powerful it is. Always lead with your heart. Your best clients don't need solutions; they need you to be the solution. They don't need answers; they need you to be the answer. The one thing they need most is someone they can trust most. Be proactive with that! Be more proactive, not in finding answers and uncovering the best solutions, but in being the answer and being the solutions. When they, your “best,” see you as the solution, and when your relationship with them becomes the answer, the information you now have earned the right to acquire has purpose – and it's not so you can fill in boxes on the 1040 or an 1120. No, this information goes beyond the balance sheet. This information is powerful, and with great power comes great responsibility. This is the power of “yes!”

Before you can understand and appreciate the power that comes with “yes,” you have to first understand what “no” means and why they said it. When a CPA brings his best clients a new idea out of his big, strong, fancy toolbox, and the client says, “Let me think about it,” then what? After your best client does his or her due diligence (Google, family, friend, spouse, partner) and comes back and says, “I don't think so, let's pass on it for this year,” that client is not saying “no” to the idea, but he or she is saying “no” to you. The client is saying, “No, I don't trust you enough. I don't trust you enough to pack my parachute. Yes, to my tax returns, yes to my 1040 prep, but no to the bigger decisions in my life. No, I don't.” Why? Because you have not grown your envelope of trust beyond the balance sheet and beyond the needs of the relationship. You need trust without borders.

Trust is the foundational building block of any relationship. The more significant the trust, the more significant the relationship. Most CPAs today believe the work will develop the relationship. Actually, the work is in developing the relationship. If you want to do great work, you need to grow great trust, which will develop into a great relationship. If you want to have a significant relationship with your best clients, you have to become significant to them.

The one thing every CPA's affluent clients desperately need is someone they can trust most. You get away from offering solutions to being the solution, you decide to make your target a significant relationship with your very best, and you move from offering answers to being the only answer they will ever need. Then, and only then, will their answer always be “yes!” That is the power of “yes.” And it begins with your intent to develop that significant relationship, to be that person. And that starts with what I will call the “attitude of significance.”

7 Key Steps to Significant Client Relationships
Here are the seven key steps that embody the proactive approach to developing significant relationships with your very best clients:

1. Identify. Who are your very best clients? Not who you think they are, who they really are. Who is your “perfect client?”

2. Create time and space. Relationships require time, which is something most CPAs don't have in their current model. Shift your focus away from B and C clients and away from B and C work. Make time a priority and focus on developing relationships with your best. Do your work.

3. Communication – beyond the balance sheet. With more time, your communication skills can sharpen. You will actually learn how to have conversations where you're actually communicating, not just talking. Your conversations will become deeper, more impactful, more valuable, and more powerful.

4. Grow trust and expand your trust envelope – beyond the borders of the tax return. You grow trust to communicate truth. Two thinking as one. Trust is the essential building block of any significant relationship. Trust without borders – the power of “yes.”

5. Deliver value – you. The power of “yes” takes you from perceived value to achieved value. Take the spotlight off of solutions and shine it on you as the solution. They can get solutions anywhere; you they cannot. That's special. Your unique value proposition is you! When they see the value you bring is you, you have no competition.

6. Have a target – significance. Aim small, miss small. Every step you take has to bring you closer to your target, and the only target that matters is the significant relationship you are committed to develop with your best clients. That's your target! The relationship is your target, and let your clients know that. Achieve significance and that changes everything.

7. Be authentic – lead with your heart. Many professionals leave their hearts at home. The one weapon that is uniquely yours, the most important element in developing significant relationships, the one thing we all look for most and admire in others, we leave at home! I have heard it said about relationships that “business is business, personal is personal.” Actually, all relationships are personal, and there is business to be done in all relationships. Be authentic – bring your heart!

So I leave you with the answer to the question of how to be more proactive. The answer is, to be the most important person to your best clients. If you want to do more for your very best; if you want to develop lasting, profitable, trusting relationships with your best; if you want a larger affluent client footprint of significant relationships; if you want a business that will allow you to have more time for what is most important in your life; then you need the power of “yes.” The power of “yes” is most important.

While most of your profession is still hearing “no” from their best and are oblivious as to why, you now understand. That makes you different, and that difference makes all the difference in the world.

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