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How to Use Technology to Grow Your Client Base
Congratulations on having completed a much-improved 2016 tax season*! But don’t rest on your laurels when the single-biggest fact in determining your success, according to CPA Trendlines research, is how you spend your “off” season.
Of course, there are many things you can do to build your practice throughout the year. For now, let’s focus on that all-important relationship that retains your clients for you year after year.
For example, a recent survey from the Sleeter Group revealed that the No. 1 reason small businesses leave their CPA is because they don’t think they are receiving proactive advice, only reactive service. To retain business for your firm means to recognize the importance of ongoing client communications that provide useful information – and opportunities – for future financial discussions.
Not only does this suggest that some sort of contact is needed to retain your current business, but it also provides a blueprint of what you need to do to grow your client base. Essentially, you can’t rely exclusively on your reputation for providing dependable service. If you want to gain new clients, you need to be proactive. Try reaching out to provide meaningful opportunities for prospects to try out new tools or to acquire new information or skills. By contributing to their overall financial wellness, you’ll be seen as a financial partner, not a commodity.
Now take a moment to see how you compare with other accountants in your use of technology. Do you agree with this statement? l think that emerging technologies will have an impact on my business in the next 20 years.
According to Tom Hood, chief executive of the Maryland Association of CPAs, 80 percent of CPAs disagreed with this statement! What does that tell you about the growth of your tax-planning business? Plenty. The 20 percent who are willing to embrace new technology to enhance their client relationships will be poised for good things in the upcoming years.
Personalized communications and new interactive web-based tools are recognized as necessities for successful businesses these days. And technology is needed to predict and adapt to these marketplace essentials.
Your clients want to know that you are thinking of them – and that you understand what they need. You’ve received plenty of email or direct mail that has nothing to do with your lifestyle or interests. And what do you do? You discard the communication. Not only that, but you probably think less of the company that sent you the piece because it obviously didn’t take the time to understand you before sending something out.
Your clients are just like you. They want material that is relevant to them. They want solid information that speaks to their current (or future) situation. And they want to know that if they need more information, they can reach out to you directly and you will respond quickly to their requests.
As you review what to send out, think of your clients in both general and specific terms. Some communications, such as a newsletter, should be broad enough to give your clients information on many topics – some that apply to them now and others that are more of an “FYI” to illustrate the range of services you can offer. For more direct, one-on-one campaigns, be sure to identify at least some type of relevant information about the recipient (age range, saver, spender, etc.) so the messaging is applicable to the person receiving the communication.
Tip No. 1: Sending something specifically geared to your clients’ life stages or persona is important. Making sure the piece is “branded” to include your contact information and message is equally important.
Tip No. 2: Consistency is crucial. Don’t start a bimonthly newsletter only to determine that you really can’t get it out more than three times a year.
Tip No. 3: Don’t try to write a newsletter yourself – at least at first. Instead, look for content that is ready to send out so that you can keep on schedule. Ideally, your newsletter provider will have the ability to include an additional article in the newsletter that you can write yourself and can provide a default article for those times when you are too busy to write an article.
Tip No. 4: Give your client a choice between physical and digital communications. Personalized service means you pick the delivery method your client wants – not the one that is easiest or the least expensive for you. If you aren’t sure what your clients want, ask them. You can ask them before you send the first issue, or send it to them in one format with a note that the newsletter is available in print and electronic formats. (You may be surprised at the number of clients who want both! That’s a common occurrence in the statement world.)
Interactive Web-based Tools
You have a website because it’s important that clients and prospects can find you and make sure you are the professional you claim to be. Maybe you keep up-to-date information (including your newsletter) on the site, refreshing it every so often. However, it is a waste of time and effort to include “cool tools” to help with college planning, IRA decisions, mortgage payments, etc., unless you have a strategy to drive people to your site. Are interactive tools valuable? Absolutely, as long as you know how to use them to attract visitors to your site.
Tip No. 1: Start small and be selective about what your “typical” client or prospect would need. It does little good to add content just to fill up space on your website.
Tip No. 2: Before meeting with clients or prospects, send them a confirmation email and a link to a specific tool you would like them to review, and print out the results before your meeting.
Tip No. 3: For specific clients, use the tool with them so they can see the ramifications of their actions (like the effect of 401(k) deferral rates on investment growth and taxes). Give them the link so they can continue to “play around” if there are still questions afterward.
Learning how to blend “old-fashioned” customer contact with technology allows you to develop and implement ongoing customer communications programs that work. So, start now for 2017 results. Don’t you want next year to mean even more busy-ness for you?
*CPA Trendlines Special Report showed approximately 58 percent of CPAs thought 2016 was somewhat better or much better than 2015.
Ellie Alexander is director of wealth management content at DST. She has worked with trust companies and financial organizations for more than 25 years, helping them to retain and grow their customers through ongoing communications and content management. She works...