What Accountants Need to Do to Build a Pipeline of Business Now
CPAs who are willing to innovate with their clients now will find their new business multiplying exponentially as recovery begins.
At our most fundamental level, accountants are problem-solvers. Historically, clients come to us with relatively familiar problems, like closing their books for the month, filing their tax returns, or completing their annual audit or review for the bank.
These tasks are essential, after all, but not particularly urgent. Those of us most successful at business development are skilled at designing simple solutions for common problems, we have a playbook for most scenarios. You know what we didn’t have? A playbook for a pandemic.
Over the past several months, the problems our clients are facing have changed dramatically. Their essential needs have become urgent and meeting those needs could be the difference between saving or shuttering their businesses.
The challenge for us as their trusted and strategic business advisors is that their problems have gone from familiar to unfamiliar. Great advisors spend their entire careers developing their toolkits for problems, but there’s usually more time to mull over the best solutions to unfamiliar challenges.
Today, we’re experiencing a double whammy: unfamiliar problems and urgent needs. We’ve become financial firefighters—first responders on the economic frontlines. Who will be positioned to succeed in this new reality?
One strategy the most conservative CPAs are using is to wait it out and hope things return to normal soon. But is that really a strategy? For most of us, that’s not the best option.
In times of crisis, building your business pipeline becomes more important than ever. So, it’s time for a new game plan. Those of us who can adapt, be nimble and are willing to try new things will be the most successful in these uncertain times—and when a return to normal takes hold.
There are three strategies you can use to refill your pipeline in difficult and fast-changing times. First, become better at asking great questions and listening to the responses.
Our questioning and listening skills tend to atrophy when we think we know what the problem is, but they’re crucial to finding new solutions. Second, become better at answering those questions and solving those problems. Third, become better at building and implementing creative solutions.
Asking Great Questions
This skill set is hard to master. Often, we fall into the habit of asking the same questions that lead to the same answers meeting after meeting, year after year. Let’s mix up the questions and see what happens. Consider adding the following questions to your repertoire:
- What are the top three most immediate issues facing your business?
- Have you thought about your solutions to these problems? What are your peers doing?
- How have you transformed your business or business model?
- How has this affected your short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals for the business?
Only by fully understanding what your clients see as challenges can you find innovative solutions. And if nothing else, these questions— and others like them—convey empathy and mark you as a thoughtful and strategic advisor. Clients must trust that you are invested in helping them grow their businesses and not just your own.
Providing Better Answers
Let’s say that you ask a client with a catering company how they plan to transform their business model to adapt to the changing demands of COVID-era customers. Given current restrictions on large group gatherings, there’s no need for continental breakfasts or open bars and this client hasn’t been able to figure out how to adapt.
Being a strategic advisor in this situation doesn’t mean you need to know how to run a catering business—you can tap other resources, like your other food service client who has made some interesting changes. Making a simple introduction can help. In fact, hosting a video conference with all of your food service clients and prospects so they can share ideas together, while you provide some financial and accounting tips for businesses in survival mode, is a timely and valuable solution for them and a valuable business development tool for you.
Virtually every business is finding new ways to serve customers— or closing their doors. We can provide a valuable service to potential clients by helping them brainstorm better answers to their urgent questions.
Implementing Creative Solutions
If you’ve noticed a plethora of product and service innovations over the past several months, it’s because innovations are born out of new problems. Some call it “creative disruption.” Take the explosion of curb-side pick-up at your favorite restaurants.
With customers unable to dine inside and some not even wanting to step inside for carry-out, many restaurants implemented a new process for patrons to phone in their orders. Customers can now pay electronically, pull up outside and have their orders placed directly in the trunks of their vehicles.
Or consider the CPA firm that created a “re-opening your business playbook” with accompanying tips and advisory services. It spoke directly to the countless businesses that were deemed nonessential and forced to shutter their doors and are now facing a cautious, phased reopening if they survived the shutdown.
And my firm, for example, launched a nationwide virtual roundtable for CPA partners that reached capacity in two weeks. When you successfully identify a problem, find an innovative solution and implement it effectively, you’ll find there’s a real thirst for exactly what you’re putting out into the world.
As a CPA, you are a problem-solver and, right now, your clients have problems. You can’t just rely on past solutions in this time where urgency and uncertainty reign.
The challenges you and your clients face are not insurmountable. By confronting challenges, fine-tuning your questions, elevating your listening skills, creating and implementing new solutions and then sharing those solutions, you’re adding a host of new tools to your toolkit. Moreover, you’re ensuring your new business pipeline can flourish now and in the future.
The original article appeared in Insight, the official magazine of the Illinois CPA Society.