It’s no mystery these days how technology has permeated nearly every aspect of business life, accounting firm staff and owners included. But has it really improved what they do or create more challenges?
Whether you are in growth-mode or not, accounting firms struggle with basic productivity issues and simply keeping pace with their colleagues and growing business needs of their clients.
We have found that they tend to benefit from hearing about what their colleagues went through and their shared success. As such, sales tax and compliance service provider Avalara produced a series of case studies of firms they have worked with that, like many, have had to overcome challenges with efficiency and updating technology in the right way.
Below is the next in a series of case studies we are running as part of our partnership with Avalara, as we have a shared belief in seeing the accounting profession move forward and to address today’s business challenges in order to face tomorrow. The most recent interviews were conducted by Ray Bigley, Avalara’s VP of Business Development. He recently interviewed Scott Clayton, Executive Vice President, Sales/Use Tax with DMA - DuCharme, McMillen & Associates about – among other things -- how accountants and firms in general can extend their client base.
Bigley: Scott, DMA has been in business for a long time and you have seen so many changes. How has your firm evolved over time to adapt to changing client needs?
Clayton: We’ve been in business since 1972, and during that time, we have witnessed several marketplace transformations. We’re on the cusp of another change right now that includes big data mining, artificial intelligence, and BOTS. Firms that embrace these technologies and learn how to leverage them for the benefit of their clients will be the market leaders.
Bigley: One thing that has not changed is DMA’s focus on supporting your clients’ full range of accounting needs. How does sales tax compliance fit in to your firm’s service offerings and what are some of the challenges you face in providing those compliance services?
Clayton: DMA files over 200,000 returns and remits over $5 billion annually on behalf of our sales and use tax compliance clients. This practice was born out of a need in the marketplace that we identified in 2000; and we’ve found that developing and running a successful compliance practice takes dedication, discipline, and investment. As a result, DMA is very strategic in determining which taxpayers it will take on as compliance clients.
My experience is that running a compliance practice is challenging and can involve some significant risks. So, for smaller firms, or those that are just exploring adding compliance services to their practice, it will often make sense to find a partner that specializes in compliance, rather than diving into the compliance waters themselves.
Bigley: How does DMA retain your clients?
Clayton: DMA is a unique consulting firm in that we are employee-owned through an “ESOP” (employee stock ownership plan). Through this structure, we foster a culture centered around servicing our clients’ needs, and every employee has a vested interest in delivering quality results and client-service experiences. Our “Client Service Principles” serve as our guide and form a part of the commitment we make to our clients in every project.
Bigley: Do you have tips for firms that are considering rolling out a new pricing model?
Clayton: Pricing is such a challenging subject to cover in a few short sentences; however, as a starting point you can apply some overarching principles. One of the most important is to start by engaging with clients in a consultative discussion that is focused on building/continuing a partnership and finding the long-term win for both parties. A lot of times, that means coming to the discussion prepared to be very flexible and creative in the approach rather than with a preset list of conditions. It may feel like a risky approach, but you do need to be very clear on what your clients need so you can provide the right services at the right price. With the emphasis on developing and maintaining a long-term relationship, you will have clients that are willing to work with you to find the right mix.
Bigley: To find new clients, marketing is the key to finding a broader base and also to remaining competitive. What marketing tactics have been successful in your practice?
Marketing is really a culmination of many things, but at its foundation it starts with providing quality service to your clients so that you’re in a position to ask for referrals. Referrals bring us clients that are well-suited to our offerings, and through word of mouth they often already have a positive image of us. From there, the options open up. We’ve employed many approaches over the years, experimenting to find what works best. The one thing that differentiates DMA is our emphasis on thought leadership, and our willingness to share our knowledge through seminars, roundtable discussions, and other vehicles, such as our best-in-class client reports of findings.
Bigley: Finally, how do you define success?
Clayton: At DMA, we view success as exceeding our clients’ expectations. Our role is to serve as an extension of our clients’ tax department, and in doing so, we succeed when our clients succeed.