“What’s in it for me?” “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” These are often comments we hear when we propose a change to a client's current processes or share that our firm’s internal operations may change.
How we handle these conversations can affect our ongoing relationship with the client for the good or the bad. They can lead to more business at best or the loss of a client at worst. Ultimately, having empathy for them as business owners is crucial during this process.
To effectively communicate with our clients about any change and help them navigate the potential disruption to their business, we first need to understand the client:
What are their pain points?
What do they struggle with in their business?
Where do they want to be in the next five years or longer?
What are their goals?
When is their busy season and the best time to implement a change?
When we know this critical information, we can relate how the change we are proposing (or in fact are doing) fits into their agenda and benefits them, and helps them meet their goals or solve a problem they face in their business. If you are using the same type of technology or process in your business, you can even share how that has helped your own business.
For example, a client may be content writing checks to many of their vendors. As you adopt better processes, it becomes more of a challenge to provide timely and accurate information.
A single conversation with a client is likely not going to change their mind, but when you understand their overall goals and objectives for their business, you can discuss how the change is going to help them long-term. We can help them set goals for implementing such a change and show them how it will streamline processes, maintain security and ultimately be more accurate for them.
5 Tips to Foster Client Buy-In
Relating the change to actual dollars saved in time can also be a powerful way to help them understand that change is needed. But not all clients are resistant to change. Many times they just need a guide to navigate the options and process.
Here are a few tips to help a client through the process:
Ask open-ended questions. Often clients need to talk it out. Document this information so that others on your team can know them better. As you introduce tools, this insight can help to make the explanations more relevant to the client and address their concerns and specific situation.
Map out their processes. Document the tools and processes used for the various parts of their business so they can see how it connects. Many times this will show the need to streamline into fewer tools, or the need to use fewer tools with more functionality.
Document Now vs. Then. Put in writing the improvements that will come as a result of the changes you are proposing. Some clients need to see this and think it through. A tangible document may help them understand the improved process, the time saved, the need for less staff, etc. This also helps them see the end when the inevitable hiccups come in the change process itself.
Create a project plan. Once you make the decision to implement a change, give the client a plan on how it will happen. This can be as simple as a conversation or an email, or as complex as a full implementation plan depending on the impact to the client’s business. Even if plans change, and they often do, knowing you have thought through the process can provide much assurance to the client.
Celebrate the change. One of the areas that we often overlook is the celebration after our clients implement a change. Much growth and struggle happens during times of change, and we often forget to take the time to enjoy these milestones. Take the time to write a note or send a small gift congratulating them on the achievement.
Remember again that not all clients will change. Many simply want to keep things exactly as they are and do not want to adopt new technology or processes.
You have to determine in your own business if that is the type of client you want to work with, and if so, to what extent they will impact your business. Many firms have determined that if a client is unwilling to adopt technology or a better process that another firm is a better fit for the client.
This may be the motivating factor to get them to change. At other times, a client will leave and the firm will bring on a more amicable and profitable client (or two) in their place.
Carla Caldwell, founder of Caldwell Consulting & Training, strategically guides accounting teams to become a modern practice. She works with business owners (especially non-profits) to bridge the gap between growing business and specific accounting solutions. Carla also helps accounting...