As accountants, we often see ourselves as the answer people. We are technical experts who understand the rules of GAAP accounting, the tax code, and how to apply them. However, we need to play a very different role when it comes to advisory services. Our clients are experts in their own businesses. It behooves us to become good listeners who ask different questions. The questions we ask are critically important regarding tools and technology.
When a client asks for assistance of any kind, our first action should be to get them to take a step back. Have them broaden their perspective from the immediate problem to the bigger picture. Acknowledge the current challenge they are facing but then ask them about their business and how it is going. If you don’t already know, ask them Why (based on Simon Sinek’s book and Tedx Talk) they started the business and what they are looking to accomplish over time. This answer becomes the litmus test for any decisions they need to make and for any solutions you might recommend.
Example Client Why:
HiVIBES, INC. We exist to allow people to express their joy through fine clothing. We are a high-end clothing designer and manufacturer, striving to bring eco-friendly clothing to market.
Now that you have a better understanding of their business and goals, you are ready to dig a bit deeper before you jump into solution mode. Ask them to identify their ideal outcomes across the four main areas of their business – Financial, Customers, Operations, and People in support of whatever they have defined as their End in Mind.
Example Ideal Outcomes:
Financial – Positive Operating Cash Flow
Customers – Wholesalers who share our focus on conscious consumers who want to look good but have a positive impact on the environment
Operations – We want to leverage technology to make every interaction with our customers, vendors, and team as seamless and positive as possible.
People – We want to hire people who share our passion for great aesthetics and positive impact.
When you are able to get your client to consider their own business from this broader perspective, they are more likely to involve all of the stakeholders who might be affected by any tools or processes you recommend – increasing the odds of success.
Once you have clarity around departmental goals, you can help your client walkthrough and document their existing processes to identify the specific challenges they want to address.
Example process discovery:
After focusing on improved cash flow for HiVIBES, we determined that cash flow is negatively impacted by the following challenges:
AP – slow payments mean that vendors and suppliers do not offer the best fabrics to HiVIBES
AR – paper invoices and limited manual payment options delay payment collection. Undocumented procedures, no collection policies or credit checks lead to slow cash flow and problems paying vendors and suppliers.
Now we are ready to help our clients identify ways to improve their collection process. Have current stakeholders brainstorm ways to address any shortcomings that are identified. While there are many possible solutions, we want them to start with those that are simple and urgent. That is where technology can provide an immediate benefit.
Inadequate cash flow, for example, can often be quickly and easily improved with the help of automation.
In our example, adding an electronic invoicing solution plus automated customer payment options like Veem can dramatically speed up collections. Once this is in place, Veem’s electronic AP bill payment feature can help optimize the use of cash while paying on the due date.
As you can see from the above example, by resisting the urge to jump in with an immediate solution that may not meet the client’s needs or align with their Why, we are not only able to guide them to the right solution, but we are also able to become a true partner in their business success. Our knowledge of technology can become the entry point for a rewarding long-term advisory relationship with our clients. But we have to listen to our clients and stay current on solutions that can help them achieve their goals.
About the Author:
Geni Whitehouse, CPA is a part-time consulting member of a CPA firm serving wineries and a co-founder of a bookkeeping business. She is a speaker and author and is always in search of solutions that free accountants (both inside and outside companies) to add more value.
A Veem user herself, Geni has seen the challenge of selling products and services across borders and really appreciates the ability to manage it easily in Veem.