The Hinge Research Institute finds that 40% of buyers of accounting/financial services give their service provider a relevancy rating of 6 or less. This is a stark finding as it suggests that a significant proportion of organisations don’t see the offering of their accounting services provider as important in addressing their most pressing needs. Furthermore, accounting and financial services industry is dominated by referrals when it comes to purchasing these services, with 61% of buyers claiming that they would turn to their network when looking for a service provider.
If organisations don’t consider the services of their accounting firms to be relevant and new business for accounting firms hinges on referrals, could this perception hamper commercial growth of firms? Possibly! According to the above-mentioned research, for 30% of accounting and financial services firms, attracting and developing new business is a top challenge.
Strategic approach to client relationship management
The solution lies in strategic adoption of client relationship management (CRM) – it offers key insights into the holistic relationship with a client to assist firms in establishing their ‘relevancy’.
Of course, existence of CRM systems is commonplace in accounting firms, however they usually rely on broad market solutions designed for selling a product, not a professional service. The business model for accountancy differs, relying heavily on the strength of relationships, so a more tailored solution is required. A better approach is to deploy technology designed specifically for the way professional services firms operate, focusing on the ongoing development of client relationships to ensure they are in the ‘consideration set’ well before the need arises.
Accounting firms need technology that provides relationship intelligence – who knows whom within the firm’s universe of contacts, what conversations the firm is having with prospects, which individuals in the firm have the strongest relationship with prospects and so on. Then, by applying artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to firm-wide data, these leading technology solutions can assign tangible scores to quantify the strength of relationships with key clients. Based on these relationship scores, professionals can identify potential retention risks, as well as identify gaps in the service that need addressing to continue evolving to meet clients’ most important business needs.
Data-driven client relationship management
CRM systems, when widely adopted, can provide critical insights to improve individual client engagement and drive overall firm growth. However, just implementing a system does not work. Firms must first create a data-driven culture that brings together software, process and data to place client intelligence at the hear of every interaction.
Fostering a data-driven culture starts with building trust. Employees must be confident that the client data and information they are relying on is accurate. First, firms need to establish processes and expectations for data management. Next, firms should look for solutions that help automate and support the processes they have put in place. For example, tools that passively capture data through email signatures can keep contact data up to date automatically.
With a solid data foundation established, accountants can leverage that insight to build a solid understanding of client and prospect journeys, experiences and business requirements. However, firms often implement multiple standalone, detached systems requiring professionals to separately log in to access information, limiting the adoption and effectiveness of any solution.
As often the individual engaging with clients for business development purposes is also the person delivering the service, firms should look for technology that seamlessly embeds client relationship management into the professionals’ day to day workflow. It will ensure that pertinent client related information is delivered to professionals at the ‘point of need’.
For example, configuring CRM technology so that accountants are able to automatically draw insights on their key clients based on existing information in the organisation, industry news and activity alerts within Microsoft Outlook means that the individual can proactively react to internal and external developments impacting the customer and offer constructive and relevant advice to address that scenario.
Fundamentally, by making client relationship intelligence the cornerstone of every client interaction, accounting firms can deliver relevant service to clients by maintaining dialogue that is timely and meaningful, securing their place as a truly trusted advisor. Especially during these uncertain times, assuring clients that the firm ‘has their back’ will go along way in securing loyalty and strengthening reputation and presence in the marketplace, which in turn will abet recommendations and referrals and business growth.