AAM Minute - Special Section

Are You a Vitamin or an Aspirin?

Angie Grissom, The Rainmaker Companies & Rick Davis, Athens Partners



Are you infusing ideas and innovation into your client interactions or are you merely alleviating some of their pain through a reactive approach to serving them?

These are critical questions because there is a huge difference between a vitamin and an aspirin. When we think of ourselves as vitamins, our paradigm shifts. Vitamins support health, longevity, and vitality. They introduce nutrients into our bodies and build proactively. Aspirin alleviates symptoms of pain. So, do your clients think of you as an aspirin or a vitamin?

If you answered aspirin, then you are not alone. Although this realization can be disheartening at first, knowing is half the battle. More than likely, some clients view your firm as a vitamin based on the advice and solutions someone in your firm has provided to them; however, there are others, perhaps the majority of your clients, who may not view your firm in that light. Simply preparing tax returns and audit reports does not translate into an infusion of vitality and health into their business. They need more. The answer is advisory selling. Here are some things we are seeing in the constantly changing landscape that is the accounting industry:

  • Clients have to get more done with less. This reality creates more of a need for strong planning and execution and increased efficiencies.
  • Clients are dealing with a higher degree of uncertainty relative to future plans. This uncertainty creates anxiety and a need to proactively anticipate opportunities and challenges.
  • Clients are facing more scrutiny from external entities.
  • Clients are looking for more from their professional service firms. Bottom line: they need the advice of professionals who are looking at their businesses from the outside in. They need and want professionals and consultants who understand their businesses to help guide them in decision-making.

The American Institute of CPAs’ research tells us that most business decision makers view accountants as trusted business advisors and assets to their business; these decision makers equate CPAs with integrity. We have worked hard to get these marks and maintain them. An unprecedented opportunity exists for firms to assist business owners and business leaders with challenges. These leaders need workable solutions based on advice from trusted advisors. We are those trusted advisors if we choose to be. So, what does this mean for the way we market and sell? It means a lot.

Advisory selling requires professionals to dig deeper into the client or prospect’s business. Many professionals are not comfortable doing this. Various reasons account for this reluctance, but allow us to summarize it into three key areas:

  1. They do not know where to begin.
  2. They fear we will not know the answer to questions that arise.
  3. They do not know how to facilitate the discussions.

We believe selling is an indication of how you serve. Many professionals in accounting firms have not really looked at it this way, but it is true.

Consider this scenario: If professionals in your firm are focused on responding to request for proposals, they throw what they hope is relevant information to the marketing team to prepare the proposal. Hopefully, they then prepare feverishly in advance or, in a worst case scenario, on the way to a proposal meeting. The latter scenario rarely leads to an advisory style relationship or to winning the prospect.

Now consider this scenario. Marketing, growth leaders, and professionals work together to proactively target opportunities. They work in unison on the messaging from the beginning; marketing supports the rainmakers by supplying prospect information; marketing creates materials that assist the team in the prospect meetings and will frame the meetings in a way that allows for collaboration. The professionals work through problems and scenarios with the prospect and end up co-developing solutions as a team. The proposal is prepared using actual data and feedback from the working sessions, thus is a reflection of the meeting. The deal gets closed and the engagement moves forward with a feeling of complete collaboration. The prospect views the team as a partner and advisor.

The second scenario is what advisory selling is all about.

Marketing professionals, growth leaders, and professionals work together to create a plan for growth. Targets are defined based on agreed-upon criteria. Some targets are current clients yet others are prospects. Either way, the team has determined that these targets are the type and size of business with a potential need that could very well fit within the sweet spot of what the firm offers. The firm is acting in a proactive way to target prospects who can be served in an advisory relationship.

In the best case scenarios, as part of this planning process, professionals have determined what services can be offered to these clients or prospects. Whether it is consulting in a particular industry, succession planning, coaching around barriers that the business owners face, outsourced accounting help, technology, wealth management support, or something else, options exist. Whether these services are being provided by partners only or by external advisors, an inventory of what the services are should be taken. These service offerings will not be the only advisory services that are available, as they typically do not fit in a neat little box. This scares many CPAs. CPAs have been trained to know the answer and when they do not know the answer instantly, relentless anxiety creeps in. Not knowing is okay. Not knowing is a concept an advisor must accept.

We must become comfortable with asking questions where and when we do not know all of the answers. To allow yourself to explore possible solutions to problems with client puts you on the same side of the table with a client. Tools like a gap analysis visual can be used to help frame desired results and steps to achieve these results. Getting marketing professionals involved in the planning and execution of these meetings is a great move and an opportunity not to be missed. Involving your rainmakers and growth leaders in more intentional pursuit strategies with an advisory focus will result in stronger teams, better sales processes, better sales results, and happier clients.