As tax season 2010 kicks into high gear, it’s critical for you and your team to work smarter than ever to serve your clients. That involves looking at client engagements through a new lens. It’s about demonstrating value through those engagements by uncovering new ways to help your clients be more successful going forward.
This tax season, clients will be more critical of your performance than ever. They will rely on you even more to ensure they are in compliance and minimize their tax burdens as they work to rebound from the woes of the recession. In addition, your clients will expect you to show them how to improve their business, whether that’s reducing costs, increasing efficiency or minimizing risk.
Seven Best Practice Tactics
Don’t wait until after busy season to cash in. It may be too late. Consider these strategies as you get started:
- Don’t get stuck in the commodity trap. CPAs have worked hard over the past year to “amp up” their trusted advisor status with many clients by going beyond the ordinary. As schedules get tight, it’s easy to fall back into the trap of simply banging out numbers to get the engagement done. Although professionals have good intentions during critical times like these, number crunching alone this tax season will put you in danger of being viewed as a commodity provider. Your clients are counting on you like never before to provide value beyond the tax return and audit. When you lose sight of this, you run the risk of losing your clients to competitors once tax season is over. Show your clients how committed you are to them by finding new ways for improvement.
- Use the audit and tax return as a springboard for opportunities. Is there a better time to uncover hidden opportunities for clients than during tax preparation, inventory observation or audit field work? Yes, this is the “prime time” for discovery. Unfortunately opportunities often go unnoticed when the focus is solely on getting the job done. Expand your focal point. Always be on the lookout for clues. Make it a part of each engagement. Clues are all around, but you have to be tuned in to spot them. During client conversations, for example, you might find them in need of a sales tax review, succession plan or an improved system to reduce inventory turnover. You will be amazed at what you can discover and so will your clients.
- Help professionals understand how to identify opportunities. For years, firm leaders have been telling their teams how important it is to identify new opportunities for their clients. This year it is essential. Set the stage by helping your staff see it as part of serving the client. Since there is no time for training classes, work discussions into your staff, niche and business development meetings. Help professionals understand what they are looking for by having others share their success stories. Include information such as “what were the clues” and “how they were able to spot the problems or opportunities” into each story. Also encourage engagement leaders to point these observations out to their team as they discover them in the field. Talk through the issues and potential solutions. With practice and additional training, your team will become proficient in uncovering client opportunities.
- Eliminate the “client pick-up.” It’s easy to get busy during tax season and leave reports or returns for clients to pick up at the front desk. Who knows how many face-to-face opportunities are lost this way. The saddest part is that clients are in your office, most expecting to see you and review the document. Don’t miss this chance for face time. It’s also the perfect time to highlight potential areas for improvement. For those out-of-town clients, arrange for a telephone conference to discuss the report upon arrival. This sets the stage for a more detailed meeting when tax season comes to a close.
- Don’t drop the baton. How many times have you watched an Olympic relay team drop the baton during a handoff to a fellow teammate, then go on to lose the gold medal? All too often engagement teams do something similar. Although they do a good job of uncovering hidden opportunities for their clients, they get too eager to wrap up the engagement. The baton is dropped when they fail to share their findings for improvements. Not only is your hard work wasted and cash is left on the table, but your clients are disappointed by your lack of insight for improvement.
- Schedule “post-tax-season” meetings while you’ve got their attention. One of the best ways to ensure you don’t “drop the baton” is to schedule another meeting with them while you’ve got their attention. This not only puts you back in front of them when your schedule is more relaxed, but it gives them time to consider the new ideas you shared with them. Don’t let them leave your office before you get a follow-up meeting on the calendar.
- Shift your mindset from selling to advising. Many CPAs struggle to point out potential problems they can solve with additional services. Why? They feel viewed as a pushy salesperson versus a CPA. To overcome this struggle, shift your thinking. When you make this shift from selling to advising it changes everything. It is much easier to offer solutions when you view your role as looking out for your client’s needs and best interests. Keep in mind the more services you provide for each client, the more valuable you become to them.
Don’t Leave Money on the Table
Expand your focus this tax season. Taking control now could mean the difference between a great year and a marginal one. The choice is yours.
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Tracy Crevar Warren is the founder of The Crevar Group. She is a sought-after consultant, facilitator, author and speaker. Her practical, results-oriented approach helps professional services firms build more profitable practices. She advises clients on practice growth, culture development, sales and marketing. She inspires and empowers local, regional, national and international audiences to grow their practices by doing more of the work they love. Warren can be reached at 336-889-GROW (4769).