How Should You Make the SHIFT?
Right now you are facing an uncertain future. What that means is that doing nothing is no longer an option. In order to evolve and remain relevant, you must acquire a new set of tools, talents, and thought processes that complement the financial acumen you already have — the five SHIFT strategies
Every client you have is experiencing pain points in some aspect of his/her business — these are the things that worry them and cause them to lose sleep at night. Key pain points may include lack of cash flow, difficulty finding good staff, need for cost-effective ways to find more customers and boost sales, uncovering new ways to grow, lack of work/life balance, and productivity challenges. Curing these sources of pain is of enormous value to your clients, but it will require much more than historical financial reports and analysis.
To move into the domain of WHY you must empower your client to articulate and quantify the extent to which these pain points are causing financial, strategic, or personal pain:
- Financial pain is about lack of results, and most companies will measure how they are doing by a key performance indicator like gross profit margin, breakeven, cash gap, total sales, or return on equity (ROE).
- Strategic pain is often more difficult to measure but is just as significant and is usually tied to the way the organization goes about producing, distributing, and selling its products or services. To uncover strategic pain, you will want to explore business risk, quality issues, productivity, employee turnover, delivery challenges, supplier issues, market positioning, market share, branding, and similar issues.
- Personal pain may reveal itself as work/life imbalance, difficulty sleeping, strained relationships, excessive stress, indecisiveness, bad habits, and fear of moving forward. Anything that relates to the feelings and emotions that your prospect has around their financial or strategic issues, and resolving them, will fall under this heading.
To uncover and quantify pain try asking simple questions like, “What is the biggest challenge you are facing in your business?” and “When your customer thinks of buying your product/service, what is the most difficult issue associated with acquiring it?”
Once you have identified the 2-3 most important pain points, you can then spend some time identifying and documenting the key strategies and steps that your clients must take to cure them and prevent them from recurring. Practical insights and powerful step-by-step instructions will move you from WHY to HOW — and into the domain of the trusted advisor.
It’s vital to critically evaluate the reports, dashboards, metrics, and graphs (if any) that you currently present to your clients. Remember, your clients are not accountants and they have no desire to learn accounting. If you aspire to become the trusted advised, you will need to help them fix the key pain points quickly and easily, so they can just focus on making more money doing what they love.
Where an expert focuses on “telling” and providing answers, a coach or trusted advisor listens, asks great questions, offers insights, and collaborates with their client to uncover the solutions across all disciplines, not just the financial stuff.
To move toward WHY, it is imperative to get in front of your client regularly and open a dialogue with them. You are not expected to have all the answers, but you will be expected to lay the foundation, provide focus/clarity, build the relationship, and assist your client to explore questions and options before arriving at decisions. In order to assist your clients at this level you need to know who they are, what is important to them, and what motivates them to take action. As part of the process, you will also discover what they have learned, how it has impacted their business, and what you could do better.
Finally, as you move toward HOW you will need to identify and develop the materials and apps you need to gain leverage on your clients and empower them to take action. This is not an easy task to accomplish, given the rate at which new apps are being introduced and promoted. According to the latest figures from Accountex, the cloud accounting app ecosystem is forecast to double in size in 2017 — from 400 add-on apps to 800+.
When in doubt about which apps and materials to use, ask for advice from trusted colleagues with proven experience in delivering impactful advisory services. It pays dividends to work collaboratively with your colleagues and the add-on partners that exist in the ecosystem — and doing so also allows you to avoid wasting time reinventing the wheel.
Remember, trusted advisors are always open to new ways of doing things, and this includes technology, processes, communication styles, and delivery channels. It is only by trial and error that you will uncover what works and what doesn’t.
A key component of the shift from WHAT to WHY and HOW are the core skills and competencies that you (and every member of your team) must acquire in order to execute the transition seamlessly. You will need to identify and document the requirements for each team member, based on his/her role in helping your firm to achieve the results you are striving for.
Movement toward WHY will primarily involve soft skills, often associated with coaching and consulting. These skills can be taught, and are appropriate for all levels of professionals in your firm — including new hires fresh out of school.
Ascension to HOW involves mastery of both WHAT and WHY along with the ability to break down strategies into step-by-step instructions, visuals, and storytelling. Perhaps Einstein summarized it best when he said, “If you cannot explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it well enough yourself yet.” The essence of mastering HOW is tied to your ability to deliver insights in ways that influence, inspire, and empower your layperson clients to take purposeful action. When your clients become engaged and accountable in the process of learning and growing, your ability to create value (across all aspects of the business) increases exponentially.
Training is not a one-off exercise — it’s a lifelong commitment for anyone who is serious about becoming a trusted advisor. That’s why, in addition to a detailed training plan, your firm will also need a comprehensive budget for training over the next 12 to 36 months, and a formal plan for evaluating the progress and competency of each team member. Money spent on your team’s skills to deliver effective solutions is far more impactful and cost-effective at growing revenue and net profit than are advertising and social media.