Sage launched the new Sage Accountants Network Client Advisory Services program for accounting professionals aimed at helping them transform their strategy, service offerings, and skills to move from generalized compliance services to industry-specific niche advisory solutions. The software company also announced that most members will not see a price increase as Sage Accountants Network pricing moves to a subscription basis. The Client Advisory Services program was announced at Accountex USA 2018 in Boston.
Client Advisory Services
Change is coming to accounting, whether we want it or not. Google is changing what’s billable for accounting professionals, and clients no longer call us with the easy questions like “what’s the IRS mileage rate for next year” – they just search for it online. What clients do want is to know (and are willing to pay for) are questions like “what does my accountant think about the new tax law”, “How are other people in my industry changing and how do we compare to them?” and “where are we vulnerable to disruption.” The solution, as presented in articles, blogs, and presentations, always comes down to developing industry niches; increasing competence at sales, marketing and recruiting; developing systems for measuring and managing performance; converting to value pricing; and develop services around advising clients on business performance and strategy.
If I can editorialize for a moment, this is exactly where the vision of advisory services falls apart in the minds of most practitioners: Most of us have practices based on tactical compliance services in a narrow geography – anyone who can fog a mirror and needs accounting, bookkeeping, and tax in almost any industry within thirty miles of our office who will pay our fees is and has always been eligible to be our client. If we’re going to move to a strategic, consultative advisory practice, there are a few problems to be solved where we may not have the skills. We don’t know what industries we should choose, where we should market and sell, what we should charge, and many other critical issues. Perhaps the yellow pages ad and local word of mouth did most of the selling when your practice started back in the 20th century. The ugly truth is that most accounting professionals do not possess or even know which skills they need to get from where they are today (tactical doer, geography-based compliance generalist, debits and credits) to what they need to do to compete with Google searches and automation in the long term (consultative, strategic advisory, performance measurement and management).
The only way some of us can envision moving to a niche/advisory practice model is to go on a quest to meet Santa Claus by saddling up and ride a unicorn alongside a leprechaun on a yellow brick road, because we don’t understand where they’re going, what they’re going to do, how long it will take, or how they’re going to get there. I’m told that travel by unicorn is the preferred mode of transportation to these lands in the mind of the average practitioner, because they believe it’s more likely that they’ll ride that unicorn into Oz to meet Santa Claus than they will ever get to this kind of advisory practice model. (And don’t even think about that leprechaun’s pot of gold.) In short, we’re overwhelmed by the challenge, so many have just given up and said that they’ll retire.
While the challenge posed by this change is big, what most accounting professionals and their firms need to get started on this journey is not a map, a unicorn, or a yellow brick road – what they really need is some help from a strategic partner, without requiring that they steal the gold from the leprechaun to pay for the journey. The need to make a journey to somewhere we’ve never gone as a profession is why Sage partnered with industry experts Boomer Consulting to create the Sage Accountants Network Client Advisory Services program. This program combines self-paced learning, classroom instruction, and individualized coaching with proven resources to help accounting professionals learn how to effectively design, market, sell, implement, and deliver services. The goals of the initiative are as follows:
- Help SAN members deliver high-value advisory and consulting services,
- Securely manage data and protect privacy,
- Enhance client services and provide operational forecasting and insights,
- Increase the profitability of the firm by diversifying service offerings, and
- Maximize value as a client’s most valued business partner.
“Accountants must also retool their services to decrease their dependence on compliance services and move to higher value offerings like performance advisory and strategic advisory services in order to remain relevant”, according to Stone De Souza, Vice-President of Sage Accountants Network – United States. “We created the new Sage Accountants Network Client Advisory Services program because SAN is a program which is focused on helping accountants be more successful as a trusted partner to accountants – so think of us as a trusted partner to the firms and accounting professionals who serve as trusted advisors to clients.”
“The SAN CAS program is an ongoing effort which will be implemented in multiple phases over a number of years”, according to De Souza. The first phase of this effort is focused on the firm’s strategy and roadmap for the future. The new program will be available starting in the early fourth quarter of 2018 to members of the Sage Accountants Network (US) for Sage 50cloud. This phase includes eight self-study learning “pillars” which are associated with a firm’s strategy, internal processes, and its client engagement processes – they are:
- Vertical industry development & market segmentation
- Key performance indicators for the firm and its clients
- Nature, scope, packaging & pricing of services
- Talent recruitment & development
- The client engagement and consultation process
- Business development & marketing to new markets
- Practice aids, tools, engagement letters & service agreements
- Business planning
After participants complete the self-guided learning in these areas, members can can enroll in a two-day face to face SAN CAS Accelerator Workshop held at Boomer Consulting’s Accounting Innovation Center in Kansas City. This two-day session is priced at $1,995. Those completing the learning on the eight pillars are eligible to apply for a number of $1,000 scholarships for SAN members which reduce the cost of the program to $995.
“We added the CAS program this year and created the scholarships because we wanted to supercharge the value to SAN members and give them resources to help them be more profitable,” said Mark Redstrom, Senior Director, Marketing, for Sage Accountant Solutions. “As a Sage Accountants Network member, you can support all of your Sage 50 clients with the included five-user license to all three versions of Sage 50cloud – Quantum, Pro, and Premium.” Members also receive unlimited support, payroll updates, access to Sage Drive as well as a 50% discount to pass along to clients.
SAN for Sage 50cloud US Moves to Subscription Pricing
Sage also announced a shift in how it prices Sage Accountants Network to accounting professionals in its program for small business accounting professionals using Sage 50cloud. Instead of its normal across the board annual price increase for SAN members, firms will receive a subscription with access to 50 active clients, an unlimited number of archive clients, plus sample and demonstration files. The base price of $608/year will remain the same for firms with 50 or fewer clients. Firms with more than 50 clients will pay a first year discounted price of $10 per company, per year for each active client over 50 (the regular price after the first year for additional companies will be $20 per company, per year). Starting in November 2018, a tool will be provided which will allow firms to review the list of clients associated with their firm and designate each client as either an “active” company or an “archive” company. The major difference in the two categories is that firms will still be able to access data in archived companies and run reports, but they will not be able to enter transactions into the archived companies without adding them to their active client list.