Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Accountants, Ostriches and the Insane

Firms need to stop panicking and start taking positive action if they want to survive the downturn

Getting on the phone and actually talking to (potential) clients is brilliant – you get an insight into their world as well as how they see you.


When the recession started, my team asked me to roll my sleeves up and help out phoning potential clients for a seminar we were running. I was given lists of hot, warm and cold leads to contact, and it turned out to be a fascinating exercise. As anticipated, there is a lot of 'doom and gloom' out there.

I spoke predominantly to accountants and what are loosely described as 'professional service firms'.


What I learned
about accountants and PSFs
One accountant said that they had "decided to focus on cost cutting and so the whole marketing budget was frozen". When I suggested a similar package but without any cost involved he said: “We don’t want to do any marketing even if it is free! We are focusing on cutting costs.” Curious - and a little bit stupid.


Another said: “I can tell you that marketing doesn’t work for us so we try not to do any.” More curious, and more stupid. Where does he think his existing customers come from? Marketing is not simply ads and promo; it is everything and anything you do that helps people to buy from you: everything from a word-of-mouth or referral campaign all the way through to a rebrand.


One said: “The last thing we want to do right now is go out and get more customers because then we would have to service them and I don’t think we could afford to do that.” Very curious, and very stupid.


Another said: “We’ll be too busy dealing with our year-end and it has been a lousy few months so that will be our priority for the time being.” Even more curious, and even more stupid.


What’s going on?

Am I losing the plot or are they?


I thought the whole point of being in business was to work with customers and clients. People use all sorts of excuses to get rid of a pushy salesperson but most of these quotes come from people who took my call because they vaguely knew me or my business.


Why are these people in business if they aren’t interested in getting more customers?

All the research talks about how customers inevitably leave you – 20% p.a. on average, according to Harvard Businesses School. This figure probably goes up in a recession, and it will definitely rise if you show no interest in them. What will happen if you don’t get new customers?


I find it incredulous that the majority of people I spoke to are only interested in battening down the hatches and hoping that they can survive the recession without too much pain. This is the strategy of an ostrich.


I worked with a large number of affected businesses during the foot and mouth epidemic...

The businesses that survived were those that sat down and literally planned their way out of it. They looked at the options and made the tough decisions. I am not aware of any businesses that survived because of a simple stroke of luck. It is one thing doing well in a boom, but quite another in a recession. You need more than luck to survive in any economic climate. Right now plenty of businesses have run out of luck.


Don’t rely on luck. Sit down, probably with a trusted advisor, and take out a blank sheet of paper. Where are you now? Where are you going? How are you going to get there? What are the options? Ask the “what if...?” questions. Make the tough decisions. Don’t just wait and hope; death by a thousand cuts is humiliating for everyone concerned.

Hope is not a method. The first sign of madness is to keep on doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Is that you? Welcome to the asylum; there is probably only one way out and that is not via luck but bankruptcy! Stop dithering.





PS I know that there are accountants out there who do want to deliver stunning remarkable service to their clients. Who are business people. Who do 'get it'. I just didn't speak to them on this occasion.

105 comments:

Fiona A said...

You have described a common problem in that accountants do not think that they are running a business.

No wonder they are in the state they are in. No wonder we hold them in such low regard.

Jerry said...

There is little difference between the three.
I notice that sometimes you say "criminally insane" - just seen Shutter Island?

arthur croker said...

Try running any business without an accountant.This write up is total rubbish. Accountants are the CEO's of so many successful companies. This just marketing peoples attempt to undermine people in a real profession.

Jim (BL) said...

Arthur

Robert is just saying that he spoke to some accountant types who weren't very good at running their own busineses. You don't need to make the sweeping gerenalisation that he is trying to "undermine a real profession". If you speak to him his view is the very opposite. Are you an accountant by any chance?

Elaine Clark said...

"PS I know that there are accountants out there who do want to deliver stunning remarkable service to their clients. Who are businessmen. Who do 'get it'. I just didn't”

Well I can’t say that I am a business man but I am most definitely a business women running a very successful accountancy practice that has rapidly expanded during the recession.

Glad to have bucked the trend and to not fit the bill of the ‘chaps’ that you spoke to on the telephone.

As always there are good and bad examples – some do say that accountants can be bad at marketing. Perhaps that it so.

I know from personal experience that some can be good at it as well.

Robert Craven said...

In my travels I have come across loads of what appear to be really excellent accountants with excellent reputations.

Accountants have a fundamental role to play in the growth of most businesses. So do enough of us feel delighted by our own accountant?

Steve Walpole said...

I can't see what the problem is for these accountants that grumble so much.

By the law of averages, 50% will be below average, 25% will be above average and maybe 10% will be exceptional. In other words 1 in 10 will be remarkable.

So, Craven should only really expect 1 in 10 accountants to be able to really get it. The bell curve applies almost everywhere so why would anyone expect accountants to break this rule.?

Jon Stow said...

In my business I talk to a lot of accountants although I do not describe myself as one. Many are very conservative and old-fashioned in their thinking even though quite a few call themselves business advisers too.

Some I talk to have no idea about marketing but think that if they have an office and a name plate, clients will just walk in. Maybe they used to, but the world has changed.

Some accountants are very clued up about marketing and networking, but others barely barely understand the meaning of the words. Robert, you must have spoken to some of them.

Robert Craven said...

Jon

Yep - all very interesting.

Although I mention accountants, this blog is not a specific pop at accountants. It is generally aimed at the lethargy that I see in many (not all) professional service firms.

There are some great accountants about and I do bump into them. However, I must admit that (as a punter) it is still difficult to establish exactly who is the really really great accountant just from a couple of conversations.

I suspect that even after an indepth conversation or so then it is still v hard for the potential client to know if their potential accountant is a true star. The problem is that I don't know what YOU do nor do I really know what other accountants do. Suddenly an excellent 'bedside manner' becomes an important attribute for the accountant.

Rgds

RC

Phil said...

I think he has it spot on - there are ton of accountants who just cut their marketing budget or do the same as they have been for years. The secret is to break the mould, not only do some marketing but be a bit different when doing it.
Phil

Mike B said...

The write up seems to me to be Robert's account of his personal experience. If the story he tells is accurate, and I have no reason to believe it isn't, then it cannot fairly be described as "total rubbish". Nowhere does Robert say, or even infer, that all accountants are like this and his P.S. acknowledges that many aren't: he just didn't speak to them on this occasion.

The allegation that this is an attempt to undermine an entire profession seems wholly unjustified, and, as a qualified accountant, I find the suggestion that marketing is not a "real profession" laughable. Whilst I would agree with Arthur that all businesses need an accountant, every successful business that I've ever worked with has also had an intimate knowledge of how it wins new customers and where its market share comes from. In fact, for most entrepreneurs, the product/service and marketplace are mentally defined first and the financials follow on from this.

Robert - better luck with your next round of calls. Perhaps you could phone Arthur and attempt to talk him round?

Mike T said...

Don't be so touchy...the article didn't say that accountants were rubbish, it said that this group of people - who happened to be accountants - didn't understand that marketing in its broadest sense is even more important in a recession than in the good times. They could have been estate agents or funeral directors for all the relevance the profession had.

If you've got more clients than you can handle, good for you, but what happens if they die/retire/go bust/move accountants? Within weeks you can have no clients at all and will have to find new ones somehow.

The best comment in the article was one I use "if you do the same thing you get the same result". In the last three years my company has always striven to try new ideas and we don't get the same result - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but we're steadily growing through thinking out of the box. My old school motto was "Omnia expirire, bona contine" and it certainly works for me!

PS I'm also doing quite well running my business without an accountant. After all, for my small company accountancy is only adding up what you've earned, what you've spent and paying or claiming back tax on the difference, and the Revenue gives great online help for that these days too! (Dons tin hat with tongue firmly lodged in cheek)

Mike T

Robert F said...

You're right, Arthur. Many CFOs have become CEOs, and accountants in general are smart, qualified people. But if Robert says he's met people who tell him they can't afford marketing even when it's free, then I'm afraid he's right, too. No one can afford to be that short-sighted.

Matthew B said...

I run an accountancy practice and I am gob-smacked at the comments Rob encountered. Arthur has said on other discussions how well he appears to attract new business and I salute him for doing so well. On the other hand larger practices such as mine have a solid client base and to quote one famous line "business is great, but I'm hungry for more". We have just got one year into a five year strategy of business develoment and some things work and some things don't - we live and learn. All I know is that I have a map, I just don't know where I'm going looks like - all I do is base my strategy on what I want it to look like. Marketing can be seen as a waste of money, yes, but so can advertising, networking, entertaining etc. etc. However, they all have their place and need to be moulded to suit the situation. I think Arthur has missed the point somewhat.

Jane G said...

In my view, when the going gets tough, many people (not just accountants) retreat to a position well within their comfort zone. Therefore getting them to try anything that they're not 100% sure will be a success will always a challenge. That's why the business leaders (including accountants) that realise that by doing the same things, they'll just get the same results, and so are prepared to look at doing things differently, will be the ones that succeed. They'll say yes to the free marketing and pull ahead of the competition!

Adrian C said...

From my experience I think some accountants are their own worst enemies when it comes to doing their best to retain customers. One of my new clients told me last week that she was frightened to ask advice from her accountant for fear of being charged for their time.I agree with Phil that marketing can be about being different but surely being approachable and helpful has got to be at the top of the list - and that doesn't need to cost a lot.
Fortunately I know some fantastic accountants who I would highly recommend.

Will A said...

Interesting subject, and now all the proactive accountants will be throwing their hats in trying to look different. It may be worth remembering that up until a few years ago accountants were banned from advertising - old habits hard to break eh? I suspect the comments received were merely excuses to get you off the phone. But of course accountants need to chase new work, and I know my clients are being called regularly. Here's a couple of thoughts:

1. It is easier to sell more services to an existing client than find a new one. I do not need an outside party to do that, but I do need to get on the phone.

2. Too many accountants focus on accounts not advice. But that does not worry me. I focus on my business and try not to worry too much about the competition. Plenty of fish in the sea.

3. A lot of businesses sell what they can make. If you want to be successful, make what you can sell. Good Luck

Just for the record, I am a business engineer and part time accountant. And I will coach you for free too. (The improved profit will more than cover my costs - no brainer really)

Nick R said...

The simple reality here is that there are good accountants, poor accountants, great accountants..... The same applies to those in marketing as with any other profession. Some accountants have been in business and are thus often able to take a broader and more forward-looking and proactive stance. Those whose background is totally in practice and audit can sometimes tend, through no fault of their own, to look to the past, because in reality this is what they are paid to do much of the time i.e. reporting. Accountants are people, and all people are different. The trick is to select an accountant for your business who has the appropriate experience and the right mindset for the purpose.

Arthur C said...

Accountants do not need to be great at marketing. They need to great at providing a proactive service to their clients. That way your clients will do your marketing for you by recommending you. Check your client list,if you have clients who have not recommended you . Go and see them, you are failing to impress them. If every client recommends just one prospective client you have doubled your client base. No advertising costs, just doing what you are paid to do. provide a proactive service. We are based in Somerset,Gloucestershire and two days a week in London.

Carl R said...

Hi Robert, that article is spot on, and sadly only reinforced by Arthurs dismissal of it!

Accountants are a strange breed, and tend to use their technical expertise as a way to avoid doing the important (creative avoidance at it's best).

There is also the strange way that they take on work. Most businesses build capacity then fill it. Accountants seem to want the work before they commit resources - creating unnecessary limiting factors. Even more scary - they are often deemed a "trusted adviser" to other businesses, when they can't run their own!

How am I qualified to comment? FCCA / ACA accountant, who enjoys giving a great customer service (understanding that the compliance is the bare minimum that clients expect), and taking clients off of less business minded accountants!

Arthur C said...

Carl

Its always sad when an accountant makes a broad statement against his fellow profesionals and then says we are better than them.

Not too long ago accountants could not say they were better,cheaper,quicker or in any why deride other accountants. They would have been fined by their institutes. They were now allowed to be limited companies and avoid personal liability. Some accountants have forgotten the professional standing we used to have and act and sound like any other business.

Do you really have to rubbish other accountants to secure new business. Surely your standard of work ensures you obtain recommendations without resulting to these rather unprofessional tactics against your fellow professionals.

Carl R said...

Hi Arthur,

Thanks for the reply.

I aim to run my firm like a business, as we are a business. Thankfully I, nor my staff, don't have to "rubbish" other firms to attract new work - we get new work through referrals, PPC advertising, exhibitions, networking, seminars, niche marketing, social media, and many other ways.

We also don't have to "rubbish" other firms to convert leads from the above - we do that through understanding our prospective clients needs, and ensuring that the relationship works on both a business and inter-personal level. It's very rare that other accountants would come into such conversations - we'd rather spend our time helping our clients and prospects. And yes - we turn away work if it isn't the right fit on either side.

I firmly believe that by running our business as a business, we can help our clients run their business. The great knock-on effect of this is the increase in our bottom line from having effective "lead generation" and "lead conversion" in place. This, together with the retention we have from our "client fulfilment" - all phrases from Gerber's E-Myth Mastery - means that we can grow as a business.

You might think this is unprofessional - can't see that myself. As a businessman I'd expect my accountant to know numbers as a bare minimum, but for him/her to have first hand experience of the wider business world would be greatly appreciated!

Arthur C said...

Carl
Your quotes

Trusted advisors to businesses when they cannot run their own

Less business minded accountants.

Taking work without the resources.

If that is not rubbishing other accountants then we do not speak the same language.

We clearly have different views on how we see our fellow accountants.

Regard

Arthur

Carl R said...

Hi Arthur,

As Nick Richards succinctly stated above:

"Accountants are people, and all people are different."

Looks like we'd perhaps have the same views on what makes a great accountant from a technical perspective (which I'm sure you are), but would differ in respect to the services we offer and the way they are delivered.

Again quoting Nick - "The trick is to select an accountant for your business who has the appropriate experience and the right mindset for the purpose."

There's more than enough work to go around :-)

Have a good evening,
Carl

Carl R said...

Hi Arthur,

As Nick Richards succinctly stated above:

"Accountants are people, and all people are different."

Looks like we'd perhaps have the same views on what makes a great accountant from a technical perspective (which I'm sure you are), but would differ in respect to the services we offer and the way they are delivered.

Again quoting Nick - "The trick is to select an accountant for your business who has the appropriate experience and the right mindset for the purpose."

There's more than enough work to go around :-)

Have a good evening,
Carl

Carl R said...

Hi Arthur,

Thanks for the reply.

I aim to run my firm like a business, as we are a business. Thankfully I, nor my staff, don't have to "rubbish" other firms to attract new work - we get new work through referrals, PPC advertising, exhibitions, networking, seminars, niche marketing, social media, and many other ways.

We also don't have to "rubbish" other firms to convert leads from the above - we do that through understanding our prospective clients needs, and ensuring that the relationship works on both a business and inter-personal level. It's very rare that other accountants would come into such conversations - we'd rather spend our time helping our clients and prospects. And yes - we turn away work if it isn't the right fit on either side.

I firmly believe that by running our business as a business, we can help our clients run their business. The great knock-on effect of this is the increase in our bottom line from having effective "lead generation" and "lead conversion" in place. This, together with the retention we have from our "client fulfilment" - all phrases from Gerber's E-Myth Mastery - means that we can grow as a business.

You might think this is unprofessional - can't see that myself. As a businessman I'd expect my accountant to know numbers as a bare minimum, but for him/her to have first hand experience of the wider business world would be greatly appreciated!

Arthur C said...

Accountants do not need to be great at marketing. They need to great at providing a proactive service to their clients. That way your clients will do your marketing for you by recommending you. Check your client list,if you have clients who have not recommended you . Go and see them, you are failing to impress them. If every client recommends just one prospective client you have doubled your client base. No advertising costs, just doing what you are paid to do. provide a proactive service. We are based in Somerset,Gloucestershire and two days a week in London.

Matthew B said...

I run an accountancy practice and I am gob-smacked at the comments Rob encountered. Arthur has said on other discussions how well he appears to attract new business and I salute him for doing so well. On the other hand larger practices such as mine have a solid client base and to quote one famous line "business is great, but I'm hungry for more". We have just got one year into a five year strategy of business develoment and some things work and some things don't - we live and learn. All I know is that I have a map, I just don't know where I'm going looks like - all I do is base my strategy on what I want it to look like. Marketing can be seen as a waste of money, yes, but so can advertising, networking, entertaining etc. etc. However, they all have their place and need to be moulded to suit the situation. I think Arthur has missed the point somewhat.

Mike B said...

The write up seems to me to be Robert's account of his personal experience. If the story he tells is accurate, and I have no reason to believe it isn't, then it cannot fairly be described as "total rubbish". Nowhere does Robert say, or even infer, that all accountants are like this and his P.S. acknowledges that many aren't: he just didn't speak to them on this occasion.

The allegation that this is an attempt to undermine an entire profession seems wholly unjustified, and, as a qualified accountant, I find the suggestion that marketing is not a "real profession" laughable. Whilst I would agree with Arthur that all businesses need an accountant, every successful business that I've ever worked with has also had an intimate knowledge of how it wins new customers and where its market share comes from. In fact, for most entrepreneurs, the product/service and marketplace are mentally defined first and the financials follow on from this.

Robert - better luck with your next round of calls. Perhaps you could phone Arthur and attempt to talk him round?

Steve Walpole said...

I can't see what the problem is for these accountants that grumble so much.

By the law of averages, 50% will be below average, 25% will be above average and maybe 10% will be exceptional. In other words 1 in 10 will be remarkable.

So, Craven should only really expect 1 in 10 accountants to be able to really get it. The bell curve applies almost everywhere so why would anyone expect accountants to break this rule.?

Fiona A said...

You have described a common problem in that accountants do not think that they are running a business.

No wonder they are in the state they are in. No wonder we hold them in such low regard.

RC said...

I think there may be something else going on here. A perception that marketing people are "expensive", I think this perception of "expensive" applies to management consultants and other organisations where the main product is ideas.
This is combined with a wish not to begin a process that you don't intend to complete.Even if the start of that process appears to be free.

Rc said...

No Idea why my name is showing as RC, that was just part of my email address.
Nick Haynes

Robert Craven said...

Hi there Mr "Not RC" - just changed the comments system to Disqus and there do seem to be one or two gremlins.

I think that it does automatically name you with the first letters of your email address if you are not a sign-up member of Disqus. This may turn out to be a problem but I know a few people who do speak highly of the software.

Thanks for your comment and for your patience.

Regards

The Real RC!!

Faye Keep Your Fork said...

My new accountancy is Footprints Accountancy in Sheffield, they are quite remarkable, their customer service is second to none and they have blown me away wiht their go the extra mile approach... such as FREE busines development workshops and monthly business reviews to add value, working on evenings and Saturdays...I could go on. I have just move dto them for accountancy, and they have just moved to me for marketing and PR. We both utterly see the value in what ecah otehr offers and are referring constantly. Barclays recently siad they had never met an accountancy practise like it. So there are some oahead of teh game, switched on accountancy practises out there...!

Robert Craven said...

I love it when we see someone who is in love with their accountant. Great stuff.

Robert

CS said...

I read Robert's article and I have to say that I fully agree with him that stopping all marketing in this climate is a mistake. The challenge has to be - which I am sure accountants can rise to - marketing on a budget. We are really getting into this and it is great to see our marketing spend dropping like a stone as we stop all on page advertising in magazines but send out mailings by email for a fraction of the cost.

However the biggest success for us has been talking to our clients, and prospects and working out what they need from Shergroup. Pretty much everyone we talk to is looking for help on ideas on how to pull in cash and of course we are well placed to advise on some important areas.

I hope some of you reading this small comment will find a way to take on board Robert's ideas and help yourselves and your clients in a really tough market. Good luck!

JR said...

Accountants are an interesting breed. I like Robert's refreshing honesty. I have spoken to many accountants recently offering them a new client for £15 plus vat and the majority of the response was they were not interested in this type of marketing at the moment. What they really meant was that they hoped I would go away, that the client would come to them anyway, and this situation would never happen again.

None of the above happened. The prospective went to a competitor, who has just got (marginally) bigger, and a prospect who was delighted with the free service. AccountantNow earned £15 which is less than what it would have cost the accountant to sign up the client in any event.

Times are a changing, which is underpinning what RC is try to say and do.

Robert Craven said...

£15 to get a qualified lead seems remarkably good value.
RC

TG said...

Given how money focussed accountants' are, you'd think they'd grab any opportunity to make money with both hands! Mind you, it's not just accountants who don't understand marketing - it's the same for solictors.
TG

Eric said...

MOST accountants are incapable of understanding the meaning of the phrase "to be in business".

PR said...

I tried a similar exercise myself last year and got pretty much the same type of response and I'm an accountant too, or was in a past life, so I should know how to communicate with them ! My conclusion is that accountants "struggle" with subjective concepts if that's the right term.
I have recently done a Joint Venture with my own accountant who has a very successful growing practice ( primarily due to his entrepreneurial approach and fantastic customer service ) to help his clients who were struggling to find customers in the current market conditions and I honestly think that this is the way for accountants to go i.e. to partner with someone who has a proven marketing background ( this is not a plug by the way as I am still developing the process )
Best Regards

PL said...

We are delighted that the majority of the accountancy profession does not know about or bother with effective marketing as it enables us to grow signiifcantly each year without any real effort or cost.

JT said...

I am consistently fascinated how so many excellent professional-services organisations see 'marketing', 'management development' and 'organisational development' (just as examples), or even wider 'business strategy' and 'business development', as being so readily within their undoubted and vast intellectual grasp that they have no idea of what they don't know, nor any conception that others might actually know a lot more that could actually even help them...,
And that doesn't apply to just accountants and lawyers. Try medics, educationalists, and many more?

Robert Craven said...

Brilliant - thanks for the feedback and comments

Eddie said...

These accountant-types seem incapable of looking like sane human beings. What wallies. I am referring to the "don't you know how important I am?" types. Who do they think they are? WALLIES - all of them.

GW said...

Accountants are basically sound in their traditional role of preparing accounts from historic and recent accounting records. For most it stops there and others take on the business plan writing and projecting into the far distant future. At all times though, it is the historical record that provides the bedrock of facts and compliance that allows us to rely on these records to do our projections with some sort of confidence.

We could do without a lot of the spurious and doubtful professional parasites who feed off us; however, we need accountants and they do one of the most necessary jobs within any company.

JH said...

I understand where you are coming from, but, surely the last couple of years have shown us that you cannot rely on the past to predict the future.

For me they do two important jobs. First they keep us out of trouble with an increasingly obtrusive state and second they tell us where we are now and what our short term (30 to 90 day) future looks like, and what the possibilities and risks might be. It is our job and duty as directors to project and plan.

GW said...

No, I do not pretend to guess at the future or bay at the Moon. But we must start somewhere to project ideas and plans and the work of accountants is valuable for this limited purpose. As professionals they are held to account and must answer for their mistakes and errors. This is something, small as it is, that others of the UKs bands of thieving, incompetent "professional" brothers do not do and are rarely required to do.

JR said...

Another aspect of RC that I admire is his succinct message to the accounting profession. What about the consumer i.e. the business owner who is the recipient of these accounting services? I refer to Craven's "Accountants - Know Me, Know My Business". http://www.robert-craven.co.uk/article-know-me-accountants.php
Are accountants doing enough for their clients? Do the best respond to the changing expectations of their customers? Of course one can't generalise. I have a range of excellent accountants registered with my accountant finder service, Accountant Now. However, not all accountants are the same.

We must accept that many businesses find the relationship with their accountant quite difficult. Most businesses seem to request the minimum of services from their accountants. The question is why? Why do the majority of SMEs in the UK try to keep their accounting costs as low as possible? I think Craven is absolutely correct, all business owners want is:
"an accountant that understands me, understands business, understands my business, gives me decisions when promised and explains how they charge".

Judging by their behaviour, most businesses seem not feel their wants and needs are being sufficiently met.

GG said...

When I managed my own businesses, I had as my accountants Duncan Sheard Glass of Liverpool. I used to discuss my business progress and problems with my accountant Les Stanniforth. It is a two way street, speak to your accountant openly and he should respond much more favourably with you and extend their experiences more freely, as after all most Accountants have been in business much longer than you (your business that is).

JR said...

I agree. The business potential between an accountant and his client is almost limitless. Actually Craven gives a good example of his experience with accountants: the good, the bad and the ugly. His current accountant seems to ring him, at least weekly. Wow. Now that's what I call service! I would not be surprised if the accountant concerned has not also benefited from his client's (marketing) skills at the same time.

JT said...

Interesting debate. When I refer contacts to other professionals or service providers I do it because a) I like, trust and respect the person I'm handing my contact on to and b) I think that my contact will get a great service and will thank me for it. I never ask for money in return because if my contact ever thought I had referred someone to them for even a small sum of money for doing it, it would sully my relationship with my contact. Call me old fashioned if you like but if someone is referred to me I'd like to think it is because the referrer thinks like I do. I'd rather grow my business by having fewer clients that really trust me to help them grow than by buying random transactional relationships.

JR said...

Craven's article deals with the extraordinary responses he and his team have received from accountants whilst offering outstanding marketing consultancy. May I refer to his article on http://robert-craven.blogspot.com/2011/03/accountants-ostriches-and-insane.html for examples. Their responses are frankly shocking, and I think Craven is right to highlight this apparent blindness or short sightedness. The dilemma is that these accountants are no doubt currently acting as advisers to many clients who count on them for advice.

JT you make an interesting comment about word of mouth referrals. Of course they are the ultimate, but the challenge is that for many firms it is insufficient. The service I have launched, AccountantNow is committed to generating the nearest equivalent: accounting lead of a warm prospective client. Our experience shows it is possible to get remarkably close to referral quality.

Craven offers are full complement for marketing, and his book Bright Marketing can help give business owners a snap shot of some of his ideas. Also his workshops and mini master classes are excellent events to go to get a taster of what Craven and his team can do. In fact, Craven speaks lucidly about the dangers of transactional relationships, plus gives many techniques on how to avoid it.

Robert Craven said...

Great debate... I would like to point out that Julian is in no way associated with myself or my business. His very flattering and kind comments are entirely independent.
RC

Robert Craven said...

How does this all fit together?
*Accountants are "most trusted" source of advice* http://bit.ly/he5eWP

Louise said...

Yes Mr C, most accountants are boring. How on earth did you spot it???

Sue_Walton said...

Fiona, I agree that accuntants (most) don't seem to know what tthey are doing but some are pretty good. You just need to keep looking to find the right one for you.

Sue

GW said...

All is relative. As professionals, how would you rate advice from lawyers? In terms of the most trusted sources of advice, I would trust an accountant. The accountant is a part of the way the economy works. I don't think, e.g., lawyers fit into the general scheme of things in this way.

TG said...

Trusted source of advice, eh! In my experience, most vocation based professions such as law and accountancy only provide answers to questions asked and do not/cannot take a wider proactive brief. In the main, accountants and solicitors are selling time, and most SMEs won't pay for proactivity.

GW said...

The accountant is generally seen as a colleague where it is seldom the case that others could be trusted in this role. What are the options? The accountant is either in-house.e.g., employed like anyone else or acts in the private sector. This being so there are two species that have developed. I find dealing with accountants easier than lawyers.

I am not in the time purchasing business, so those who sell this particular expensive and doubtful commodity always get very short shrift unless I feel I can trust them to charge in this way for certain types of transaction. Limits can always be set and adhered to with time claimed and time actually committed for real. Time is a concept with no past and no future: know what I mean?

Robert Craven said...

On Twitter
RT @Robert_Craven: Accountants "don’t understand marketing" - Telegraph http://bit.ly/f1KVla via @Telegraph [So true]

RT @Robert_Craven Accountants "don’t understand marketing" http://bit.ly/i3N8WW >> far too sweeping and general!

@Robert_Craven @adrian_chase Having worked with several on their pricing and marketing, I'd have to say: on average, it's true.

RT @cheapaccounting @Robert_Craven Accountants "don’t understand marketing" http://bit.ly/i3N8WW >far too sweeping and general!Agree Elaine!

@Robert_Craven hush sir, why spoil our competitive advantage we exploit this mindset to grow our business http://www.groganaccountancy.com

“@Robert_Craven: Accountants "don’t understand marketing"Telegraph telegraph.co.uk/finance/busine… @Telegraph” But #FDs do

Robert Craven said...

more on twitter:

"many excellent professional-services organisations see marketing, management development and organisational development, or even wider business strategy and business development, as being so readily within their undoubted intellectual grasp that they have no idea of what they don’t know.”

This is brilliant and absolutely describes Chartered Accountants the world over. They have become so infatuated with themselves and their value destructive IFR, corporate governance and auditing, that they can no longer see the wood for the trees. This has been going on for + - 15 years

and

"That is what happens when accountants have too much power, and directors allow them that.”

and


Why do the majority of small and medium-sized businesses in the UK try to keep their accounting costs as low as possible?” he asked."

Answer: Because most accountants provide absolutely NO value but with a highly inflated cost; usually matching their egos.

Fortunately there is a strong move away from "Financial Accounting-necessary but not important, to more value added Management Accounting.

and

CopestoneTeam
2 hours ago
From twitter via UberVU
Would you take tax advice from your marketing strategist, designer or copywriter? http://bit.ly/f1KVla via @TelegraphNews

and

Alchemy_Wealth
3 hours ago
From twitter via UberVU
Accountants "don't understand marketing": Accountancy profession's 'poor grasp' of marketing and business develo... http://bit.ly/g37bun

Graham Hill said...

What worries me is the advice they give their clients.
the first reaction is to cut costs and drop suppliers without understanding the cost benefits of service providers in the marketing spectrum

Robert Craven said...

I think we all have to be careful about making sweeping generalisations!
RC


Graham
What is interesting, however, is how many people reach these kind of conclusions.... why would that be?
RC

PD said...

It is good that accountants dont understand marketing as per this generalised report. It opens the door for us accountants that do understand marketing - easy pickings!

Robert Craven said...

Agree - it is full of generalisations
Agree - it opens door for accountants that do understand marketing.
RC

Alan Kennedy said...

Robert fascinating article - I have resolved to do more marketing. As regards those who are to busy doing the client work - why don't they either sell the leads they cant deal with (going rate is about 20% of the annual fee) or weed out non paying clients? I agree totally that the most worrying thing is that these accountants are advising their clients. Speaking personally most of the time I spend is spent talking to my clients about marketing and selling. I role play call calls, sales pitches and marketing and sales strategies. The reason for this is the biggest difference that an owner manager can make is to change what and how he sells. Part of the problem I suspect is that the skills it takes to be a good accountant eg through attention to detail rarely go hand in hand with the skills it takes to grow a business eg flexible innovative visionary. c'est la vie....

Colin Dunn said...

I am an accountant and for the past 15 years I have coached and consulted to accountants in the UK, Ireland, US, New Zealand and Australia, where I now live.

My business currently coaches over 160 accounting firms. Our biggest challenge is helping them to be more proactive. Step 1 is to overcome a series of limiting beliefs that are common to many accountants, such as:

- I'm too busy, there is real work to be done
- If I visit clients I will come back with more work (!)
- All of our clients have everything they need
- I'm afraid of what the client might think
- What if they say no to me?
- I don't want to seem like a used car salesman - I am a professional
and the all time classic - 'my clients will call me if they need help'

Most clients know what they want but few know what they need. Accountants need to get on the front foot. The first port of call in an accountant's marketing plan needs to be to visit all current business clients to understand their goals. Some accountants are exceptionally good at this and they stand out in the sea of sameness that is the accounting profession. Take the focus off marketing and selling services and put it onto ensuring all clients are properly looked after.

Gordy said...

Very well said, a well thought out article providing clarity of thought...

Nick Jervis said...

I love this debate. I work exclusively with solicitors and recently attended one of Robert's excellent (as always) "get more business in" seminars. If you have not yet attended one go out of your way to do so, you would be insane not to!

Most people at the seminar were accountants, and yet the responses I heard were the same as the ones I regularly hear from solicitors:

"We can't put up our prices because we operate in such a competitive area" - shows the problem that they are not marketing to their own clients sufficiently well or obtaining enough referrals when price is less of an issue.

"Well I can see how that might apply to another business but mine is different" when discussing internet marketing. No it isn't, really, I promise. There is so much work out there, but you do have to give yourself a chance of reaching it.

"I am going to keep doing what I have always done and get the same results". No, sadly not any more. You will get diminishing results as the world has moved on. You have to move with it.

As so many say above it means that the door is not just wide open for those embracing marketing, it is actually blown off it's hinges. You can have as much work as you want or need, you just have to take some consistent action.

Great thread Robert.

Julie Robinson said...

Hi I'm Julie Robinson of Footprints Accountancy based in Sheffield. I started my practice in April 2010 on my own and by the November I had built up the staff team to 4. We continue to grow and are due to recruit again in June.
Basically we do not believe in accountancy being a once a year formality. We provide a proactive supportive service throughout the year. This involves on a practical level, the traditional side i.e. bookkeeping, payroll, VAT, Annual Accounts etc. On a strategic level business planning and quarterly business reviews where we work with our clients to ensure they become more profitable and then focus on growth.
Best of all we are involved with our clients and are having the time of our lifes being involved in the development and growth of our clients.

Robert Craven said...

Keep the comments coming in.

A bit confused by some "tweets" and "emails" along the lines of "time for accountants to fight back". Against what?

All I am saying is that I spoke to some accountants who didn't feel that marketing was for them. Maybe I said the wrong things. Maybe they were busy. Maybe they didn't want to talk. Maybe they didn't believe that marketing worked for them. Why so defensive?

I am actually of the opinion that accountants should be brilliant for a business owner and that each business owner should love their accountant (because of the value they add). I am just sorry that more don't see how invaluable they could be to their clients. Seems like a missed opportunity.

RC

Whitehall said...

As accountants who've tried all marketing avenues, I would say the reason accountants don't phone, is firstly because they are nervous and secondly, once they have secured a visit with a potential customer they are on the back foot trying to compete on the price rather than displaying their ability to save money and add value.

RealBusiness said...

"Sorry, @Robert_Craven, but not all accountants are ostriches!" -- accountants fight back: http://t.co/8ZAkyAn

RealBusiness said...

Not all accountants are ostriches
Real Business columnist Robert Craven argued last week that all accountants are ostriches. How wrong he is!
http://realbusiness.co.uk/finance/not_all_accountants_are_ostriches

OneAccounting said...

Think accountants are being pigeonholed as an easy target. The sheer number of accountants emabracing Twitter for example suggests that this article may be wide of the mark

Robert Craven said...

from the Telegraph website/article
Thank you, James, for publishing the article.
In such an economy it is so important, as Mr Rowe says, to
understand the business and give advice based on a full understanding of the business’ needs. Please read a recent article we have published on our website, which may restore your faith in accountants as marketers - http://bit.ly/eUiPM7.
mandyksw1

Robert Craven said...

I am getting a fascinating conbination of hatemail and fanmail at the moment. (eg 'Why do you berate accountants...?')

To reiterate a point: I love my accountant. I wish more poeple loved their accountants. This leaves me to ask "why don't more people love their accountant?" (and I have a couple of 'theories' about that!!)

RC

Robert Craven said...

*Should clients sack their accountants?* Interview with Mark Lee - one random comment becomes an entire theme ... http://bit.ly/gzDabP

Mark Lee said...

The typical reaction you received was pretty much as I would have predicted Robert. We talked about this during Netski 2011 as I too have found a reluctance among accountants to invest in developing their businesses.

I understand the reasons for this, having worked in and with the profession for many years. Accountants are very different to solicitors and other professional advisers in this regard. Anyone who assumes otherwise will be disappointed.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule but they are, in my experience, a minority. It can take time to find them. In the meantime anyone thinking of focusing on accountants has to consider whether it is worth the effort. Whilst many accountants could benefit from the advice you offer, there may be other, more willing, audiences that are easier to secure.

Mark Lee said...

Eh? The 'sheer number' is actually very low and most try it for a short time and then give up. I'cve been tracking UK accountants who register/use twitter on this list. Still less than 500 and probably only 100 still using it 3 months after registering:
http://twitter.com/#!/BookMarkLee/uk-tax-and-accountants/members

Robert Craven said...

Mark, Thanks for your comments. Your view as someone who helps people to sell to accountants (a training programme) is very valuable.
RC

Robert Craven said...

The post at
http://www.clearvisionaccountancygroup.co.uk/marketing3.html
is along the same lines as
*Should clients sack their accountants?* Interview with Mark Lee - one random comment becomes an entire theme ... http://bit.ly/gzDabP

Alan Kennedy said...

Robert first an apology. My twitter comment “time for accountants to fight back” was not meant to be confrontational but a call for my profession to stand up and be counted. There are a number of reasons why the accountancy profession is not respected by businessmen. Partly it is because we do not explain the skills we offer and the difference we can make. For example I just take it for granted that an accountant will advise clients on getting profits out of companies tax efficiently and forget to tell clients how wonderful I am. Also there is a danger I do not speak the language of the client for example the most important aspects of a clients business is sales and marketing and most of my profession do not have training or experience in these areas (and hence they are an irrelevance to the rest of the business community.)

Robert Craven said...

No need for an apology although one or two accountants do seem to be assuming that I am popping at all accountants as being unprofessional and bad at marketing. Patently this is nonsense. As I say elsewhere, "I love my accountant".

PS said...

and when will accountants start to see marketing as an investment which should have an infinite budget so long as it is …http://t.co/CnDPcCd

NCA said...

If you recognise your Accountant in this article in the Telegraph then you really need to be speaking to us! http://bit.ly/f1KVla

KS said...

Accountants dont understand marketing. @Telgraph. I beg to differ http://ow.ly/4lnPL

BL said...

Accountants not the best advisers on marketing - fairly obvious http://t.co/AuOc8TB via @Telegraph

SP said...

RT @jamesoll: "Business is bad, so lets cut off communicating with our customers." This illogic never ceases to amaze me. http://ow.ly/4jmu3

Jeremiah said...

I fear rthat the people who have kicked off and essentially scored own goals. Every industry has above and below average perfrormers (the bell curve). To believe that you are all above makes no sense. (Try talking to any male driver however!) .

Most Professional service frims are great at the 'doing' but not so good at the selling/marketing. This is almost a law of business.

Your critics only made themselves look foolish.

As you say Accountants, Ostriches and the Insane. Game, set and match!

AW said...

Finola McManus advises practitioners how to protect gross profit margins in a recession http://ow.ly/4mxwt

Mandyksw1 said...

RE Telegraph Article
Thank you, James, for publishing the article.
In such an economy it is so important, as Mr Rowe says, to
understand the business and give advice based on a full understanding of the business’ needs. Please read a recent article we have published on our website, which may restore your faith in accountants as marketers - http://bit.ly/eUiPM7.

DCBizClub said...

Robert Craven interview - Should clients really sack their accountants? http://t.co/ZmR7d9E

PAW said...

RT @Robert_Craven:Accountants don’t understand marketing http://bit.ly/f1KVla -Here's 1 that does now courtesy of PAW!- http://bit.ly/hsI5R6

Robert Craven said...

Five Signs You Need a Marketing Makeover - Susan Gunelius - http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/219407

Sian said...

Spot on presentation in Nottingham yesterday. Challenging but very fair. In the privacy of their own homes no-one could deny what you were saying. Well done Barclays for fronting up.

StevieP said...

You saved yourself with the final words.

Stevie

Sheffield Accountant said...

Thanks for sharing this, accountants are an interesting breed. We like Roberts refreshing honesty. What they really meant was that they hoped we would go away.
Sheffield Business

Sheffield Accountant said...

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Jacky said...

I love the client comments .  They sound exaggerated but I have heard them said myself.  
Perhaps I wouldn't have said "Stupid"  
People are not stupid they just don't always use the words they mean.
 I suspect  what most of these people mean is" I don't want to waste more money on activities that don;t work".

Robert Craven said...

I am not sure what they are saying... but I pick up that some of these people are not business savvy or not as savvy as one would hope.
RC

Retu Nummelin said...

I was wondering why they are not interested in getting customer.Sound really weird but still you really have a informative article cool.

Robert Craven said...

Jem
Thanks for this