Educate your team to be...

Educate your team to be Trusted Business Advisors

Let’s face it, every new business pitch in our profession, and any professional service firm regardless of vertical (accounting, wealth management, banking, marketing agencies, etc.) has some version of these platitudes: 

“We don’t just execute, we learn your business” 

“We add value beyond our core deliverable”  

“We become a trusted business advisor” 

We’re all guilty of it. I spent over a decade in professional service firms and heard this rhetoric all the time. It is an altruistic aim, and applying my decade of C-suite and entrepreneurial experience, this is indeed what executives and business owners want. 

Then the work starts…

The junior staff who are executing the work are three levels removed from the person that did the pitch. 

The vision sold gets watered down by focusing on tactical requirements. 

‘Engagement economics’ comes into play, and you realize that to deliver on that holistic advisor approach you don’t get enough fees and have too many other clients to actually succeed. 

So how can firms deliver on this within the realities listed above? 

From my experience there are three key components to effectively doing this: 

  1. Staff training and education 
  2. Making it a mandatory part of process 
  3. Leveraging technology 

I’ll tackle each of these topics individually over the course of the next weeks, but I’ll give a short intro to each point below:

1. Staff training and education

To be able to effectively deliver on the trusted business advisor, you need client-facing team members at all levels to understand how the business operates, and know what triggers or cues to listen for, or questions to ask, that can unearth opportunities. Having a once/twice a year meeting with the partner on the engagement is valuable, but to make the most of it, the ground-level insights need to bubble up to them. 

2. Making it a (mandatory) part of process 

Public accountants and financial professionals are process-driven creatures of habit. A core part of training is “make sure you complete all the steps because we don’t want to get regulatory fines.” 

So the best way to become a trusted business advisor is to integrate pieces of this into already existing processes.  For example, firms do a good job in the planning process of making sure risk-based questions are asked to determine what line items are going to need extra work (and if there is out of scope work to bill!), such as changes in management, changes in financial systems, etc. 

3. Leveraging technology 

Knowing when and what to talk to your clients about is part art and part science. So, the most efficient way to execute on the science part of that is by leveraging technology. 

Technology can be used in two primary ways: internally and externally. Internally, changing human behavior is hard. Using technology to reduce the amount of change management needed to get staff onboard with a new way of thinking is critical to the success of implementing something new. Externally, technology can become an avenue for collaboration with clients and prospects that takes the complexity of a traditional set of financial statements and turns it into a dynamic business intelligence tool for advisors and clients to use in tandem. 

Author: Dave Bunce, CPA, CA.