How to Become the “go-to”...

How to Become the “go-to” Advisor for your Clients

Why do we become (and stay in) professional services? Whether it be accountants, bankers, or wealth managers, it boils down to two reasons, one selfish and one altruistic. 

Selfish reason - usually it is a great wage, there are a lot worse professions for earning potential that is for sure. 

Altruistic reason - we want our clients to succeed, it makes us feel good to be a contributor to so many client’s businesses. 

And let’s face it, if it was only the selfish reasons, you are likely out of it already, or are just a really miserable human when at work. 

We as professional advisors have this beautiful vision of going on a journey with a client from their humble beginnings, through growth, and ultimately selling (or handing down) their business, and at the end of the journey they say “I couldn’t have done this without your guidance all these years, thank you.”

But how often does that happen? Not as often as we’d like. Why? 

Because we get stuck in our lane of subject matter expertise and compliance exercises and can’t get beyond that to become knowledgeable and integrated with the actual operations of the business. This is sometimes on the client and sometimes it’s on us. 

So how can we get better at this? 

  1. Ask the big questions (outside of compliance timelines) 

    Professional advisors are good at asking questions like what is your investment risk tolerance, but the key is shifting what questions are being asked. It is important to ask your client long-term questions that directly tie to the vision and strategy of the business, and how they plan on creating enterprise value. Questions that go beyond your specific realm of expertise are also vital to getting outside of your ‘lane’ of professional service. A banker who takes the time to ask about successful customer acquisition channels and offer up best practices other clients of theirs see is huge. Don’t under-estimate the opportunity to be a thought leader, remember you as an advisor see dozens of businesses, while the entrepreneur only sees theirs.

    These are the types of questions very few people ask entrepreneurs. They often have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to belong to executive peer groups to even get asked these questions.

    However, the timing of these questions is also important. Picture this: It’s the middle of tax season, you’re grinding out 100+ returns, and your client just wants their taxes to be done and stop getting requests for information. That is not the time to ask “What does success look like for you in 5 years?” Neither you nor your client is in the headspace to absorb that type of dialogue and build a plan around it.

    The reality is annual compliance exercises (tax returns, bank reporting, investment portfolio management, etc) are a necessary evil. If this is the only time you are connecting with your clients, they naturally will see through your questions as trying to add value but in reality, asking your client once a year in conjunction with a forced exercise does not gain any trust or momentum in building the relationship.

    Asking these questions off-cycle is key to building year-round rapport and unearthing additional service opportunities for you as well.

  2. Hold them accountable to the plan

    One of the key questions to ask is ‘What is your strategic plan for the year, how are you going to meet your growth goals?’ This then allows you to be armed with the knowledge to ask specific and helpful questions of them throughout the year. I always bristled when I was a CFO and got asked by my banker “so, how’s business” knowing that was a generic fluff question. Show me you know me, and ask a question like “I know from your strategic plan, growing your recurring revenue by 20% was the goal, and you wanted to do that via reducing churn, what results are you seeing so far?”

    I also like this direction because it allows you to hold them accountable for their plan. Entrepreneurs are great at generating ideas, but it takes discipline and a real operator mindset to stick to it and build the reporting and decision-making capabilities around that plan to make it a reality. Professional advisors are experts at sticking to proven processes and following through (otherwise you’d be out of work), so this is a natural role to play. Unless the business owner has built out a sophisticated advisory board with other professionals on it, this is a gap to fill.

    Using interVal as a way to track the enterprise value, saleability, and key financial metrics is a great tool over time to facilitate these long-term discussions.

  3. Expand your services

    Going back to that dream, no one is going to thank you at the end of their business journey for completing compliance exercises. Expanding your services to include multiple products/services is key to be entrenched in their operation and increasing the lifetime value of your relationship with them. 


Author: Dave Bunce CPA, CA