The accountant who couldn’t count

The accountant who could'nt count

You think a client appointed you because she respects the university you attended, the professional awards you’ve won or the decades of experience you have?

Think again.

As impressive as these might be, they only played a peripheral role in your appointment. They were asterisks.

The truth is that your client probably didn’t even consider whether you’re good at your craft before appointing you. Find that hard to believe? Think about it.

Take a client looking to appoint a new firm of accountants to handle her business. She figures that all accountants can make books balance. They can do sums without calculators. Proficiency with numbers is a given. She doesn’t question it. If they were incompetent in their core competencies, they’d be out of business.

So is it your experience that gets you the business? Bzzz. Sorry, wrong answer. Experience is just not as impressive as you hope it is. A potential client figures that if you’re thirty, you’ve had a decade practicing your profession. If you’re forty, you’ve racked up maybe twenty years. And so on.

If you’re in partnership, it becomes pretty easy to boast some seriously big numbers when you tally up your collective experience.

“The senior partners have 280 years of professional experience between them.”

You might think that close to three centuries of experience looks mighty good in your credentials document. But honestly, it’s unlikely to do for prospective clients what it did for you when you did the sums. Sure, 280 years is a lot. Is it impressive? It depends. If there are 6 of you in the partnership, your client is figuring you must all be over 70. She envisages an office filled with Zimmer frames. Or maybe there are 140 partners, in which case your prospect figures none of you knows anything. About the best you could hope for by boasting this kind of cumulative experience is to reassure prospective clients that your financial experience extends some way beyond working at the supermarket checkout in school holidays.

Do your creds lack cred?

Like most people out shopping for something with a substantial price tag, a client looking to appoint new accountants will probably draw up a shortlist. All of the firms on her short list will be good at their trade.

Additionally, there’s a good chance all of the names on a client’s shortlist will be about the same size. This raises another issue. The CEO or the partner in charge of each of the businesses on that list likes to think his or her company is unique. And yet, almost without exception, what the client will see and hear are the same claims made over and over again by each company she’s considering appointing.

If the companies are big and if they have international affiliations, you can be sure there’ll be phrases like “local knowledge combined with global resources” in more than one credentials document or presentation. If the companies are smaller, the prospective client will repeatedly see phrases like “small enough to care” or “more personalised attention”.

If your company’s credentials contain phrases that bear even a passing similarity to these, then I hope there’s also something in there that demonstrates a REAL point of difference from your competitors. Why? Because very few clients will appoint you simply because you’re well-connected globally or you’re a caring mid-sized business.

In the end the appointment of a new firm of accountants will be based on one or both of two criteria. First, they’re cheaper. Second, they have a reputation of bringing things to the party above and beyond good arithmetic.

Why you win business

Do you truly know why you win business? It might seem a surprising question to ask, but many people don’t know the answer. They think they do. If a new client didn’t appoint you because you’re good at your craft, then why did you get the gig?

Let’s put aside cost of service as the reason for your appointment. (We’ll tackle this in a moment.) Let’s look instead at how you might win new business by adding value for existing clients.

One way could be a demonstrated ability to grow your clients’ businesses. Quite a number of service businesses claim that their sole responsibility is to grow their clients’ businesses. But it isn’t enough to claim it. You need to be able to prove it. There’s nothing a prospective client likes more than proof of performance. That’s especially true in a service business, where your product is largely intellectual.

A client might also appoint you because you have demonstrated an ability to grow the reputations of existing clients. Yes, this often goes hand-in-hand with a growth in business. However, a client with 90% of the market mightn’t be looking to gain the other 10%, but rather to insure against any erosion of market share. She might want to do this by becoming so well liked by consumers that they won’t want another manufacturer’s product even if it were available.

Maybe you can even demonstrate a direct correlation between your advice and an increase in your client’s share price. That’s really impressive stuff. Your senior clients spend a lot of time watching their company’s share price. That’s because they know there’s a direct link between share price and job security. Price goes down, boss is shown the door. Simple as that.

Maybe you won because a client was impressed by a proprietary research tool. Some companies seem to have a lot of these. I have sat through presentations by such companies. There are several PowerPoint slides filled with the logos of unique research programs. I have never understood what any one of them does. Nor do most clients. But it looks impressive.

Maybe you won the account because you demonstrated a deeper understanding of your client’s business or his customers. Clients love demonstrations that you know something about their business or their customers that they didn’t know.

Then again, maybe you won the business simply because you were cheaper than your competitors.

If this is why you won, then you have trouble. Yes friends, you have trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for Price.

If you win on price, you’ll lose on price

The client who comes to you because you’re cheaper will leave you for the same reason. Unless you’re prepared to beat the price of your competitors, one day you’ll inevitably lose your client to another company whose directors have fewer scruples, lower overheads, fewer alimonies, less extravagant lifestyles and [insert your own burdens]. If you do manage to beat their price, you’ll probably lose your shirt. You can’t win.

So what is the real reason you win a new client?


She appoints you because she likes you, your brand, your values, what you stand for. When all other things are equal – product, price, place and a track record of adding value – people choose one company, one brand, over another because they like them.

Because they like them. Whatever rational reasons might be given, in the end it’s an emotional decision.

2 replies on “The accountant who couldn’t count”

    Your post made me think of my “go to” 5 laws, which I found in a book somewhere ??

    1. Law of Value – Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than how much you receive in payment.

    This Law is about pointing you in the right direction, because appearances can be deceiving and almost always are.
    It will ensure that you ask “Does what I am about to do serve others?” and “Does it add value to others?” After those questions, you can ask “Will it make me money?”
    It is about how valuable you are. In other words, your potential success or how much you could earn.
    The second law determines how much you actually do earn.

    2. Law of Compensation – Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how you serve them.

    Or, your compensation is determined by how many lives you touch.
    Two things flow from this:
    a) You get to determine your level of compensation
    b) There are no limitations on what you can earn, because you can always find more people to serve.
    If you want more success, find a way to serve more people.
    Everybody can be successful because anybody can give. Do not sabotage yourself.
    Eliminate this false belief from your thinking – “People get rich by taking from somebody else.”

    3. Law of Influence – Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other peoples interests first.

    This Law will provide a change of focus – from what you can get to what you can give. That’s just the start.
    You need to know how to develop a network of people who know you, like you and trust you. This is not a network of customers or clients.
    They always have you in the back of their minds. They are interested in seeing you succeed and you are the same way about them. They are an army of ambassadors and will send referrals faster than you can handle them.
    Always look for a solution where you both come out ahead.
    Most of the time a win-win is really a disguised way of keeping track. Making sure we come out even means nobody gets an advantage.
    When you base your relationships on who owes what, that’s not being a friend – that’s being a creditor.
    Watch out for the other guy. Watch out for his/her interests.
    Forget about 50/50.
    50/50 is a losing proposition.
    The only winning proposition is 100%.
    Make your win about the other person – what he/she wants. Focus on the other person’s win.
    Because you place the other person’s interests first, your interests will always be taken care of. It is called enlightened self-interest.
    What creates influence? – Money? Position? Accomplishments?
    That is backwards. Influence creates them, and putting others first creates influence.
    What makes people attractive? They love to give. Givers attract. They magnetize.
    That’s why this Law works – it magnetizes you.

    4. Law of Authenticity – The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.
    Ah! The cleansing pain of self reflection.
    Whatever it is you sell, you can excel by adding value.
    Need money, add value. Need a lot of money, add a lot of value.
    The market place wants people who know how to be a friend / know how to care / know how to make people feel good about themselves…..always has, always will.
    What you have to sell is you.
    Reaching any goal you set takes 10% specific knowledge or technical skills. The other 90% is people skills.
    What’s the 90%? Liking, caring, and being a good listener are all helpful but the core of it is who you are. It starts with you.
    As long as you are trying to be someone else or putting on an act someone else has taught you, you will have no possibility of reaching people.
    The most valuable thing you are selling is you…it’s called authenticity.

    5. Law of Receptivity – The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving.

    Eliminate this – “It’s better to give than receive.” Or “Good people give and don’t expect to receive.”
    You think about receiving all of the time. You can’t help it. So, you’re probably not a good person?
    Try exhaling for 30 seconds. You can’t.
    It’s insane to try and give and not receive. It’s arrogant.
    Receiving is the natural result of giving.
    You want the tide to come in but not go out?
    Your heart must contract and relax.
    The planet is giving both O2 and CO2.
    In fact, every giving can happen only because of a receiving.
    The secret to staying young, vibrant and vital throughout life is to hang on to those most precious characteristics we all have as children (but which get drummed out of us) – big dreams, being curious, believing in yourself, being open to receiving.
    Inside every truth and appearance there is a bit of opposite inside.
    The secret to getting is giving. The secret to giving is making yourself open to receiving.
    The greatest truths are tucked inside paradoxes.
    This law will change you…into the person who was already inside you.
    Listen to the quiet stillness in the normally busy world. How would you describe it? Receptive.

    1. says: Greg Alder

      John, these are wonderful. I think the book that inspired you might have been The Go-Giver, a business book in the form of a parable. I really enjoyed it when I read it and your expansion on the laws contained within is a great reminder to me that I must reread it. Thank you for that reminder – and for taking the time to expand, illustrate and share.

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