When the topic of cloud accounting software comes up, business owners and accountants alike can get extremely enthusiastic – and even fiercely protective of – their preferred option.
As a member of a content marketing community myself, we get into regular conversations on Slack about all things business. Video, HR, books, events, pricing, branding…and software, too.
Recently in the midst of multiple conversations, someone casually mentioned accounting spreadsheets, which led to a discussion on cloud accounting software, and then the gloves were off.
We had people defending Xero, others insisting Kashflow was better, FreeAgent fans, asking questions about Quickbooks, comparing one with the other, expanding into desktop v cloud, and far more than that.
What fascinated me was:
- The speed at which people replied. Almost everyone already had an opinion, and was keen to share it.
- The level of frustration that many business owners have with the approach their accountant takes. There were people complaining that their accountant pushed Xero on them, and others wishing their accountant would get on the Xero or Quickbooks or FreeAgent bandwagon.
- The level of interest business owners have in their finances. Everyone had an opinion to give. No one said, “I don’t really care actually – the recording of my finances doesn’t matter that much.” A few people said they didn’t care which software as long as it did x or y, but everyone cared about their finances.
- The fact that there was no clear “winner”. Although Xero has a big market share in the UK, we’re in a place where accountants and their clients are trying many different options, and there’s something for everybody.
This (of course, as per usual) led me to a few tips for you accountants on introducing, sharing, exploring, and using cloud accounting software for your clients.
I would also welcome your thoughts, since clearly this is a topic of passionate interest by all!
Start the conversation.
This is an incredibly powerful way to engage with your clients. So many of the accountants I work with tell me, “I wish more of my clients would get management accounts or work with us on strategic advice and support”. And the hardest part of selling these additional services can be having the conversation in the first place. If you use cloud accounting software as a launchpad topic, it can lead to a fuller discussion on finances, reporting, profitability, and tech.
There are a variety of ways to do this – and it’s not a one-time thing. You don’t send out a tweet with a poll and call it done. Use social media, email, blog posts, video, Facebook live, polls and surveys, events….integrate it into all your marketing activities. And really, really listen to what they say. (Read on!)
Listen to what most of your clients want.
It’s probably safe to say that your clients as a whole will never agree. You’ll always have that one client (or in some cases, ten or twenty or more) who have a unique situation or a bigger or smaller business, or needs that aren’t met by a particular accounting software. In the main, though, listen to what most of your clients want and need, and choose a software that will fit those needs.
This is also an opportunity to evaluate your niches. If one group of clients has certain needs, and another group has others, bear this in mind when advising on the software that will suit them best.
Listen to your clients individually.
Making a decision based on your clients in the aggregate will help your firm’s efficiency and profitability: but the client experience matters, too. Take the time to really listen to what each client wants, whenever you have opportunity. This goes beyond sending out a survey asking which software they like. Send personal emails. Ring up a client out of the blue and ask them what they think. Send comparison reports and ask which they like better. Get their thoughts and take them on board.
Actually advise your clients.
You’re the expert. You are the one they come to for advice on estate tax or VAT issues or what type of business structure or what solicitor to use or whether this product looks like it will be profitable. (They even come to you with issues about team members and business partners and even personal issues as well.)
When it comes to cloud accounting software, once you’ve listened to your clients – in the aggregate and individually – actually give them advice. I remember phoning my accountant about a particular issue that I wanted his thoughts on. He heard me out, asked a few good questions, and then said, “Karen, knowing what I know about you, this is what I would advise.” The decision of course still rests with me, but it is a powerful thing to actually give advice, and then let the client decide what they will do. Make sure they know that it truly is their decision, even if it doesn’t match yours – but that you’re open to a conversation on that at any time.
Also, if the client has absolutely no idea and says, “You do what you think best”, or, “I really don’t care, mate”, then go ahead and do what you think best. They’ll thank you for that, too.
Make a clear decision for your firm.
If you’re going to be an efficient, profitable accountancy firm, making a clear decision about cloud accounting software will only help you. That decision might be “We exclusively use this software” or “We will use whatever our clients prefer”. But be clear about it internally, so you don’t waffle when the client has an opinion.
Oh – and this doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind. If you decide you’re going to use Xero and Quickbooks, and later decide to only pick one exclusively (or vice versa), that’s fine. But the longer you hesitate between two opinions, the more challenging it can be for your clients and team.
Have the conversation more than once.
If you’ve spoken to clients about this before, don’t hesitate to bring it up again six months later – or a year or two. Tech and digital change so often that your client may have a different opinion than they had a few months ago. Be listening to what they’re thinking on a regular basis. Which leads us to the next point….
Consider a forum that will allow them to express their opinions on this and other topics.
The rise of tools like Slack and Facebook groups means that you have the opportunity to build a community unique to your firm and your clients. It needs to be a place where they feel safe and listened to, and you’ll need to ensure that someone from your firm is always listening. If you set up a Facebook group and check it every few weeks, they’ll pick up on the fact that it’s not current or relevant and no one will use it. If you tell your clients to communicate with you via one tool but you never log in, it will die a death and (even worse) could prevent further communication in future when you try again with another tool.