‘Let’s Try the Blue Instead of the Green and See What Happens’

Last week during Xerocon there was naturally some conversation around the ‘Xero vs SAGE’ debate. Quite honestly it’s not much of a debate at Xerocon – the 850+ accountants who came were either die hard Xero fans (of the ‘drank the Kool-Aid’ variety), or were very interested, which is why they were there. But the reason it comes up is because there are many accountancy firms who have a bank of clients that are on SAGE, and they insist that their clients aren’t really interested in switching to Xero. But …

Karen's Notes on Sage v Xero Accounting Software Discussion

… at the Xero Accelerate programme in Milton Keynes, the firms there were discussing this.

One of the issues that came up multiple times was the tendency of some accountancy firms (or certain partners within them) to say, ‘But my clients don’t want to switch from SAGE – they’re perfectly happy’. Or, ‘We have a huge block of fees with clients on SAGE, and we don’t want to rock the boat.’

This is not a blog intended to debate the technical merits of Xero and SAGE, or to produce demos or rally support. It’s a deeper issue that your accountancy firm has to consider – not just for the Xero vs SAGE question, but in every area of your accountancy business. And that question is:

How do you know your clients are happy?

How do you know they like SAGE best? Have you asked them? Have you showed them what Xero is capable of, and the 400+ add-ons connected to it?

And it’s not just about SAGE. What about their happiness with you as a firm? How do you know they’re happy? As Amy Vetter said, ‘The answer is not, ‘Because they are still there.”

I’m reading a most excellent book called Zombie Loyalists by Peter Shankman. (Seriously legendary. Go buy it, right now, on Amazon – I’ll wait while you do that. It’s just a link – I purposely did not include any kind of referral code or fee, to prove a point.)

Shankman’s point is that customer service these days is so bad, in general, that we’re used to it being bad. We expect the person at the till not to say hello or smile, and to grunt their way through the transaction. That’s normal. ‘All you have to do to impress your customers is to be one level above crap,’ says Shankman. And if you go two or five or ten levels above, well, then you build what he calls zombie loyalists – customers who will do anything for you, because you’ve won them over in a massive way.

But if the clients of your accountancy firm are just lingering on year after year, that doesn’t mean they’re happy. Just because they keep using SAGE doesn’t mean they love it, or think it’s incredible. If they’ve never been introduced to Xero (or anything like it), they might not know any different. As a matter of fact, many clients who are treated horribly by their accountancy firms don’t know any better. They come to you (if you’re one of the amazing firms), or they leave you (if you’re one of the not-so-amazing firms), and they are shocked to their core to discover that it is possible to have an accountant who cares, who listens, who gives modern cloud technology for free, who produces amazingly simple and cool-looking reports that not only make sense but make them more money, and who gives them the heads up on their taxes six months early (not 10 days before tax is due).

The same applies to other services that you’re providing (or not) to your clients. Perhaps you have a client who gets accounts and taxes done, but you’ve never found out if they need help with cash flow, or budgeting, or merging with another business in their industry. Perhaps they don’t even know you’re able to help them with that – or they haven’t bothered telling you what they’re up to lately. It’s kind of horrifying how many firms I’ve spoken to who have clients that said, ‘I didn’t know you did that!’

Blue or Green?

Stephen Paul of Valued Accountancy, whose firm won the Xero Partner of the Year Award, was discussing this at the Accelerate meeting, and when he said that about blue and green some of the firms really sat up and took notice. (I tweeted it and my sketchnotes of the quote, I liked it so much) It’s relevant because all he was recommending was that your firm just ‘see what happens’. Tell people that Xero is out there. Let them run a free trial. Show them the very cool add-ons. Let them play with the Xero Touch app, and the instant bank recs and invoicing-by-phone and online quotations and even links to things like websites and email marketing and stock taking capabilities. If they still love SAGE, and want to stick with it – fine. No worries. But what if they weren’t happy, and they hadn’t told you? Or what if they weren’t happy, but neither they nor you knew it? Wouldn’t you rather find out now so you can fix it, rather than having them drop you an email to say they’re taking themselves and their £15k fee or their £50k fee to another accountant, one who asked them what they wanted? One who showed them ALL the possibilities, and didn’t presume they knew what was right?

Because the thing with the cloud is that it’s changing at such top speeds that it could very well be possible that your client would not have wanted Xero a year ago – but with the recent updates and add ons and capabilities, now they do. ‘You constantly need to be stepping up your game, or you’ll lose your loyalists, and worse, they’ll become zombies for another brand, most likely your biggest competitor,’ Shankman says.

Someone at Accelerate told the story of a firm who looked at Xero a few years ago, and decided not to bother. It was just a fad, SAGE was just fine, their clients were happy. Two years later, one of their clients (worth £15,000 per year to the firm) left, taking their fifteen grand with them. Their reason? ‘We’ve just discovered Xero, and you never told us about it.’

As an accountancy professional it is your responsibility, it is your obligation to tell your clients what can make their business and their lives better, faster, easier, happier. They absolutely rely on you to do that. And if they discover Xero before you do, or if some other accountant showcases its amazing capabilities and they’re even the tiniest bit frustrated with you that day, it could be the tipping edge that sends them over.

Another firm mentioned the fact that they deal with legal firms, and they had decided (on behalf of all the legal firms they represent) that Xero didn’t suit them. After the Accelerate day, they decided to simply present the options and see what their clients wanted to do. Maybe some will love Xero, maybe some will not. But instead of presuming their clients are happy where they are, this firm has decided to give them the option – to explain that something is on the market that is quite literally taking the accounting software world by storm, and it’s worth looking at.

We’re even hearing stories of accountants who talk to prospects and start demonstrating Xero, and after less than 5 minutes the prospect says, ‘Stop. I don’t need to see any more demos – it looks brilliant. I’ve got nothing like that. I can’t wait to have it. Let’s start.’

Are you afraid your clients might know more than you?

One question you must ask yourself (and it’s not a pretty one) is, are you (or some people or partners in your firm) afraid of finding out that your clients prefer Xero? Are you nervous of clients saying ‘I like Xero better’, when you know SAGE better? Does it seem like your client base could crumble if you aren’t the one who knows the accounting software better than your clients?

This is an extremely dangerous position to be in. The old-school accountant knew everything about accounts, software, forecasting, reporting – everything about everything when it came to accounting. The client simply showed up, signed a few forms, and trusted their accountant implicitly.

Now, many Xero accountants are finding that their clients know more about the online software than they (the accountant) do. But the ones who are succeeding are realising that is a really, really good thing. It’s excellent that their clients can go online to Xero University, watch videos, get help, talk to other users, and generally become self-taught. That means the accountant has more time to showcase their abilities in review, analysis, forecasting, and other big-picture areas that the business owner doesn’t have the time or expertise to figure out.

The key is that, whether your client uses SAGE or Xero or Excel or a piece of paper, that they still come to you as the expert.

Don’t take the chance that someone else will come and prove themselves more of an expert – at least in one area – than you are. You could lose your best clients. And right now (hopefully) neither of you want that.