Unless you are in the enviable position of not needing to take on new clients, bringing new clients into the business is likely a key point in your marketing and business activities.
The moment when an individual or a business moves from being a prospective client to being a current client happens only once, but an excellent opportunity here is often overlooked.
Maybe you are just relieved that they have signed up or maybe you have a million other things on your plate, but unfortunately it’s common that onboarding is not conducted with the dedication and thoroughness that it deserves.
Step inside the mind of your new client for a few minutes. They have made the decision to change SMSF firms or, less likely, to see an SMSF practitioner for the first time. Everything that happens will be compared to their last accountant. They will be hopeful that they have made a good decision, but there might be a degree of buyer’s remorse and they may be thinking, “Oh crap, the other guy wasn’t much good, but what if this new one isn’t either?”.
The question is, what can you to do to minimise any anxiety about the change and turn the client as quickly as possible from a newbie to someone who regularly refers you new business, as well as being a joy to work with? Because really, that’s the gold star opportunity. You want this person to become not only a loyal and happy customer, but to have them also become a customer who refers lots of other new clients to you.
If you can get your onboarding/referral machine working well, you will only need minimal marketing to grow your business, which is perfect because:
a) Most SMSF firms don’t find marketing a fun part of their business,
b) It is much cheaper, and
c) It takes way less time than a full-on marketing campaign.
Let’s talk about what you can do to make this miracle of modern non-marketing a reality.
You need to think through the ideal onboarding experience you want to offer your clients. Business improvement is a team sport, and you will ideally include the other members of your team in this discussion and make the most of their ideas.
The ideal experience will look different for different businesses. If you focus on high-net-worth clients and charge commensurate fees, your onboarding process might be quite elaborate, and may include taking the new clients out for lunch and meeting with other service providers that they use, such as lawyers and stockbrokers. You also want to make sure that the physical surroundings of your office match the service that you deliver, assuming that your clients come to you.
On the other hand, if your practice is focused on up-and-coming small businesses – that you are hoping will grow with you – your onboarding might be much more casual. Perhaps there is a particular business book that you like. You might send the new client a copy, signed by you, to say thank you for coming on board. You might also provide a checklist of 10 things that small businesses often get wrong when it comes to accounting. This would be a value-add and also helps you get off on the right foot with the client.
If you are a suburban accountant and most of your clients are local businesses, maybe you can meet them for coffee at your favourite cafe. You might also consider who you already have on your books that you can introduce the new client too. Bringing people together is a great way to add value to the relationship right from the get-go.
As you can see, these are all quite different approaches. The important thing is to put yourself in the shoes of your new clients and think about what they might like. But that’s only half the deal.
What’s the other half you ask? Well, it’s the processes that you have in your business. You need to be clear on ‘how things work in my business’. The fastest way to hitting a problem with a new client is not telling them how things work in your business. Despite this, it’s uncommon to find an onboarding system that includes clear instructions to clients on how they can best deal with you and your team for maximum benefit and least stress.
Onboarding shouldn’t leave anything to chance. You want your new clients to be 100 per cent clear about what they can expect from you, when they can expect it, the best way to get in touch with you, the types of issues you can help them with and your pricing schedule, among other things.
Don’t leave any of this to chance. It doesn’t mean you need a 20-page legal agreement or a fancy PowerPoint presentation. But I would highly recommend having a standardised document that sets everything out. You can talk the client through the highlights and they will have the information at hand should they need to refer to it at a later date.
Another key factor of a fantastic onboarding experience is the actual meeting itself.
(This is assuming there is one. The first time I spoke to my current accountant, it was on the phone and I was in a flap about the documentation required to set up my family trust. We didn’t meet in person until months later.) The meeting is where you can wow them with your sparkling wit, your debonair dress style and your fabulous office with water views. Remember that it’s important to have a high-quality conversation that builds trust and sets up a strong foundation for your future relationship.
It’s been said a million times before, but the most important part of a first meeting is listening carefully to what the client is saying and asking relevant questions. I think most practitioners do a great job solving their clients’ problems, but I’m not sure all accountants do a great job of truly understanding what drives their clients and what’s going to be important to them in the future. Work on this aspect and you will be building much stronger client relationships that stand you in good stead in the future.
You might choose to record this conversation and have it transcribed so you don’t have to write anything down during the meeting. Or, if you are like me, things tend to stick in my head better when I’ve put pen to paper so I prefer that approach. Either way, make sure you type up the key information after the meeting and enter it into your customer relationship management system.
Don’t have a CRM? Get one. It’s as simple as that. There are loads out there and it is so much better than using hard copy client files or relying on your memory. It makes your business worth more and everyone in your team can see the same information about each client.
I recently started using a system that reminds me to get in touch with people based on which category they are in. For instance, for people I have just met who might be potential clients, I have it set to 30 days. That way, I’m reminded automatically if I haven’t spoken to them in 30 days. Works a treat.
A fantastic customer onboarding experience sets you and your new client up for success. With an organised onboarding system, each new client will feel highly valued. They will understand how your business works, and the long-term trust that is at the heart of any client-practitioner relationship will have had a solid starting point. As they say, start as you mean to go on.
Sarah Penn, director, Mayflower Consulting