During a consulting session with a bookkeeping and technology firm, I was once again reminded how often we forget what we know. Sound strange? Have you ever worried about how you can create managerial reports when performing value-added CFO services? Does that concern allow you to default to financial compliance reports, or worst still, fall short on the deliverables you promised? Do you sit in on webinars showing how accounting data can be extracted to produce great reports, then worry if your clients would pay enough to justify the cost of new software in addition to the learning curve?
Most of the sellers of KPI and BI software will tell you it will be a justifiable expense. And, frankly, if you develop your scope correctly, discover the real deliverables your clients want, mash it with what you as their CFO know they also need, the ROI is more than there. When talking about this during a particular consulting session, I saw blank stares from some and a slight look of skepticism from the owner. This is not a new image when the discussion turns to deliverables. So I turned it into something fun. Since I had already discovered each employee’s special talent, I built a testing platform to see if I could prove it to them.
After sorting through their client list, we came up with all the current clients they saw as potentials for this service. This alone told me they have more knowledge than they realized as to their client business. We then listed the software that was utilized by the client and, then last but most importantly, how each person within the firm related to the client. And I mean every single person, including the front office receptionist who was often tasked with the ubiquitous, 'where is it?’ call. By sorting those lists, we found three clients with similar businesses all on the same software, each one having been very proactive in their communication with the firm.
Next, we handwrote a letter to each of the owners inviting them to an afternoon barbecue at the office. Now, this firm happens to have an office balcony overlooking a gorgeous canyon. The event was set for a Thursday at 4:00 PM. They were encouraged to bring others from their company. In one case it was a spouse that was a co-owner, and we invited their two small children. We called it a client appreciation get together. One of the firm's employees had a talent for graphic design, and she did the letters with a bit of flourish that made them unique.
One of the young men in the firm had just come from a corporate job and was a wiz at Excel, pivot tables, graphs, and charts. Although this new employee was not entirely knowledgeable about each of these businesses, the owner of the firm felt the two of them could put together some great cash-flow projection reports. The bookkeeper with a yen for graphics made the reports more focused on images based on a whitepaper I had given her. Produced by Aberdeen, it reported that there is a higher success rate of BI adoption when images are used, rather than statistics.
The firm owner would present these cash flow reports, packaged in an attractive portfolio, to each business owner at the barbecue. The firm owner gently said it was their gift to the business owner and if they would enjoy discussing how those reports could become part of a defined package of services, they could schedule time now to meet at the client’s location the following week. He then walked them to the table with food and asked them to enjoy the gathering. Aside from that, no pitch was made.
Well, needless to say, the firm realized that purchasing an existing managerial reporting tool that worked with their accounting software did have an ROI. And they got their first three CFO clients. The business owners could quickly see points that led to questions. All the firm employees were attentive to the conversation.
FYI, we role-played potential conversations several times before the barbecue. From that role play, the staff discovered more managerial reports the clients would like, as well as identifying other clients who weren't invited to the barbecue, but would also benefit.
Sometimes there is more hidden down in our inner knowledge centers than we realize. The day to day stuff we feel we HAVE to do sometimes just needs to be cleared away for us to start seeing what is (and has always been) in our tool box.