7 Insight Moments to Sell Advisory Services
We hear a lot about selling advisory services in the accounting profession. We all probably have different definitions of what the term “advisory” actually means. To me, advisory is our profession’s attempt to offer valuable advice to clients, and be paid well for that advice.
But, what is the “advice” that we are selling? Advice can come in many forms, such as describing difficult tax credits to a client, delivering an intimate cash prediction service a client can’t create on their own, or even just talking with a client about a business purchase and helping the client make a final decision.
For this article, let’s discuss some advice called “insights.” An online dictionary defines insights as an “instance of apprehending the true nature of a thing, especially through intuitive understanding.” I often describe insights as “aha moments.” That is, we love to show financial information to a client, coach them or challenge the client in some way that they go, “Oohhhh, now I see.” When a client sees the true nature of a thing, they have just apprehended a truth that they could not have understood without our guidance. Our firm sells insights, and we want to make sure we get paid for the time that those insights are created or realized by the client.
In our firm, we sell insights during a specific time I call “Insight Moments.” Here is my definition of Insight Moments: times intentionally set aside to deliver highly valuable advice to humans who are on a distinct journey and need extraordinary judgment and observation about their journey, so that transformation can be contemplated and begun. That’s a pretty big definition! So, let me break that definition down into seven more specific components, and how they relate specifically to accounting firm owners.
In regard to accounting firms selling to clients, Insight Moments:
1. Have a beginning and end time, and are on a particular date. If you want to sell insights as an advisory service, you have to plan to do it. Selling insights doesn’t happen accidentally. Creating a place where these insights can be delivered to clients comes with proper planning. Some examples of insight moments that have a beginning and end time are business coaching sessions, a financial presentation meeting and a partner buy-out discussion. All of these meetings are planned and scheduled with the client, begin at a certain time, end after a certain length of time and are put on a calendar.
2. Are sold beforehand. I believe insight moments should not happen unless there is a price attached to that moment. So, I do not believe in someone just picking my brain, calling me out of the blue or going to lunch so someone can run things by me. You may say, “Jason, this is the value we offer our clients to allow them to run things by us or go to lunch!” I disagree.
Our value as firm leaders is to provide insights in such a way as to help a client transform into something/someone greater than they are now. And, that is highly valuable, so it must be sold before that meeting ever takes place. Selling and planning an insight moment to a client before it happens will keep you from a lot of wasted meetings, and allow you to make money for the valuable things that you tell your clients. Clients should not be gaining insights from you without a price being attached to that value.
3. Have a name. Humans can place value on things when they know what they are buying. Simply giving a name to a particular insight moment you are selling can help the client to perceive its value. I’ve already given some examples above. Instead of just scheduling something called a meeting with a client, sell them a business coaching session, where you describe what you will do for them in that meeting and how you will lead them in that business coaching session. Always name your insight moments so the client can know how/what to invest their money in.
4. Are performed in human to human situations. I believe advisory and insight moments happen when humans are talking to humans. Advisory is essentially a very intimate thing you do as a technical service provider. Delivering financial statements can be very valuable for a client. But, when you add a financial presentation meeting with a professional who can offer additional valuable insights to that financial data, the value of the financial statement to the client just skyrocketed.
Further, explaining things over email is not as valuable (though, it can be valuable). But, I believe the most transformative advisory service happens when you are on camera live, or in a room with a client discussing back and forth what their financial numbers mean, and what to do next. Advisory is necessarily inefficient. If you believe (like I do) that the most life changing advice happens in human to human situations, then you will be very careful who you give those situations to and how you go about them.
5. May review and notice patterns about business results. Insight moments can be specifically scheduled meetings with your clients, planned in advance, to discuss their financial numbers. When you do sell meetings to clients (i.e., insight moments), showing them financial statements is the least valuable part of the meeting. It’s the patterns you notice as a professional that are most valuable.
We can all look at a set of numbers with a client and describe line-by-line what they say. But, a client needs to know what those numbers mean. And, one way to tell them what their numbers mean is to unearth the patterns that their numbers show them. To do this, we always lay our numbers side by side with other numbers, so we can visually see patterns more quickly.
For example, we want the actual number compared to budget numbers, or seven months of P&L numbers side by side, or the actual number compared to benchmarked percentages for that particular industry. Patterns will emerge, and so will the clients’ knowledge about what to stop doing, or start doing, next month. This step says, “May review and notice patterns,” because you don’t have to review financial numbers for a valuable meeting to have taken place. Strong professionals can also just talk to clients without showing them anything to help a client unearth their patterns.
6. Force the realization of value. It’s true that simply selling meetings to a client can be hard to communicate the value of that meeting. Some client ponder, “What is the value of a meeting?”
That’s why giving these meetings a name can be helpful to the client to recognize and pay for the value of these insight moments. You can further help the client realize the value by forcing the client to realize the value when the meeting has taken place. It is essentially forcing the client to write down, or verbally say, what the value of the insight moment was.
This can feel risky if you aren’t used to it because what if they found no value in the meeting?! That is a risk you must take because forcing the realization of value with a client can further drive home amazing insights that the client will take with them forever. You can practically force the realization of value with a client with statements and/or questions at the end of meetings, such as “Is there any information we shared in this meeting that was of particular value?,” or “What one thing do you know now that you did not know before we started?,” or “I’m glad we did this project with you or we wouldn’t have discovered ___________!”
7. Take place with empathy and care. Finally, insight moments are done with empathy and care. We can be empathetic with our clients during our insight moments because we’ve all gone through hard things in our business, too. We understand how the client feels. Empathizing with them can help them to feel understood, further driving value into our relationship with them.
We are never in a meeting to show off our knowledge, make our clients feel stupid, get the last word in, scold them for poor decisions or talk down to them about financial numbers. Advisors help to transform their clients, which is why advisory is so valuable. We wrap all that we do in a blanket of empathy and care.
Now, it’s time for you to practice selling insights! I trust you can take the advice from this article and try to sell some insight moments using the parameters above, make more money and begin seeing your clients transform!