It took a while to figure out where this week’s episode of our “Future-Proof” podcast was going.

My guest this week is Michelle Golden River. Michelle has been on the show before. She’s a growth and profitability strategist with a passion for both pricing and positioning. She’s also the founder of Fore LLC, which provides education and implementation consulting to CPA firms that are committed to moving from a time-based billing model to pricing their work in advance.

More importantly, she’s a friend. Michelle and I have known each other for a while now, so when I ran into her at a recent conference, I thought, “It’s time to catch up on what’s new with advanced pricing and where the profession stands.”

But once we hit “Record” in our Zoom meeting, the conversation took a bit of a turn. It became more about relationships, really. This whole advanced pricing conversation inevitably comes down to value: What kind of value are you delivering to your clients, and what is that worth? To know that, you have to know your clients. And to know your clients, you’ve got to build a relationship with them.

Another friend — Joey Havens, the managing partner of strategic growth at Horne — dug deep into this concept in a recent blog post titled “What if I really am a trusted advisor?” Joey ran his team through an exercise to illustrate what their current client experience is like versus what the team wanted it to be. Here’s what Joey writes:

“We needed a litmus test to help understand our present reality around client relationships, experience and level of service. So here’s the test we used to help fuel our energy and resolve to #beEvenBetter.”

    1. “List your top five clients that you serve as their trusted advisor across the top of five separate pages. Almost everyone was able to do this in record time. No pain yet.
    2. “For each client, write down their strategic goals. This is where our most astute trusted advisors filled in “Be Profitable” or “Grow Their Business.” Even for the ones who were brave enough to list a goal, let’s just say, confidence was not overflowing on some of these insights. Many client pages simply remained blank. This first question got our attention as we realized that truthfully, for 80 to 90% of our top clients, we were not presently part of that conversation. We had not proactively collaborated with these clients to understand this important aspect of being a trusted advisor. You may be experiencing some pain now, as it didn’t take long for us either.
    3. “What does your client see as their biggest challenge or risk? At this point in the test, we really began to look at each other with blank stares. Sure, we had a few obvious ones on family business and succession, but for the most part, we had not been part of those conversations. You may see a common trend here.
    4. “Write down the date when you proactively contacted and scheduled a meeting with this client and collaborated on either of these key issues or a possible opportunity we identified as the primary reason for the meeting. Let’s just say at this point, we had plenty of blank space on our client pages and we were all feeling the full impact of that 2×4. It was stunning because we were running full blast in the dark singing, “We are CPAs, we are trusted advisors, we are busy, life is good…” Does this song sound familiar?”

Joey goes on to say, “I would suggest that we are not unlike most of our profession. We have been good first responders, answering the calls for help. Our clients trust us for technical competency, confidentiality, compliance and to respond timely to their requested needs. However, as a firm, we are not consistently serving and delivering on the trusted advisors promise.

“Being a trusted advisor should be a collaborative relationship where we proactively provide anticipatory insights, collaborate on opportunities and challenges, create significant value beyond our fees and courageously earn being part of a client’s inner circle.”

So there it is. Before you can start talking about adding value for your clients and how to price that value, you’ve got to go back to the beginning. You’ve got to know your clients. You’ve got to build a relationship with them, and that means having conversations with them. And I’m not talking about “Here’s what we can sell you this quarter” types of conversations. I’m talking about asking tough, getting-to-know-you questions and then shutting up and really listening to their answers. That’s where you learn what they value — and, in turn, how you can help.

So we’ve got a really great talk this week with someone who thinks about this stuff at a deeper level than almost anyone else I know. Listen to my conversation with Michelle Golden River here.

 

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