Unleash the Irresistible Power of the Client Agenda

How often do you meet with a client but not having an agreed agenda prior to the meeting? I would strongly recommend that you look at creating meeting agendas for at least 80 percent of your client meetings. Yes, it takes time but the rewards are well worth it. I see this as a core component of delivering outstanding service and one which will contribute to you coming [or reinforcing] your status as your clients MOST trusted advisor.

Have you ever attended a CPD lecture or Conference without looking at the agenda – aka known as the programme or what you will learn?

You see, the organiser has presented you with an ‘agenda’ – you know what to expect and what you will learn.

A major step toward delivering outstanding client service

First things first: When agreeing to meet with a client, or meeting with them to progress or sign off on your compliance work make sure you let the client have an agenda. 

Be sure to ask the client if there is anything they wish to exclude or add to in to the first draft. In this way you gain the client’s permission to work through your agenda and discuss what additional service or advice they might require and to add in matters that they consider pertinent to discuss with you.

Key points: An agenda respects your client in that you have sought and gained the right to explore areas other than compliance. Further, an agenda provides an opportunity to expand the scope of your service as you seek to increase the space you occupy in your client’s life. 

The agenda will cover the immediate matters that are appropriate and core to the purpose of the meeting.

Key area: This is the first area for the meeting to cover. If you have read my earlier blogs you will know that I regard our role in compliance as that of historian assurers. But your clients do not live in the past they live in the here and now with a very big focus on the future. That is where their focus is and the more we focus our conversations where they are living the greater your value and relevance to them as business advisors.

In IGNITE you will find a wide range of strategies for improving meetings with clients – just one of many many areas where you can sharpen the tools in your practice management toolbox.

I often say in my practice management workshops that one of the major differences between a good accountant and a great accountant is that a great accountant asked better questions than a good accountant. Then, having asked a great question, the next skill is to unleash the power of silence – let the client think and frame their response. This may take them time as your question transports them into areas that they may not have previously considered

For example, you could include a series of questions that will give you an opportunity to discuss their future, for example:

  • What do the next 12 months look like for you? (Do they have profit and/or cash flow projections?)
  • What is your greatest challenge?
  • What are you seeking to do differently?
  • What KPIs are you monitoring? (If none, maybe you could help them identify some.)
  • How is the business currently performing? (Do they require management accounts?)
  • What concerns do you have?
  • What threats do you face?
  • How else can we better serve you?

Client service tip: Many accountants make the mistake of giving away too much advice. Remember, a pre year end meeting is a compliance meeting, so do not give away too much advice but use the occasion to set up a subsequent advisory meeting and be sure to agree a cost for this service.

The power of questions

In my seminars I encourage those attending to talk less, unleash the power of questions and invest more time in listening. Questions should act as a searchlight seeking out areas where advice is required. They also act as seeds and if you sow them at the right time they will produce service opportunities that will enable you to grow your client relationship.

Key examples: Questions that might be asked to point towards your client’s need for planning in the next two to five years:

  • Where do you see yourself/your business in the future?
  • How do you see the business growing?
  • What opportunities do you see in the future?
  • Have you considered what you would do if you were not running the business?

Bonus question: Incidentally, one question you should slip in towards the end is, “Do you know anyone you could refer me to?” If they do, make sure you secure permission and contact information.

Key action: Like an actor who learns lines before a play, could you learn 20 great questions you can ask when on-stage with your clients?

So, will the professional survive?

“I can’t see any future for the profession beyond 10 years”. It would be unfair to attribute this quote but suffice to say that it was said more than once – and not just by me. The comment was, in fact, made by, among others, a senior member of a significant accountancy institute. He had just seen an advert from IRIS, one of the UK’s software houses that provides a very significant proportion of accounting firms with their practice management, accounting and tax packages. Many firms source all their technical software requirements from this company.

IRIS had published an eight-page promotional brochure aimed at business owners. It was entitled “10 great reasons to bring your accounts in-house with IRIS.”  The brochure continued “Thinking of bringing your final accounts in-house? You’re not alone… So why are businesses taking this step? There are some compelling reasons to do so…


Reason number 1 included this sentence “When you rely on a third-party such as an accountant or auditor to produce your final accounts, you will always be dependent on their resources. You have no control over their timescales and priorities, whereas if you handle the changes yourself, you can set your own priorities.”

Moving on, number 4 the brochure read …” Accountancy firms are likely to charge the same hourly fee for routine compliance tasks as for higher value work, so relying on a highly trained accountant for accounts production, where they cannot add much value, could work out disproportionately expensive.

“You’ll quickly recoup the cost of purchasing IRIS Accounts Production software by saving on accountancy fees. Being equipped to carry out accounts production in-house gives you more negotiating power with your advisors or auditors, too.”

A springboard for a myriad range of technology solutions

Now as I have previously mentioned, IRIS is a highly regarded company but like other technology providers, they see the end user as their primary customer. They know that if they don’t have a significant presence in the marketplace, other competitors will steal the march.

If you look at the penetration of companies such as Sage and Xero, you will see companies seeking to capitalise in the B2B marketplace.

What does the future look like?

What might the future look like? Who knows precisely?  Being a futurist involves an element of guessing. But I am guessing that there will be many companies seeking to occupy the space of providing online accounting systems reporting information directly to the tax authorities. The marketplace is likely to become more fragmented, and this might just give companies such as Google, Apple, Virgin, the banks an opportunity.

Whatever the outcome, it is less likely to be dominated by accounting firms.

Now, at this point I should perhaps mention that I do not subscribe to the traditional approach to identifying business ‘threats’ and ‘opportunities.’ Why? Well, on the flip side of every opportunity there is a threat, while on the flip side of every threat there is an opportunity. Therefore, I refer to these as ‘thropportunities’ or, if you will, ‘oppathreats’. 

So, back to my esteemed colleague’s assertion that there is no future – I could not disagree more. On the contrary, I see a very rosy future. But, the future is bleak for those firms that don’t grasp the opportunity that comes with this with this oppathreat. Some firms will wither on the vine, while others will flourish. Hasn’t that always been the case?