This week I’ve been at the MSCPA’s Practice Management Conference.  There have been some really great presentations so I wanted to share a few of the best ideas with you.

“Trusted Advisor” Isn’t a High Enough Bar.   

The public accounting profession has long been enamored with the term “trusted advisor” to describe their relationship with clients.  This term has been used – and overused – for too long.  I’ll admit that I got caught up in the hype and was always willing to accept it as a good descriptor UNTIL YESTERDAY.

Amy Vetter says she wants your clients to “cherish” your service.   This brings to my mind a feeling that is too soft, too personal, too intimate so I am not ready to adopt this particular term.  BUT!  I do like the idea that “trusted” isn’t the best word.  In an epiphany it struck me that “Trusted” seems like a minimum standard.  After all, companies wouldn’t work with a CPA they don’t trust!   Each firm’s brand language will include a description of what clients can expect and always it should be a higher standard that “trust.”

“Likeliness to Refer”

Formally called the Net Promoter Score, the survey question “On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to refer our firm?” has been considered the best question to ask to understand client satisfaction for a few years now.  The responses translate to this: 9-10 promoter, 7-8 neutral, 0-6 detractor.   What I hadn’t heard before Shari Harley said it yesterday is that the follow-up question to ask:

  • (If they respond with 9-10) What did we do to earn a 9/10?
  • (If they respond with 0-8)   What could we do to earn a 9/10 next year?

4 Question Top Client Phone Survey

Shari Harley also had this great idea for asking your best clients for feedback with a quick phone call.  You’ll only need to call about 10% of your best clients because you’ll start to hear trends that you can apply to the rest of the group as well.

The script essentially goes like this:  “We appreciate your business.  Surely during our engagement some things went well while there were other things we could have done better.  We don’t want to have to guess about how to serve you better so can I please ask you four questions?”

  • How is experience different from expectation?
  • What are you happy with?
  • What were you surprised by?
  • What can we change on your behalf?

Here’s the kicker…. You now have to make the changes!   The benefit is that you’ll get a 9-10 net promoter score which means more cross-selling, and more referrals!

Close the Skill Gap for Rising Stars

This was my presentation.  You can read my October article about developing an excruciatingly clear path to partnership.   I shared ideas for how to close the skill gap for rising stars from their current abilities to the skills needed for admission to partnership.  Give them opportunities to participate in helping the firm in areas such as Marketing & Business Development, Recruiting & Retention, and Firm Leadership. I have ideas for specific activities in each of these categories if you need help imagining them.

Yesterday I also shared that the AICPA’s survey shows that “Younger firm members are ‘not ready for leadership’” is the most common reason (33%) that partners aren’t willing to retire.  BUT it’s essential for partners to eventually transition their clients and give-up their shares so the rising stars can buy-in.  There has to be room at the top for rising stars to move into.   To make this more comfortable for partners so they’re willing to transition, I shared the idea that a retiring partner can begin to receive their payouts, take a sabbatical, and return as a consultant if they’d like.  After all, “retirement” these days doesn’t have to mean that you play golf four days a week.   They can still have a roll in the firm, just not in firm leadership.

One of my session attendees told me that the AICPA has a webinar on giving employees 15 minutes at the beginning of every day to read a business book.  The attendee’s firm started doing this, even starting a library of books in their office, and reported that the employees love that the firm wants them to continue to learn and gives them the time to do it.

Dirty Dozen

At a networking session I heard a great idea… each quarter take a look at your worst 12 clients and communicate with them to either fix the problem or set a date to end your services.  Here’s why that matters…. Recruiting and retention are Top 5 issues according to the AICPA’s PCPS study.   Well, your employees HATE working for your annoying/rude/difficult or slow-paying clients.  Who do you want more – the terrible client or the employee?  You can only have one.

Partner Transition:  Gradual Release of Responsibility Model (GRRM)

Convergence Coaching presented on a great idea about how partners can introduce clients to additional team members in their firm while simultaneously coaching the team member to elevate their ability to serve the client.  This will help the partner to feel more comfortable sharing clients and eventually transitioning their book of business.

  1. You Do / I Watch
  2. You Do / I Help
  3. I Do / You Help
  4. I Do / You Watch


It’s been a great conference.  I hope you liked these ideas.  If there’s anything here you want to learn more about or implement in your firm, let’s talk.  Please contact me!

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Alison has more than fifteen years of professional services marketing and business development experience. She is a Boston College Double Eagle, holding both a BS in Management with concentrations in Marketing & Information Systems, and an MBA. Alison is a member of the 2009 Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of honorees.