IN OUR OPINION, PERSPECTIVE #98 — December 9, 2019
(A Continuing Series for Leading CPA Firms)
To be a Standout Firm – You Need to be “Market Intelligent”
“ It is difficult for us to imagine that ten years from now,
customers will want higher prices, less selection or slower
delivery. Our belief in the durability of these pillars
gives us the confidence required to invest in
— Jeff Bezos
This is the fifth in a series about successfully transitioning to a stand-out professional services firm (PSF). In this perspective, we will continue our deeper dive into the major principles that creates a standout PSF, the 2nd principle – being “market intelligent”.
What does that mean? Simply put, too many firms struggle because the mindset and vision of the leaders and partners are stuck in Today. Their planning is more focused on beating the competition and tweaking the firm around the edges rather than focused on their client’s current and future success. As Edward DeBono stated “Companies that solely focus on competition will die. Those that focus on value creation will thrive.”
So, the challenge to becoming a standout firm is to figure out the puzzle of value creation. To create a value-based client-centric firm, it requires evolutionary vision – always looking ahead – building your market intelligence. Taking that one step further, as Philip Kotler states “Authentic marketing is not the art of selling what you make but KNOWING what to make”. The principle that surrounds value is that customers buy your services FOR THEIR REASONS and not yours. If your services and skills are not aligned with what the clients value, you will wake up one day and wonder why your firm struggling with growth and profitability.
Market Intelligent does not mean gathering market intelligence – it means using that Intelligence to ensure that your firm’s services remain aligned with your client needs, both known and unknown, both current and future.
The managing partner is thinking about her next partner meeting and the second principle for creating a stand out firm – being market intelligent. Her partners responded well to the message about becoming a standout team and now she needs to think about what it means to be market intelligent and the message she has to deliver.
As she thinks about the message, she knows she wants the firm to stand out among competitors and be the firm that reflects one that is at the top of its game today and a firm that anticipates market shifts ensuring that its services, team, and marketing reflect a forward-thinking – market intelligent PSF. She realizes that the firm needs to not only understand the TODAY dynamics of the markets and clients it serves but a firm that is seen as innovative, creative, adaptive and in front of market change. She is reminded of something she read from Mark Gouldson about needing “to get out of our mindset and into the aspirational mindset of clients to create services that they will need in the future”.
So, the question is – what needs to change? As she thinks about this, she realizes that creating a market intelligent firm requires a clear road map that has three distinct milestones:
- Fix what needs fixing first – the firm must take the steps to fix any current aspect of the firm that is not performing at its best.
- Client-centric structure – they must stop planning and structuring all aspects of the firm based on what the firm should look like 5 years from now and start planning and structuring based on what clients will look like and need 5 years from now.
- Market Intelligent Alignment – the profession and the market we live in is like a river – sometimes flowing slowly with a few curves and gentle current and sometimes with gushing rapids making it difficult to maintain course unless you have the right equipment, maintain a constant awareness of current conditions, anticipate what lies ahead and finally adjust your approach to maintaining control based on what the forward view of the rapids is telling you. Too many firms operate as if the river’s flow (the market) is always calm with little change – complacent in their view of the moment. A standout, top performing firm will always operate as if they are in the rapids, always with 20/20 forward vision allowing it to successfully navigate the rapids. With that forward vision, a standout firm will always adjust to the rapids (i.e., their service portfolio, team, partner expectations, marketing, training and service delivery). It will always anticipate what the next invisible curve in the rapids will present and adapting to successfully navigate its future.
Question – What are you doing to ensure that your firm is successfully navigating the market rapids and not operating as if the waters will always be calm?
The challenge is does your team have the confidence, strength, and talent to aggressively and constantly adapt to what the firm’s current and prospective clients need not just today, but in the future – is your team ready to be market intelligent? To apply Jeff Bezos quote from above, can you imagine clients selecting firms and wanting services that don’t help them be successful, service partners that are compliance-driven and not Advisor driven, higher fees with less value? We have as a profession for so long lived in a relatively inward-focused world delivering compliance, services that don’t add value or solid business advice to help clients be more successful. To meet the challenge of becoming a market intelligent and truly client-focused firm takes the courage of leadership and the confidence of the entire team.
In Our Opinion, for any firm that wants to standout, the transformation starts with the commitment to creating a standout team and not accepting anything less. The second principle or step is creating a value-based operating model that consistently delivers top level, value-based services addressing client’s needs today and one that anticipates client future needs based on being market intelligent and adapting ahead of competitors. Clients today and certainly future CEOs want firms and partners that deliver more than compliance and tax services. They want a firm and partners that add value and that help their clients succeed. You can’t be that firm or partner unless you are 100% market intelligent anchored by a standout team top to bottom.
Creating a market intelligent, value-based firm will propel you to a market leadership position that will be the envy of most other firms – guaranteed. A truly standout firm understands that unless its service portfolio and client focus is on what will make its clients more successful, it will just be another me-to firm in a sea of me-to firms. Standing out takes courage, but intelligent courage based on forward vision that is 20/20.
Tony Zecca (CPA and retired CohnReznick partner and National Director of the Advisory Group) is a ESPOSITO CEO2CEO consultant who is brought into client assignments for his skill in strategy, growth and transformation . ESPOSITO CEO2CEO, LLC — a boutique advisory firm consulting to leading CPA and other professional services firms on strategy, succession planning and mergers, acquisitions and integration is actively led by Dom Esposito, CPA. Dom, voted as one of the most influential people in the profession for two consecutive years by Accounting Today, authored a book, published by www.CPATrendlines.com., entitled “8 Steps to Great” which is a primer for CEOs, managing partners and other senior partners. In Our Opinion, is a continuing series of perspectives for leading CPA firms where Dom and his colleagues share insights, experiences and wisdom with firm leaders who want to “run with the big dogs” and develop their firms into sustainable brands. Dom welcomes questions and can be contacted at either firstname.lastname@example.org or 203.292.3277.