Why Accountants Are Really Good At Referrals But Really Bad At Customer Success

by Ivan Mazour

accountant3_45d59c8d23e7424af7596340521fa6f3Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to get a good accountant. I have. Over and over again. Because the story always seems to go the same way. You ask everyone in your network whether they are working with a good one, and get recommendations. You pick the best one, meet them, and they seem amazing. A breath of fresh air compared to your current one. They understand your troubles. They understand that you need someone proactive – someone who will tell you when you’ve made an error, not someone you need to chase and check. They understand how hard your job is, and that you just need someone you can trust and rely on.

So you hire them, and suddenly things are great. Things are being done properly. You have one less thing to worry about. And of course, as you get asked for accountant recommendations, you, being the helpful person that you are, introduce your new accountants to everyone you know. Because they are great. And this makes your accountants work even harder for you, because they can see they are getting new business through the relationship. It’s a virtuous cycle.

If only that cycle continued. I wrote a post a while back about how to approach working with suppliers, and detailed two examples of relationships going wrong, neither of which were with my accountant, but both of which could easily have been. Because, once again, I find myself facing this situation with my accountants.

With each month, more and more mistakes crop up. More and more regularly I spot discrepancies, need to double check what they have done, and find that they haven’t bothered to do their own checks. I reach out to the person who recommended them to me in the first place, and hear exactly the same story from him. What once was the perfect accountant, is now exactly the same as all the others.

Why, I ask? And the answer is once again the same. All of these recommendations have led to a spike in customer acquisition. They’ve brought on new clients extremely quickly. And of course now that they have done, they are focusing on treating these new clients like VIPs, and the rest of us are relegated to the standard level of service. The level that is just good enough to keep us from leaving.

Having had to go through this far too many times now, I’ve started thinking about what we can learn from this. And I believe that there are two clear lessons.

The first is how their growth engine works. Being an accountant can’t possibly be easy. You’re providing exactly the same service that is provided by hundreds or thousands of other firms nearby. There is no realistic way of differentiating or standing out. The only chance you have to acquire a customer is if they are unhappy with their current provider. And the only realistic channel you have is referrals – it’s not like people will click a PPC ad to pick their accountant. Not scalably anyway.

So referrals are their only engine of growth. And clearly this engine works well. The reason it works well is because it’s actioned during the honeymoon period. Would I recommend my accountant now? Unlikely. Would his latest client recommend him? Almost certainly. And then it becomes a mathematical equation. Does the new client make enough recommendations, and is the conversion rate high enough to ensure that each new client brings in more than one new client through a referral? If so then that initial client becomes irrelevant. It’s like an octopus, or a squid. Or a salmon apparently. Animals who die shortly after giving birth. Because nature says they are irrelevant. They’ve passed on their genes and they have continued their species, and now it’s time for them to disappear into nothingness.

So the first lesson is – hit your new customers with a structured referral program right at the start. As soon as they sign. While they are in that honeymoon period. It’ll never be better than that, so make the most of it. And make sure that, whatever happens, they refer enough people to get at least one new paying customer, and hopefully many more. Do this in a process-driven scalable way, and you’ve got an automatic engine of growth running, independently of what happens to that specific customer.

Ometria Founders 1The second lesson, however, is one that the accountants clearly haven’t got right. Gartner says that by next year, 90% of consumer product companies will have a Chief Customer Officer. It’s one of my favourite quotes. Because we’ve had a Chief Customer Officer from the very beginning – these are the four founders of Ometria, and the suave looking gentlemen on the left, James Dunford Wood, is our CCO. His responsibility, his only responsibility, is making sure that our customers see a clear tangible benefit from using the Ometria platform. That they are happy every single day. That they are never forgotten, and they never have to wonder why they are paying for our software.

Accountants don’t have Chief Customer Officers. But they really should. Because they are getting that part seriously wrong. The referral engine works for them, and so they stop caring about what happens to those customers. Because they’ve got themselves onto a path of growth. But that’s a seriously limited approach to running a business. They’re missing the multiplier that comes from having that honeymoon last not just for the first few months, but for the entirety of the lifetime of the customer.

With SaaS, Customer Success has become a well understood function – a function whose value is not underestimated. Whole companies, companies like Gainsight, have sprung up supporting it. Happier customers stay longer, and refer more new customers. Not just in the beginning, but throughout. At Ometria, we have two core values that we focus on, and overinvest in. The first is product – it must always be the foundation on which the rest of the company is built. But the second is Customer Success. We refuse to delegate responsibility for our customers seeing a benefit from our platform. It’s our fault if they are not happy. We can’t please everyone at all times, but we can be a company that truly, genuinely, cares about our customers succeeding. And I’m confident that this will be the core reason why we will win.

If only my accountants had a Chief Customer Officer. I probably wouldn’t be looking for my fifth accountant this decade..


Find out more on the about Ivan Mazour page.
And watch Ivan Mazour's TEDx Talk - "Why we shouldn't be scared of sharing our personal data".

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Evgeny Chernikov June 29, 2015 - 7:40 am

Good accounting firm obviously would have multi dimensional experience and probably cost advantage over the in-house solution or in-house+advisory. However after attempt #5, do these things still outweigh in-house solution for you or is there something else?

Ivan Mazour June 29, 2015 - 8:55 am

We have a good setup in-house, have done for a while – but we still need an external auditor to prepare and submit the annual accounts, annual returns, etc. And since we’re paying for accountants for this reason, we sort of expect them to actually advise us on everything else!


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