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Tax Practice Development

Getting tax & accounting clients to change — It can happen!

Trying to nudge your tax & accounting clients towards mutually beneficial change can be a difficult task, but it can be done in steps

For years, when I worked with tax & accounting firms on changes that would impact their clients, I have heard the same concern: But our clients won’t change!

I understand the concern, and the sentiment comes from real experience. Many staff members in tax & accounting firms have given up hope for most clients changing. And some have even accepted inefficient work methods just to accommodate those clients.

However, it would be wise to remember that the items or processes that you want your client to change are not just for your good, they are truly for the good of the client. Indeed, the change is in the best interest of the client.

What if I told you that there is a way to drive change for your clients? What if there was a successful method for getting your clients to change without feeling like you did all the work, or that you strong-armed the client and left them with no choice? To help them change, it is time to TRIP your clients:

      • Tell them
      • Relate to results
      • Impart tools
      • Place in the path

Let’s run through each of these a bit.

Tell them

If you have been worn down with clients not changing, this one hits home. You must tell your client what you need them to do. Hinting at it, beating around the bush, making passive suggestions — these are all approaches of those who are already accepting defeat. These approaches do not bring the issue that’s at hand to the center of the conversation.

The client is paying for your expertise and guidance, not simply for filling out forms — so give that expertise and guidance. As you tell them, if your authority on the matter isn’t palpable then the chance of success falls significantly. Palpable doesn’t have to be mean, menacing or overbearing, however, but it should convey the issue in ways that are confident, clear, and concise as you can articulate. If there are choices to be presented for the client, bring them into the decision. Ownership of even a small part of this change-decision will increase your chances of getting this change to stick with your client.

Relate to results

This is paired with the telling, of course. Do not only tell the clients what needs to be done and then skip this step. Because if you do, they you won’t see much of an increase in clients following your suggested changes.

Change is hard, even when the one changing is properly motivated. What pushes someone through when distractions arise? What urges that person forward when opposition to the change comes from some other source?

The fuel needed is the understanding of why this change matters. If you cannot clearly and concisely draw a line from the change for which you are asking and the result they will see, then even if you get them to start toward these changes, you will not get them to sustain. Now, these results come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, it is a direct impact on the bottom line, or perhaps it involves saving time, or maybe it’s about achieving client goals in a bigger, faster, or stronger way. No matter what the results, you have to relate the change to the desired outcome, and this includes reminding them why they care about the results.

For example, you can show that more cash in the bank will allow them to invest in their business or take that vacation. Knowing your clients’ passions and dreams will play a large role here in relating the change to most desired results.

Impart tools

The changes you are asking clients to make are not all mental changes — there are physical components to them as well. If you want the change to not just start but to sustain, then having a tool as part of the process is key to enabling the change. A tool provides efficiency, faster accountability, and the chance to build structure around the change. All three of these items are important.

Why do something different if it is inefficient? If the client is not provided with an efficiency element in the change, the relation to the result must be even stronger to make up for this shortfall. Tools should also include:

      • Accountability — I would hazard a guess here that we all know accountability helps to drive action. Whether the tool provides reminders, or simply shows success and failures (via filled-out or empty data fields), this opportunity to bring accountability into the process helps to increase adoption.
      • Structure — This is a big key for when distraction and opposition present themselves. Unstructured changes are the first thing to get lost in the shuffle. People get overwhelmed and then use the lack of structure as a reason to devalue or de-prioritize the change… after all, we often ask ourselves if there is no structure, was it that important to begin with?

Place in the path

The tax & accounting firms that get to know the processes and habits of their clients will be best able to take advantage of this part of the TRIP plan. The goal with this part is to place the change in the path of where the client is already walking. It is challenging enough to get clients to try and change one thing, but what if that one change can only happen if they first change three other habits or patterns? Our likelihood of success begins to fall dramatically. But what if you were aware of their process or habits and could find the place to put the tool or reminder in a place that they are sure to stumble upon – because it is strategically placed in a location with which they are already familiar.

For example, look at how some clients track their business expenses. To put the tool for change in the right spot (and even selecting the right tool to a degree) you would want to know where clients are when they are incurring these expenses. Are they online, or at a physical location, or at home at night, or in their place of work during the day? Who else is involved with the purchase process? When they take delivery of an item, is there a process already in place on which you can piggyback to verify that receipt tracking has happened? All of these questions can help you place the tool in the right place to increase the chance that your clients will use it.

Take heart, your clients can change! You have the right solutions for them, and their adoption of those solutions is critical to their own success. So just do it… TRIP your clients!


This blog post was written by Will Hill, MBA, owner of Will Hill Consults

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