“As a company, you need to get to the future first, ahead of your customers, and be ready to greet them when they arrive.” – Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce
Your client base is changing. At least it should be to sustain your firm into the future. That’s because by 2025, Millennials will make up three-quarters of the workforce and Gen Z will count for more than one-fifth. If the only change you see in your client base is that it’s aging, refer to Marc’s quote above and realize that it’s time to act. You must become intentional about attracting and retaining client organizations run by NextGen leaders.
First, let’s explore who is considered a “NextGen” client. They are clients or prospects who have similar motivators and are often (not always) led by younger Gen X or Millennial leaders. They are interested in technology, efficiency, transparency, flexibility and experiences. In the same way that these professionals seek different ways of working, managing others and being managed, they seek a different relationship with their advisors. Firms that are appealing to the motivators and interests of the NextGen business leader will find more success in sustaining their client relationships across generations. They will be better apt to provide the kind of value and solutions that NextGen professionals seek from their advisors.
One benefit of learning about your NextGen clients’ needs and interests is that they are parallel to those of your NextGen talent. Become smarter about this client demographic, and you’ll simultaneously become smarter about your talent demographic. Then, to be competitive, being more intentional and progressive in implementing changes will provide you a sustainable competitive advantage.
Now, let’s explore three ways to better appeal to the NextGen client:
Assess Your Firm’s Visibility
A recent Bill.com survey of 1,000 business owners found that Millennial business owners use referrals from family members and peers as their top source when searching for accounting services. Searching the internet is the next used resource. The survey also found that leaders age 30 and younger are almost four times more likely to use social media and three times more likely to use conferences as resources in their search for accounting firms. What we first learn from these insights is that it’s imperative to always work on deepening relationships with your existing clients and traditional referral sources. Strong relationships with referral sources and happy clients creates a greater likelihood of them speaking positively about your firm and referring you new business.
After your potential NextGen clients have obtained the advice and opinions of their family and friends regarding accounting service providers, they will move their search to the internet to learn more. Here’s an exercise to try: without typing a word of your firm’s name, what keywords must be typed in search for your firm to show up on the first page of results? If it’s taking you a long time to figure it out, it’s time to conduct a digital audit and then a digital overhaul. You want to be sure that the services you provide and the target industries you serve are mentioned in multiple places throughout your website and on every one of your team members’ LinkedIn profiles. This practice, called search engine optimization (SEO) helps increase your chances of being found from an online search when someone doesn’t already know your firm name. Your marketing professional should be able to help improve your SEO and there are countless resources online to help, too.
Also, be sure that your website is responsive – meaning that a user can easily view and navigate your site from any mobile device. Otherwise, you risk those individuals leaving your site as soon as they find it. This tech-savvy demographic won’t deal with a slow-loading site or having to continuously swipe across their phone’s screen to get to the other side of your homepage.
Next, you’ll want to ensure that your firm has an active presence on social media. Young professionals are using social media platforms to interact with brands and gather information. Make sure that your firm has corporate profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and that you assign a team member to post to them at least three times a week. If you don’t have a dedicated marketing professional on your team, one of your NextGen team members might love to take on this role! Then, educate your people about being active in social media from a personal marketing perspective. When your professionals actively post and engage on these platforms, they build thought leadership and expand your firm’s reach to potential client prospects and employee candidates.
Don’t forget to consider your presence at industry conferences or startup networking events. It might make sense to promote your planned attendance in social media prior to the event and post to and follow conference hashtags throughout to maintain digital visibility. Then, be intentional about meeting with young leaders attending these events.
Rethink How You Promote Your Services
The Bill.com survey asked respondents about the services their accounting firms provide for their businesses. They found a big shift in the services being utilized by business owners 39 years and younger who are taking advantage of bookkeeping, sales tax, payroll, CFO services and consulting, accounting technology recommendations and training, bill payment, budgeting/forecasting and invoicing far more than their more mature counterparts are. In an age where efficiency is top of mind, I’ll presume that these young business owners are outsourcing things they’re not skilled to do to professionals who are so they can leverage their talents maximally.
These aren’t the only areas where NextGen business owners have a need. They also find frustration with certain aspects of accounting and there’s opportunity for firms to provide more value in these areas. According to the survey, business owners under the age of 30 view forecasting as the most frustrating part of accounting while those ages 31-39 viewed reporting as the most frustrating aspect. Smart firms will offer assistance in these areas to attract and engage NextGen clients.
Provide Flexibility in Your Client Service Experience
It’s no surprise that NextGen clients embrace technology easily. These professionals are used to instant access to information online, and seek that same ability from their advisors. Providing them the ability to utilize and leverage data analytics, self-direct investments and use multiple ways of communicating with your firm will return dividends in the form of client satisfaction. Another recent survey found that 57% of Millennial respondents would “change their bank relationship for a better technology platform.” You should make it easier for clients to access their information from your firm.
Technology allows you to provide a more customized client service experience. When you provide your clients with dashboard views of their financials and key information, they can gather their own insights at any time of day and then come to you with questions and guidance. Outside of the typical phone and email communication forms, if you also have a live chat box on your website or in your portal and video conferencing capabilities, you enable your clients and prospects to choose their preferred communication form. Another interesting finding from the Bill.com survey was that 72% of business owners ages 39 and younger cited responsiveness by firms as the most critical factor in choosing an accounting firm, followed by providing strategic guidance (52%). Therefore, having multiple ways to communicate with clients and prospects, and promoting responsiveness internally is important.
The technology investments you make will appeal to your NextGen clients and talent. You can also leverage your technology innovations by offering technology consulting for your clients. Evaluate your firm’s ability to assist clients with their cybersecurity, service organization control (SOC) reports, ERP support, and risk management needs, to name a few.
Your technology strategy is crucial to your sustainability strategy. We’re just briefly covering technology in this blog, but you can read more on why these changes are paramount in this blog by Jennifer Wilson.
Lastly, consider how you’re billing clients. NextGen clients are used to paying for subscription-based services and we often hear frustration around the traditional hourly billing model. The Bill.com survey found that fees and the national reputation of a firm were the least important traits when choosing an accounting firm (chosen by only 8% and 15% of respondents 39 and younger, respectively). Instead, this group of business owners were most interested in monthly flat rate billing, followed by fixed fee project-based work. Think about your firm’s pricing strategy and what steps you can take to price creatively and move away from hourly billing. And, create intelligent packaging for your services so that NextGen leaders understand the value of the strategic advisor services you provide. NextGen professionals expect transparency – it’s important that you’re upfront about what services are included in your pricing and what is out of scope. Outsourced CFO services are a natural place to implement packaged pricing options and many firms are creatively pricing other services, too.
As you consider the changes your firm should make to better appeal to your NextGen clients, realize that you’ll want to encourage your clients to have similar conversations about their NextGen clients or customers and how they will change their offerings to better appeal to them. Educate them as you become educated yourself.
Work hard to avoid alienating your traditional clients in the process of making your firm more NextGen client ready. Be sure that you have a communication and onboarding strategy for helping your traditional clients take advantage of the changes you make. And, realize that there may be certain situations where it’s best to allow your traditional clients to maintain the service approach they’re used to.
We’ll continue to explore the NextGen client in future posts. For now, what characteristics do you see in your NextGen clients and prospects? What changes are you making to better appeal to them? We’d love to learn from your insights!