Moore or Less: The Partner of the Future – What Skills Partners in Accounting Firms Need to Cultivate

MOORE-or-Less-Graphic_Lou-Grassi.jpgIn recent years, the landscape has greatly changed regarding what is required of partners in the Accounting profession. Given the disruption in our industry, partners of Accounting firms need to be consistently cultivating their skills in order to keep their firms developing and ultimately, remaining profitable. In order to understand key factors that partners of Accounting firms must possess to remain competitive in the coming years, consider the information below:
We’ve all read or have listened to speakers at conferences discuss the disruption that technology is creating in our industry. The partners of Grassi & Co. see this disruption as an opportunity.  Partners need to refine their consulting skills to take advantage of the opportunity to spend more time with the client strategizing than doing an audit or preparing a tax return.  Both of those items are historical. Both will, to some extent, be commoditized.  Consulting looks forward and adds value.  It has a strategic view as opposed to a historical view.  Partners need to set aside hours in their annual budget to improve their skills in non-traditional areas.  Firm leaders need to make this type of training mandatory. At Grassi and Co. we require our partners to set aside 200 non-chargeable hours for training outside of traditional accounting services (tax and audit).  For example, we had several partners enroll in Harvard’s online Data Analytics course.  We’ve had several others complete the Lean Six Sigma certification.  Our goal with this requirement was to put our partners out of their comfort zone and help them to be better prepared to provide more consultative services to our clients.  We believe that obsolescence is the outcome of standing still. 
Now that technology has grown exponentially, partners must not fear investing in technology with the potential to make their firm even better. A common example of reluctance in the profession is not seeing the value of data analytics, AI or cyber technology. The key to taking advantage of technology is for partners to continue to learn throughout their careers about technology, assess its potential value to positively impact their firm, and ultimately, invest in those technologies. Investing in promising technology is how the firm maintains a competitive edge, increased efficiency, and fosters positive growth.  Our firm has a committee comprised of our most forward-thinking people in the firm to push the envelope on technology.  We believe that the best ideas in this area come from an environment that is creative.  A top down approach does not work. 
Many partners were brought up in the industry where collaboration was frowned upon.  It was “their” book and “their” clients.  We put our clients at a disadvantage when we limit their resources within our firms.  We also potentially lose our clients to other providers who can provide better service.  The partners at Grassi & Co. are required to collaborate with their fellow partners to view the client relationship as holistic.  What are the key areas where the client needs strategic assistance to aide their growth and success?  How can our partners work together to exceed the needs and wants of the clients? Our niche/service leaders and our partners set strategic goals annually.  A part of those goals is to identify opportunities to collaborate with other service lines with their key clients.  We reward collaboration as part of our balanced scorecard for partner compensation.
The next generation in our firms are natural collaborators.  Senior partners need to stand back and learn from their example.
Partners Must Analyze the Market from the Outside-In
Rather than creating individual offerings of potential services, partners and our niche leaders look at what market research will tell us. Specifically we research what industry issues clients and prospects are experiencing. We build service offerings to deal with those issues and offer them to the entire marketplace. Partners should routinely conduct research call interviews to learn everything they can about market needs and conditions. They should develop a strategy to attract new clients based on the needs in the market place.
Partners Need to Be Actively Engaging in Business Development
Even though digital marketing has become quite commonplace, partners need to realize the individual value they can utilize to impact their firm’s success. Our work becomes a commodity if we only engage a client once a year.  Our clients place a greater value on our work when we proactively engage with them throughout the year and help them solve their most pressing business challenges.
The partners at Grassi & Co. perform research calls with influencers and clients, giving them an opportunity to gleam an inside look into what challenges clients face as well as help determine what areas within their companies require additional attention and strengthening. Taking the time to “touch base” with clients and influencers shows willingness and dedication to being at the forefront of your clients’ businesses and industries.
Partners Should Understand the Difference Between “Marketing” and a “Marketing Department”
A common misconception is that “Marketing” and a “Marketing Department” are one in the same.  Partners need to realize that “Marketing” is referring to the value of putting people in front of prospective clients that appears more authentic, organic, and believable, whereas the “Marketing Department” relates to growth driven by the Marketing team related to: branding, identity, marketplace research, go-to-market strategy, industry and niche strategy, digital marketing, social media, firm representation, PR, SEO, event support, email campaigns, data analysis, creative development, video strategy, proposal support, thought leadership, advertising, website, and writing.  Both “Marketing” and a “Marketing Department” are vital to a firm’s success; however, partners need to be engaged themselves in “Marketing” as much as possible.
Many effective tools are utilized by the partners at Grassi & Co. in order to “market” themselves. One of the most effective ways we do this is by continually interacting on social media platforms. By writing and posting original content on social media, Grassi & Co. partners promote themselves as thought leaders in their respective industries. Commenting and sharing others’ content is also very effective as it communicates their interest in their clients’ businesses, furthering their positive reputation in those industries.
Grassi & Co. professionals are often interviewed and published in industry-specific publications—a very effective tool of promotion as the publication itself endorses our professional as an expert, also communicating that to readers. Our partners also share those articles on their social media pages in hopes of spreading that message to their valued contacts and followers.
Participating as a speaker on panel discussions in industry-specific trade shows or seminars is one more way Grassi & Co. partners have an opportunity to be heard as an expert in the field. These opportunities allow a spotlight to be shown on our partners and communicates to attendees that “this is the professional they should definitely listen to”. This impression is also reaffirmed by the organization hosting the discussion.
Partners Need to Understand the Balance Between Market Maturity and Bringing Value
Currently, the accounting marketplace is mature, meaning that partners need to be reaching for not just easy business, rather business that creates long-term value for their firm. Service must be positioned above pricing pressures, low margin, and minimal innovation. Becoming complacent or lazy will stifle the firm’s potential growth opportunities. Partners must invest in firm-first growth strategies that require investing back into firms instead of solely relying on dated business development professionals to drive the firm’s momentum.
Partners Must Lead by Example
In order to be a successful partner, it is important to be an ambassador of what their clients’ businesses should look like in the future. Partners must contribute to a culture of learning, radical open-mindedness, and adaptation to change in order to be accredited as an authority whose expertise is desired, ultimately rewarding their firms with positive growth.
Final Remarks
In order to remain competitive and foster future growth for their firms, partners in Accounting firms must change their strategy entirely. They must have a positive mix of continuous professional development, skill specialization, receptiveness to changes in technology, developing their own personal “Marketing” platform, open-minded to invest in “firm-first” development strategies, and an overall lack of complacency to generate perpetual success for their firms. In the coming years, as the Accounting industry continues to change dramatically with advances in technology along with increased competition, partners who embrace these changes while using them as one of their strengths will enhance their firm’s ability to achieve continued success.