From the June/July 2008 Issue
The Best Consultants Take Control Of The Whole System
In this ever-changing world of technology and solutions in the small business
accounting world, it’s natural for consultants to be overwhelmed by all
the vendors in the market who claim to have the best solution in their market
space. If you’re like most software consultants, you’re constantly
flooded with pitches from vendors about their new products and solutions. With
all of this “noise,” staying “smart” about what’s
best for your clients is a never-ending challenge. But I have some questions
for you. When you think about your typical client, considering their staff’s
skills in the area of accounting software, systems and technology, how would
you answer these questions?
Who is the best person to help make the right technology
decisions for the client?
Who knows more about the available solutions in the market?
Who is the best judge of how appropriate each solution
is for the client’s business?
Who has the depth of understanding of the functions of
your client’s business?
Who knows the most about how their workflows affect and
are affected by software solutions?
Who has the most knowledge and skills in accounting, software
and the specifics of how those products and any add-ons should be implemented
to ensure that the overall system accurately reflects the needs of the business?
The answer to all of the above questions must be you, their accounting software
The responsibility that comes with being the consultant is huge. You must take
charge in such a way as to become the decision maker (or at least have direct
influence with the decision makers) for what, how and when products will be
used by the client’s business. And I’m not just talking about which
version of the accounting product will be used, or which chart of accounts to
use. I’m saying the consultant must take responsibility for the ENTIRE
system, including all add-ons, the web store interface, the payment gateways,
the online payroll, the remote timesheet data entry, and any other LAN or web-based
applications that feed data to the accounting system.
If you don’t have complete command over all of these systems and how
they interact with each other, and with the General Ledger, you will almost
certainly have trouble, probably sooner than later. Most likely, the client
will expect you to have prevented whatever problem occurs.
I recently learned of a situation that underscores what can go wrong when
the consultant doesn’t assert him or herself across the complete system
of the client. This consultant is a true QuickBooks expert, but he is not familiar
with or skilled in solutions for the rental equipment business (which represents
about 25 percent of the client’s business). Therefore, when the client
asked for advice on what software to use for their rental business, instead
of researching the problem and gaining the needed expertise to help the client
fully, the consultant recommended a vendor and suggested that the client check
out the product on their own.
Since the client trusts this consultant implicitly, having built a strong relationship
over the past several years, the client naturally thought that because the consultant
made the recommendation, the vendor would have the right solution for their
needs. The vendor salesman, upon learning that the QuickBooks consultant referred
them, naturally assumed that their product was a good fit. Otherwise, the QuickBooks
consultant wouldn’t have recommended it.
Then, as the sales process continued, when questions came up, the salesman
did everything possible to help the client learn how (with workarounds) their
product could, in fact, solve the client’s needs. Of course the salesman
was acting in good faith and only trying to help solve the problem instead of
stepping back and realizing that the vendor’s product was a bad fit for
the client’s needs. Of course, we wish vendor salesmen would ask probing
questions about each client’s need and do everything possible to ensure
that their product is the “right fit” instead of just a “force
fit” solution, but you can see why that didn’t happen in this case.
And you can see why, in general, vendor salesmen are incented to make sales
however they can rather than doing everything they can to discover a bad fit.
Simply put, their job is to sell. The consultant’s job is to ensure a
good fit between vendor product and client need. Advance the clock forward a
few weeks, and you have the product sold, installation in progress and, finally,
the client starts seeing how it really works and starts to panic.
“This isn’t going to work for us,” they say, and they begin
to wonder what they’ve gotten themselves into. They’ve already spent
tons of money, time and staff frustration trying to get this new system up and
running, and now they’re realizing that the solution simply doesn’t
fit their needs, and it never should have been recommended in the first place.
At this point, the client is seemingly beyond the point of no return, and now
they’re looking for someone to blame for their misfortune. If not blame,
they certainly are looking for help to unravel this disaster, and they almost
certainly don’t have the skills on staff to figure the right way out of
the problem. Hopefully, you’re getting the picture here. So let’s
ask a few questions again based on what you’ve heard about this story:
- Should the consultant have recommended the vendor at all?
- Should the consultant have stayed uninvolved in the implementation, even
though he is the main accounting software consultant for the client?
- Should the vendor salesman have done more to disqualify this prospective
- Who is to blame for this disaster?
A) The Consultant, B) the Vendor, C) the Client, or D) a mixture of all of
What should be done now? And who should lead the client out of the muddy waters?
This situation clearly shows why the buck must stop at the consultant. In
this case, most likely the consultant will lose this client, or at least lose
the respect he once had from the client. From the client’s perspective,
the consultant’s job is to
a) keep the systems running smoothly,
b) recommend the right solution for improving the system, and
c) be there to support the client and resolve problems that are bound to
occur from time to time.
The whole point here is that, in order to deliver your services in a truly
professional way, you must assert yourself with each of your clients. First,
and most importantly, you must develop trust with your client; and then, once
you’ve gained their trust, you must take control of your job and make
sure you have complete involvement in every aspect of software, hardware and
implementations that affect the overall system.
Clients hire you because they don’t have the skills to do what you do.
So go out and give them what you signed up for. That means you’ll forever
be schooling yourself in new technologies, software solutions and best practices
for implementations. You’re already doing part of the job by reading about
new products and trends in The CPA Technology Advisor, but make sure
you drilldown on the learning by attending conferences, webinars and vendor
demos to make sure you stay on top of what’s available to help streamline
your clients’ businesses.
At the end of the day, the buck stops with you, but consulting is one of the
most rewarding jobs in the world. So enjoy the ride. Oh, by the way, I never
have found a good software solution for rental equipment, so if you know of
one, send me a note so I can tell the consultant and hopefully put them on a
road to recovering the situation.