In a society where everyone posts their highlight reels on social media, it can be hard to get to truly know someone. You only see them on the surface—their good days and the things they want to brag about. Rarely does anyone post their lows or their daily grind. The same is true when you work with clients remotely; it can be hard to get to know them on a personal level. You don’t get to shake their hand, and you only make eye contact through a computer screen. It’s also hard to read body language remotely.
You might have clients across the state or across the country—in a climate the same as you or completely different, in a politically liberal environment or a conservative one, in a large city or a rural farming community.
How well do you know them on a personal level? What’s going on in their lives? What are their goals for the next year? You’ve got to be asking the right questions to build the relationship.
Emotion is what drives everything; it drives how relatable you are to your clients, whether or not clients like you, and how much they trust you. I can't overemphasize how important it is just being down to earth and not talking over the client.
While technological advancements and cutting-edge services, like virtual CFO services, have allowed CFOs to tap into the virtual space, it has its own set of obstacles when it comes to building client relationships. However, that’s not to say it can’t be done.
For your remote clients, you don't ever visit their place of employment or get to meet their team on a personal basis. So, in a distributed world, we ask questions; we don't assume that we know the answer to everything. And I think it should be that way in any situation. By asking questions all the time (i.e., about their life, business plans and future goals), you’re making yourself vulnerable. Clients really feed into that, and it helps them solve their own problems a lot of time.
Before your Zoom call, do a little research about your client. Maybe look up the weather in their area or the local news. It’s always a good idea to keep personal notes from each meeting so that you can refer back to them and ask relevant questions: How was your vacation? How is your spouse recovering from surgery? How was your son’s wedding? Make it personal. Remember, you are providing a much-needed service to their business, and, while you have their business financials in mind, make sure that you are building goodwill with them so that they feel like you are part of their team—not just an expense.
When Jamie Nau, Director of Accounting for Summit CPA, trains our internal VCFOs, he encourages them not to go page-by-page, word-by-word through a report. No one wants to hear that. Instead, he coaches them to call out the highlights, and then make it relatable. Talk about their business; talk about the future because that's what the client wants to hear.
The more rapport you build with your client, the more they see you as a partner and not as a vendor. As you ask questions, listen to what they’re telling you; what are their worries? What are their weaknesses? What are their strengths?
Good listeners ask a lot of questions; and what entrepreneur doesn’t like to talk about their business? During this conversation, you get a better understanding of their business goals and driving force behind why they do what they do. The key to consulting is bringing the conversation out; get the client talking and follow their lead.
It's not enough to just know a client’s financial statements and their books. Clients are looking for someone who cares about their business just as much as they do; invest in it and cultivate a working relationship that centers around trust and communication.
Go into a meeting, add value and listen; just have a conversation with someone. Don't just go through your day methodically checking things off your list. Go into those meetings being invested and being ready to talk and ask questions.
Contrary to what you may believe, accountants aren’t in the financial business; they’re in the business of solving problems. It just so happens that the problems they solve are related to finances. Your advice could be the reason a small business grows into a large business—one that is profitable and creates jobs, one that builds a community. So, it’s not enough to just talk with your clients about the numbers. Get to know them on a personal level and become a member of their team; invest in what matters to them.