Are accountants picking the right cloud apps for clients?

Recent research,  for a series of articles on how firms are integrating cloud with services has thrown up some interesting other observations.

The positive effect on staff freed up to do more talking (read that as advising) to clients about what’s going on in their financial affairs is worth a post in itself.

But what really struck me was the tension between the informed technology selections made by firms, and the ability for clients to complicate matters and make their own decisions!

Bottom up…

No matter what thought has gone into carefully selecting technology for clients, most firms will (obviously) defer to what the client is using in the first instance, with the attitude of “it ain’t broke why fix it” – cloud or not. It was interesting though that so many interviewees were keen to point out that clients were increasingly receptive to change, or had indeed changed without necessarily consulting them.

With the wide range of choices available out there this can mean that client facing staff can often be dealing with more than the selected technologies chosen by the firm.

Interestingly, quite a few senior people within firms are fairly narrow in their perceptions of what tech is being used by clients. The marketing messages aimed squarely at the accountancy market are dominated by a small number of providers on the whole. This can mean that the firm can often ‘talk Xero’ be a certified Xero partner and advertise themselves as such, but not really recognise that they have a significant number of QuickBooksOnline or FreeAgent clients.

As one accountant told me “We’ve only ever sold Sage and Xero, but we worked out the other day that we had more clients on QBO”. Another was candid that she had never heard of FreeAgent while her client manager admitted to around 30 or so clients were on this system.

The impact of this is worth reflecting on:

  • What is the overhead to staff, having to know an increasingly wide number of systems
  • Have you actually selected the right mix for your client base? You may be selling QBO, but do the clients you attract actually need something simpler? Or perhaps more complex?
  • Are you wasting marketing budget pushing the wrong, or too narrow a view of tech options to your clients?

OK, so the counter to this is that it has always be this way. But you don’t have to go back too far to when it was pretty much all Sage, QuickBooks and a few others – all on premise installs.

But with cloud has come the proliferation of choice, and chances are until there is some consolidation it could become more acute.

Add-on a new complication

The ability for software to connect is one of the primary benefits to business of the cloud age. SalesForce.com really made the world of connected applications based in and around their platform very much their own, with whole businesses being based upon their integration.

Since then the possibilities have continued to open up. Xero having invested considerably in the fostering of their add on community (or eco system) is very much establishing itself as a major platform for connected apps – the recent XeroCon is testament to this, as were the major announcements around the product itself which were broadly dominated by how it would work with other systems (new bank feeds, Microsoft BI etc).

So the plethora of associated add ons provides huge benefit to the end user and the service mix offered by accountants.

In a noisy world the best  and most active sales and marketing approaches tend to win through, and you can see by the success of the ‘holy trinity’ of Xero, Receipt Bank and Spotlight in recent time that making hay when the sunshines can provide considerable market and mind-share. And don’t get me wrong, they’re all good products too.

What seems to be happening though is that the decision of what to offer clients has been perceived as a relatively straightforward one to make. We’ll take these three. There is plenty of room in the market for all of these services to grow further, but also for competing services to do a good job (perhaps even better job) in getting their messages out there as well. To be more precise some are already doing a great job in going directly through to their end user market. Not via their accountant.

The truth is, as we know, the end user business will make the final technology decisions.

Presumption could be a disadvantage

Is it your job to accommodate an understanding of all the permutations? Probably not, but to not be aware of which expense management systems are being used, which of the reporting applications are being used, and what other plugins a client has discovered and integrated all on their own- could leave you out of the loop, out of pocket and possibly peddling a message that contradicts their own experience.

While the market seems to be supporting an explosion of connected applications, it can be tough to stay on top. However, presuming you know how clients are actually running their financial administration could put you at a disadvantage.

As one interviewee put it “Not having the same level of insight as our clients could actually undermine the position of trust we have built up overtime, and reduce our role (and value) considerably”

What do you need to do?

  • Find out what clients are using – even if you think you know…
  • Discover and learn what is working for them, and what is not.
  • Ask your client facing staff, the same question. What tech are they having to engage with that clients are using.
  • Map it out, look at the overlaps and gaps – and consider the impact


The outcomes from this should be:

  • Ability to take an informed review of current approach
  • Formulation of how to influence client messaging and service proposition
  • Develop a cross sell opportunity – other connected apps that might help
  • Ensure staff are supported and can deliver efficiently

 

Principle Point helps accountants make informed decisions about services and cloud, and vendors to configure their best proposition.

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