In the world of QuickBooks consulting and specifically 3rd party integrations, as ProAdvisors, we sometimes can be clouded by what we know. A company comes to us with a problem to solve, we get an idea of what they are looking for and we immediately draw upon our knowledge. Knowledge of software, systems, what we have done in prior engagements, what we have heard others do, recent technology we have seen and a stream of other “solutions” we are aware of.
This knowledge that makes us so valuable in this workspace can at the same time create “blindspots” in our ability to offer and implement proper solutions. By going into these engagements with a conscious vision of what we think will work, we shut off the ability to see possible better solutions, we stop listening to our clients, we stop asking open ended questions and we could quite possibly install a great solution that could work in one environment in a company where it does not work at all.
How many times have we gone into a prospective client meeting with a solution already in mind? We have looked for all the reasons why the solution would work instead of all the gotcha’s that could be a deal breaker. We have catered our questions to fit the solution in mind. We mention features that we are aware of that the client would like. We quickly get their buy in, because to them we are the experts. What we have unwittingly done though is taken the focus off the client’s issue entirely and started discussing all the great features of our selected solution. We had made the client’s pain point, fit our pre-selected solution, not the other way around. In fact, we sold ourselves on the notion our solution would work. That passion alone causes our proposed client to buy in even more. We had created a solution that may or may not have solved the problem and more often than naught, had pushed the client into a solution without truly understanding their needs.
This temptation to push a solution without truly understanding our client’s needs is easy to do. We are constantly shown or hearing about all kinds of great software and technology. We are courted by developers to try their software, use free copies, We are awed by the great features we see in these applications. We are sold on their great features and we want to see our clients or prospects “benefit” from them. We have these in our tool kit of solutions and we want to look for clients to implement them. We have to have a knowledge of these systems so we can effectively do our job and we will use many of them in environments that truly need these solutions, but we need to be aware that the most important aspect of being a good advisor and consultant is to listen to our clients and prospects and then find a solution that works, not the other way around.
Going into these initial meetings and discussions we need to play the role of one of my favorite characters - Columbo the detective. Columbo was a very bright detective, but he did not use his genius to jump to any conclusions. He asked many questions, many open ended ones in fact. He would engage with his suspects, he would build rapport and ask them to show him how things were done, ultimately he would surprise them with how he put everything together and solved the crime. He did not go into his work with a preconceived notion, he dug deep, he did not take the obvious conclusion on first sight and run with it. This is what we as advisors need to do.
Consulting and 3rd party integrations should have some if not all of the following steps to be effective:
Without thinking of some preconceived solution(s),
- Ask the client what they see as the problem, what keeps them up at night,
- Ask open ended questions about the problem,
- Find out who else is affected by the problem and ask them questions as well,
- Ask what they are using to try to solve the problem currently,
- Ask what they like about that solution, what they don’t like about it,
- Ask them where they see the company going and are they looking for a short term solution or something that will scale,
- Try to get them to articulate an ideal solution, pay attention to what they are saying they need for functions, features. A software developer usually asks clients to create mock screens to see what the client wants or wants it to look like. Use this type of approach to understand what the client truly wants to see and use,
- Put this down on paper and show the client you understand their problem, this can look like a RFP actually, as if you were writing it for them,
- Do not discuss any solutions until you truly understand their issues and they trust that you do,
- Armed with this knowledge, you can now research and discuss solutions. Maybe some of that great software we are aware of will work just right, maybe a different version of QuickBooks will be better, maybe another pro advisor that specializes in that type of problem can be consulted with, maybe we don’t have a good solution and need turn this into a paid research project first. Maybe the solution is actually much more complicated then what we originally might have thought and by going in without a solution in mind we do a greater service to our client.
So try to avoid the temptation of digging into your virtual toolbox with known solutions before hearing what the client has to say, it will make you a much better consultant.
Jeff Siegel is Partner, Siegel Solutions, Inc., Lexington, MA. The company specializes in QuickBooks installations, setup training and ongoing help in closing months, reconciling various accounts, consolidating more than one company on QuickBooks, installing add-on packages to customize software solutions.