math blackboard trust equationMost CPAs and accountants are “numbers people,” adept at distilling complex information and analyzing datasets. But being a great numbers-cruncher isn’t enough; there are other “soft” skills that CPAs and accounting professionals must sharpen in order to succeed. They need to build relationships and connect with clients on a deeper level in order to retain their business — especially when another firm offers lower pricing.

So, how can an accountant become the go-to person that clients call when they are making an important business or financial decision? In order to elevate their status as a trusted advisor to their clients, and bolster client loyalty, accounting pros should consider this crucial equation:

Trust = Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy

This “trust equation” was conceived by David Maister, Charles Green, and Robert Galford in their bestselling book, The Trusted Advisor. Quantifying what it takes to earn clients’ trust, and therefore their loyalty, this concept can help accounting and other financial professionals focus on what matters most to their clients. And Industry Intelligence can serve as the common denominator in order to work through this equation.

Let’s take a look at how each of the components of this trust equation come into play for clients and how Industry Intelligence can boost your status with them.

Adding to client relationships built on trust


The first element of the trust equation is credibility, and with good reason. Your credibility is built on years of experience and knowledge accumulation. It includes not only your formal education but also your continued focus on staying on top of changes in your field: changes to tax laws, succession planning, technology advancements, and more. You increase your credibility by participating in professional and community organizations as well.

But another way to enhance your credibility is by choosing a particular industry or industries upon which to focus. Using Industry Intelligence, it is simple to build expertise around particular verticals, which will naturally attract businesses within that niche.

With Industry Intelligence, you can learn the ins and outs of how your focus industry works; have your finger on the pulse of the latest trends and risks impacting businesses in that niche; stay up to date by reading industry-specific news articles. Then consider taking part in those industries’ tradeshows or trade organizations to get your foot in the door with companies and allow you to showcase the expertise you have attained about their field.


Next, you want to add reliability into the trust equation. Like the sun rising in the east, reliability means you do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it. For accounting professionals, it’s the convergence of dependability, trustworthiness, and professionalism — all crucial characteristics that clients expect.

But what clients also desire — but don’t necessarily get from most CPAs and accountants — is proactivity. This is where Industry Intelligence can really shine, giving you the insight needed to better anticipate clients’ needs and bring them tailored solutions.

For instance, a proactive way to boost clients’ perception of your reliability, while also adding value to the relationship, is to share Industry Intelligence with the business owner. Print out a recent industry-specific news article to drop in the mail and include a note about how the article’s topic might impact their business. Or include information on current trends and risks impacting their industry in your presentation materials to tailor your pitch.


Finally, you will want to add intimacy into your client relationship to build trust. Accounting requires a lot of alone time behind your computer, so it can be an attractive profession for more introverted people. If this is you, it can be difficult to defy your natural tendencies and come out of your shell, but in order to become that trusted advisor to your clients, you must develop a personal, holistic relationship with them.

In business as in life, solid, trusting relationships are built by connecting on a personal level. It’s great to talk about family, hobbies, or weekend plans, but with Industry Intelligence, you’ll get clients and prospects to open up to you about their business. It can serve as an entrée to a frank conversation about their business goals, as well as the issues keeping them up at night, thus enabling you to provide them with customized solutions.

Let’s say your client owns a large animal production company. You know it’s been in their family for several generations now, but the owner is reaching retirement age. You might initiate a conversation like this:

“This is a business your family has worked hard to build and grow over the decades. I know a lot of operators in the meat production industry are older like yourself. Have you been thinking about a succession plan for your business? For many producers, there’s concern about the willingness of younger generations to continue the operations. Have you spoken to your children about a plan? Can we meet with our Business Valuation team to take a look at recent transactions in your industry to give you an idea and a benchmark?”

This is a very personalized and important conversation to have, and it will showcase not only your industry knowledge, but also your interest in the client as a person.

Reduce the self-interest, increase the trust

To be the go-to trusted advisor for a client, they have to know that, not only are you in their corner, you are putting their success first, ahead of your own motives or quotas, and anticipating what’s around the corner for their business, offering strategic advice, That’s why perhaps the most important factor in the trust equation is your ability to reduce self-interest. It’s sometimes easier said than done, but Industry Intelligence can lead the way.

For example, if you are working with the owner of an engineering services firm and have reviewed the Industry Intelligence on their niche, you might start a conversation like this: “Many firms like yours are able to minimize their corporate income taxes by paying employee bonuses and shareholder dividends at the end of the year. Have you considered this option in order to decrease your tax burden? How would you address any temporary cash shortfalls this strategy might create for your firm?”

Another approach that keeps the conversation focused on the client’s goals and concerns is to share local economic data. These stats can segue into an insightful conversation about potential expansion opportunities, or red flags that might be on the horizon for the client’s business. These aren’t discussions about how you can make a sale or increase your billable hours. They are about ensuring the client’s business thrives.

When you use Industry Intelligence to combine credibility, reliability, and intimacy — and you reduce your own self-interest — there’s no doubt CPAs and accountants will increase the product of the trust equation, exponentially boosting clients’ trust in you.

Get started today with a free demo of Vertical IQ!

Image credit: Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels

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