Gary Boomer is a visionary and strategist of Boomer Consulting, Inc., an organization that provides consulting services and peer communities to leading accounting firms. Gary is recognized in the accounting profession as the leading authority on technology and firm management. As a consultant and speaker around the globe on management and technology related topics, Gary’s expertise has led me to refer to him as the Pied Piper of the top 100 firms in the country.
Gary and I had the opportunity to speak about leadership and advisory services on the Scaling New Heights Podcast. Here is a transcript of our conversation.
Gary: Firms have struggled for years, large and small, with cross-selling. I think it’s because firms often operate in silos – tax, accounting services – and they don’t coordinate or collaborate. But in the advisory services realm, it’s a team sport today, in the larger firms particularly. That may be one of the differences. In a small organization, people may try to be the rugged individualist, but as you move into advisory services, there are different skill sets for strategic and succession planning than there are for tax and audit specialties.
You have to work as a team, and you can look at that team as being either people within the firm or you can go outside the firm to acquire access to resources.
Joe: Gary, is there an opportunity for the small firm that maybe only has the resources to do one or two aspects of this “above the line” consulting to partner strategically with the large firms, and are you seeing this play out?
Gary: Yes, we’re not seeing as much as I’d like, particularly in the strategic planning area. Think of how a strategic plan really opens up a lot of service areas to the accounting firm. Even a small firmthat goes in for a client and does a strategic plannow knows the vision of that company, the core values, the priorities, where they are going to put their resources, their dangers. And the firm can help with various services and those could be CFO-related services; those could be mergers and acquisitions services. It just creates a different conversation between the client and the accountant from when you’re talking about tax compliance or revenue recognition in the audit area.
Joe: Let's shift to tools, because we've talked about what we need to do and we've talked about why we need to do it. To me the tools answer the question “How?” You're working with a lot of larger firms. They're offering these kinds of services. What tools are they using? How are they doing it?
Gary: We always jump to the tool and I think mindsets, skill sets and tool sets are all important. I will say that as we’ve moved to the cloud, this has become more complex. As the advisor, I need to have a
toolbox full of tools, because you don’t just buy the tools from one vendor. You must orchestrate and put tools from multiple vendors together.
I like to refer to this as the business capability model. In other words, what tools do I need, not only to do the production of the accounting, but what tools do I need for scheduling workflows and managing my database of prospects? CRM is one tool needed in marketing and sales. What do I need in HR to not only do the payroll but also do performance reviews? What do I need to work with vendors? I really call them business partners rather than vendors, because they are part of the supply chain. If you treat them like partners rather than vendors, I think you get more out of them.
There are many of these apps coming on the market from various places, many outside the United States. Knowing which apps work together and the companies that are going to be around are very important. I think anybody who is going to be in the advisory services area today needs a good understanding of who the major players are. I’ve touched on some of the apps, but I haven’t mentioned data analytics. Most accountants have used a spreadsheet in the past. But there are many tools that do data analytics. They automate it and get away from the spreadsheet. These are all systems that take the data from your accounting systems, allow you to make assumptions, produce nice dashboards and graphics and do a good job of reporting.
Joe: You did a great job laying out those categories. I love talking about that categorical approach. With the categories, it gives you intentionality. When you go to, say, Apps.com to explore the QuickBooks Online integrated apps, there's this universe of products. Or, when you go to a conference like Scaling New Heights, there’s going to be a universe of app choices. The categories help you narrow down how to make your choices and make sense of all your options.
I love all the categories you mentioned, but there is one that I usually add that you didn’t mention - collaborative tools. They are among those in-house components, those internal firm-use tools. They would also include things like client-portaling, allowing your clients to upload their tax documents securely.
If you take the categorical approach that Gary just laid out, you can make your selections within those categories and then vet the solutions. Make sure you ask developers the size of their user base, how long they've been in the space, which general ledger solutions they integrate with, and how long they've integrated with those solutions. This will give you some idea of the most stable choices you can make.
The other advice I would give is to watch what your peers are doing. The popularity of something doesn't necessarily make it right or make it the better choice, but it could be a soft validator. If a critical mass of the top 100 firms have adopted a particular solution, then it's safe to say that there has been extensive vetting behind those decisions. Gary, would you agree?
Gary: Normally, I agree with that. Although, in the accounting profession, I would say the use of the term “cloud” has been very loose, and some of our leading vendors have been in the fog, not totally in the cloud. Therefore, one of the risks is just watching what the herd does. Now, if you watch what people who really know what they are doing and are peers who are on top of it, I think that is a good way to leverage some of your R&D. That is why we recommend being in a community for both large and small firms, so you don’t have the expense of all that R&D. Plus, having access to expertise and other peers saves you a lot of time and provides you with confidence in the market spot.
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