How to sell automation to clients (an intro to automation, part 5)

by
Keir Thomas-Bryant
September 27, 2022
Two people discussing a topic in an office environment

As the previous instalments of this five-part series of articles have shown, automation starts with you and your practice. But that's only half the picture.

The previous instalments of this series are:

In this fifth and final article, we look at getting clients to automate as much as possible of their accounting processes.

This creates additional time savings and efficiencies that really can benefit your firm’s bottom line. It’s even possible to earn additional revenue via the partner programmes offered by automation software vendors such as AutoEntry.

Therefore, upselling automation to clients can be transformational for both you and them.

Here’s some ways to put that into practice. The topics covered are:

Why should clients automate?

From your perspective, getting clients to automate means that the data you need for their accounting arrives at your office in the best possible form.

For example, if the client uses AutoEntry to scan a receipt after buying supplies then, when the data arrives at your office, you can be certain of the following:

  1. You know it’s a receipt, and not some other kind of paperwork.
  2. The line-level data has been extracted and identified (e.g. cost, date, VAT point etc). Rules might also be used to categorise it ready for publishing through to accounting software, saving even more time.
  3. The data is in digital form, ready to continue its digital journey. This is vital for Making Tax Digital in its various forms.

Unsurprisingly, from a client’s perspective, the reasons they should automate are broadly the same as yours. It saves time. It makes life easier. It eliminates the drudge work that nobody enjoys.

But there is, of course, an important difference. While working on accounting is how you make money, that situation is entirely inverted for the client.

While they’re taking care of admin, your client isn’t earning anything.

Even worse, they’re effectively losing money because every hour spent on admin is an hour they could be working for clients or customers. It’s for this reason that many clients put off admin work until the weekend, which adds to their stress levels (not least when the weekend is a blur of family activity and they aren’t able to even touch their P&L!).

So, in many ways, automating admin is even more vital than it is for accountants. It really can be easily quantified in terms of cost, in that spending £20 a month on automation software can save maybe 10 hours of admin work—hours in which the client can be out there amongst customers earning many, many multiples of that £20.

Encouraging automation amongst clients

So, you’d think it would be easy getting clients to embrace automation, right?

This is the hard part.

You might educate clients about why automation will make their life easier. You might provide them with the software, and train them how to use it. The new process required may be incredibly easy, too.

However, getting clients to automate manual tasks each and every time can be impossible.

The issue revolves around the perceived importance of automation, and a handful of tricks can be used to combat this. Here are some suggestions.

  1. Communicate and refresh: Once you’ve explained how to use the automation software and process, don’t leave it there. Follow-up with the client. Ask if they need any further help or training to use the software. Ask how they’re getting on with it, and if you can help adjust any of their processes to make better use of it. In short, make automation a part of your client relationship and ongoing service offering.
  2. Provide reporting based on what the automated data says: Essentially, the goal here is to help the client see the value and to avoid making it seem to them as if they’re sending data into a black hole. Let them see that data entry automation results in a 24/7 accurate cash flow dashboard in their accounting software, for example. Use this data to help them make decisions, such as capital purchases, or plans for growth. Of course, this can all fit with any ongoing work around improved service offerings of this nature within your practice, such as periodic financial checkups.
  3. Build it into a wider automation project for the client: Any automation you request of the client is likely to work better if it’s part of a wider implementation project for the client. Data entry automation might just be one part of it (albeit the most useful and the one most likely to show instant useful results). The client can use their accounting software to automate accounts payable and bank reconciliation, for example. They can use tools like customer relationship management software to automate new client/customer acquisition, and client/customer onboarding. You don't have to explain all this to the client. That's outside the scope of what you do, of course! All you have to do is open their eyes to the potential. In doing so you strengthen the work you're doing when it comes to accounting automation.
  4. Provide a paradigm: Explain to the client how automation has changed how you do what you do. After all, from the client’s perspective, you handle accounting data all day long, so anything that cracks that nut for you is surely powerful enough to help them, too. Discuss how it benefits other clients, as well, and perhaps provide examples of how your other clients have implemented it. Remember to focus on the why, rather than the how: Quote real-world results of automation, such as time saved, rather than attempting to make a logical argument for automation. Things are easier to accept if there’s clear proof that new systems work.

Marketing opportunities presented by automation

Automation isn’t just an opportunity to save time and money, and make life easier.

It’s also a chance to communicate that yours is a modern practice, with modern solutions to problems.

Most new businesses today are created by the millennial and Gen-Z generations. These individuals have never known a world without advanced technology. They’ve never known a world without the internet, for example, or without mobile phones.

They expect any service they use to be as savvy as them—or even more so.

So, mention automation in client-facing marketing materials. Join partner programmes offered by automation software vendors and display their product graphics, and use any co-branded marketing materials they provide.

Experience also shows that if you’re using the same software as clients, then retention rates are improved.

Conclusion: Automation is the key

Expanding your automation efforts into the realm of clients is a win-win situation. But it’s not always an easy proposition to implement correctly or effectively.

As with any project, it requires planning and some forethought if lasting results are to be achieved.

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