For years now, we’ve been talking about how our profession is poised on the brink of massive changes, driven primarily by the explosive growth of digital technology. We have successfully predicted that technology will transform the way that we do our work and serve our clients. As recently as just a couple of years ago, the warning alarms were still being rung: make the necessary changes in how you operate and how you deliver services, or get left behind. The truth is that we’re no longer anticipating that changes will occur in the market—we know they already have.
In fact, we’ve gone beyond just changes that affect the technology available to us … now, we are seeing fundamental changes in the way that these technologies are changing client behavior and expectations. We’ve officially entered the Age of Disruption, where changes in consumer behavior are converging with the advancement of technological tools, creating uncharted territory for businesses around the globe.
One forerunner example of this disruption is the rapid rise and fall of Research In Motion (RIM) – the company that created the BlackBerry – which was perpetuated by the company’s inability to evolve its platform to keep up with competitive technologies that shaped consumer demand, similar to the iPhone.
In 2006, 10 million people couldn’t live without a “Crackberry” (the affectionate nickname describing the level of devotion Blackberry users had to their devices). Just a few years later (five to be exact … coincidence?), RIM’s BlackBerry and tablet products were totally eclipsed by Apple’s iPhone and iPad technologies. You want your firm to have Apple, not BlackBerry, in this equation. Now is the time to make changes to meet the current and future needs (and wants) of your ideal clients.
The challenge inherent in adapting to change for firm owners is to:
- Understand the wants, needs and purchase motivations of a new kind of client, and
- Remain ahead of the curve, as the market continues to experience perpetual change and disruption.
Therefore, it is imperative to pay attention to what is happening, both inside your firm and outside, in the environment where your clients live. While this may seem pretty obvious, it’s also easy to lose sight of developing trends when you are busy getting the day-to-day stuff done. This underlines the need to set aside the time to plan how your firm will respond and reshape itself to provide services your clients want (which are not necessarily the same as what your firm currently offers), as well as lead clients toward solutions that you develop to completely satisfy their financial needs. If we fail to do this, we will likely lose clients to competitors that are willing and able to serve them on their terms.
If all of this seems like a tall order, believe me, I know – it is. The consulting firm Accenture recently released a white paper addressing the challenges of operating amid constant market disruption and serving the new breed of consumer that this environment creates—one who wants both the service-oriented benefits of a traditional business model plus all the advantages of the “new” model that allows for comprehensive connectivity and customization. The accounting profession is not alone in this struggle. It is the same one being faced by businesses around the globe, from huge multi-national corporations to sole proprietorships.
In their publication, Accenture identifies three specific characteristics, possessed by companies that are finding success in the constantly shifting business environment that defines our world today. These include:
- Analytical skills – When organizations nurture a culture to anticipate trends in the market and changes in the behavior of their customers, and to use their own data to substantiate their intuition about product usage and services, their clients are better equipped to deliver effective solutions. This may mean tapping into your CRM and/or doing some focus groups or surveys with your clients to see how your firm can better meet their needs.
- An adaptive mindset – As a whole, the companies and leaders that Accenture studied were able to rapidly adapt their thinking and strategy in response to changes in the market, with a focus on trying to identify opportunities (rather than viewing changes as threats). This often involved lateral thinking about how they could leverage change to grow outside of their traditional core businesses.
- Agility – Two hallmarks of agile organizations, according to Accenture, are their hyper-responsiveness to change (these companies often make acquisitions and investments in their existing organizations when they see ripe market opportunities) and their ability to learn quickly from the changing environment, immediately sharing what they discover with stakeholders who can help them take action.
In addition to these characteristics, I believe that in order to be successful in our profession today, it is key to develop a business model that addresses our clients’ desire to have easily accessible services that are connected within a larger ecosystem by integrative technologies and tools such as micro-apps (small apps that do a single function, yet can be connected together to create a completely customized solution). This is the vision that Intuit® has unveiled for QBO, a trend that the market as a whole is likely to follow.
We should also be thinking this way about our firms and what we can do to help create a cohesive and connected experience for our clients at all of our organization’s touch points. Ideally, we should be delivering service solutions that are simple, seamless and salient for our clients, while also providing the exceptional service that builds loyal relationships and an affinity for our brand. It may not be easy, but it is critical to success in the Age of Disruption.