Interview with Gale Crosley
By WebCPA staff
Gale Crosley has built a successful consulting business by making it her mission to help accounting professionals increase their firms’ revenues with strategies she has learned from her long career in business.
She has more than 30 years of experience, having practiced at Arthur Andersen, PricewaterhouseCoopers and a local CPA firm. Crosley has held senior management positions in business development, marketing and product management at IBM, MCI and startup technology companies. Over the years, she has helped bring more than 30 products and services to the market.
She now runs Crosley+Co., an Atlanta-based consultancy dedicated to helping CPA firms sustain growth, improve their mix of services, and enhance their client base.
An honors graduate from the University of Akron, Crosley is a licensed CPA in Ohio and Georgia, as well as a member of the American Institute of CPAs, the Ohio Society of CPAs, and an executive member of the Georgia Society of CPAs MAP Committee. She recently opened a Women’s Institute that advises firms on how to create a women’s program. Crosley is also the co-author, with Debbie Stover, of “At the Crossroads: The Remarkable CPA Firm that Nearly Crashed, then Soared,” coming out from Wiley in March. She talked to WebCPA about her strategies for helping firms grow.
Q: What’s your perception of the market for firms these days?
A: The market is interesting right now. For the last few years it’s been the go-go years. Firms are focusing now on the current client base more than ever before to develop opportunities in a more sophisticated and rational manner. I’m seeing a subtle shift in my business to helping firms with client management and client planning, to develop opportunities out of the current client base. They know there’s gold in them thar hills. There’s still healthy growth. They’re looking now for efficiencies. Firms now are saying, “OK, it’s not just about going out and acquiring new clients.” It’s also about being more efficient, creating movement to client planning, client pruning, or developing work through processing centers or outsourcing.
Q: Do you have a structured program for firms to follow?
A: Yes, part of my services include advising them with a very formal methodology around opportunity planning for current clients as a way to identify opportunities and pick the most strategically important clients. Some of this comes out of IBM. We had to get really good about account planning, which we call client planning in the corporate world. There are way too many senior partners who spend too much time year in and year out doing the same thing. If they want to grow the firm, they have to have different behaviors. They have to push the work down to less experienced people who can handle it. A lot of firms have tried to do this. Some are successful and some are not. They need to have a pruning-down program. They also need to have a pruning-out program to assess which clients get down to a soft landing spot with smaller firms or sole practitioners. It needs to be process driven to accomplish these objectives. When you get more efficient about how you process work generally, whether to give it to a specifically designated group of people or whether you collect work of a given type and outsource it, it has to do with having a leader that is charged with this and is committed to it and has the muscle and the ability to drive it throughout the organization. Often I see leaders being concerned about making sure they get jobs out, but they don’t really own the financial health of their niches or service lines. If we get them back to owning the financial health of their revenue segment, it helps drive how to do things better in the future, and that drives processing centers and outsourcing. I recommend that they evaluate it, and far too few have done the evaluations. In addition, they have got to get more efficient in relation to developing and landing new clients. Far too much time is wasted on identifying and closing new opportunities that are not right for the firm. A lot of people don’t have consistency in the sales process. There’s a trend of bringing in sales people and professional business developers to help partners do it better, and that’s all part of the efficiency of growth as well.
Q: Should firms get involved in new specialties and niches?
A: Yes, a lot of niches are languishing because the mechanics of implementing them are not well executed. The people driving the niches don’t know the basics of product management. They do the wrong things. They do a brochure and that’s absolutely the last thing they should be doing. The niches that succeed are where the leader has the natural ability or has learned somewhere how to actually get it done. It’s not a question of whether you niche or not. That’s the strategy of choice in a mature market like ours. It’s a question of how you niche now for better growth.
Q: Do you find that many of your clients are starting to work with multinational companies?
A: Yes, I am. We’re seeing it foremost in the manufacturing area, which has not had the greatest of markets in the last couple of years. It’s taking the manufacturing niche into new directions with international tax expertise as well as Six Sigma processes and operational efficiencies consulting. That is a perfect example of where international plays into rejuvenating a niche. The other area where international is poking its head up is in firms that get involved in multi-firm, multi-continent opportunities, landing larger opportunities where a company has far-flung operations around the globe. I’m seeing this where the CPA firm is in an association and therefore in a position to have other association firms involved in the development of the opportunity. That’s been going on for the last couple of years, and it’s slowly starting to expand. More associations are seeing this on their radar screens and helping their firms with this. I anticipate seeing more and more of that over the next few years.
Q: If firms want to focus on client development, what should they do?
A: If they want to grow, what they need to do is get themselves educated in three different functional disciplines and how they relate to growth. They have to get their hands around marketing, sales and product management. I call it the three-legged stool. A lot of firms have a wobbly stool right now. I find that corporate America is two to three decades ahead of the profession in their sophistication. When we look over at corporate America, we see many, many companies operating with all three of them connected together in a sophisticated way. Often firms that import people who came out of corporate America have the built-in knowledge and vision of what this looks like when it’s all built out. For firms that are not blessed enough to have this knowledge, then they’ve got to hit the books. They have to learn from other firms or from consultants. They can try to learn themselves, but I recommend never reinventing the wheel. Go out and find out what other firms have done and build upon their successes, which is why CPA associations are so valuable. I have a book coming out called “At the Crossroads” and it describes some of the details of what we’ve been talking about, how you take a practice growth model and how you build out the components of it. The book is done in the form of a fable. It’s a quick read about two firms, and the contrasts between them. One has adopted a practice growth model and built out the components, and the other one has not and is struggling with it, and all the ramifications of not having done it, and their decision to go ahead and get growth front and center in an efficient and effective manner. That’s the issue today with a lot of firms. A lot of firms are struggling with growth – not growth itself, but rather they’re struggling with being efficient and effective with it. For firms that for many, many years have put all their energies into the methodologies and the processes and everything on the delivery side and have got that down pat and are very efficient, you look over on the growth side and it’s been more willy-nilly. So it’s all about taking that kind of approach they use on the delivery side and applying processes and methodologies and resource deployment and quality control to growth and getting as sophisticated with that as they are with delivery.