The Lean Times Series #1: Designing the Perfect Service

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Increase Your Odds with The Research Call SM

After several years of searching, I’ve finally found a top-notch book that discusses how to innovate services – Tuned In, by Stull, Myers & Scott. It encourages the reader to listen closely to their markets for signals about what’s really on the minds of the people they serve.

The book’s premise mirrors one of my most closely held beliefs – the best way for CPAs to learn what’s going on in a world they want to inhabit is to spend time with people who already live there. I call this activity The Research CallSM It’s intuitive and it works.

Now More Than Ever

I’ve been thinking about The Research Call SM a great deal lately, as more CPA firms seek reliable strategies for launching new services. Market shifts always create room for enhancement and innovation. The current seismic shift is driving different buyer needs. These days no one can afford to invest time and talent in unproven methods. So the task of growth, starting with greater market intelligence, is up to you and your fellow partners.

The Research Call SM is an interview in which you learn all you can from those operating in the “ecosystem” in which you want to swim. Thought leaders in the industry, as well as other providers, likely buyers, and competitors would all be appropriate targets for your inquiries. Questions should be laser-focused with an eye to identifying new features and services that provide solutions to the specific needs of the ecosystem you want to further penetrate.

Who, When and How Many?

When I set out to launch an initiative for women CPAs several years ago, I scheduled about 40 research calls. I knew there was a market need for firms to develop more women partners; the research calls helped me comprehensively hone in on the need.

Forty may sound like a lot, but at about an hour per interview this amounted to about a week of my time, certainly a worthwhile investment. I conducted the calls over a several-month period, which I recommend. During your visits, ask thoughtful questions, listen attentively and don’t be afraid to really probe. Write out broad open ended questions beforehand, and take good notes. Start with issues, which are a clue to needs and solutions.

Whatever the ecosystem, make sure the interviewees you select represent these categories:

  • Thought leaders – those active in the ecosystem with distinct points of view, not necessarily your own. These are typically writers, speakers, trade association leaders and university professors.
  • Providers of goods and services who know the buying habits of the buyers in the segment.
  • Competitors with whom you can compare observations and share insights.
  • Potential buyers – current clients and non-clients who fit the buyer profile.

The research calls I made for the women’s initiative were richly rewarding. I learned that female manager level CPAs were concerned about not reaching partner level at their firms. As a result we developed a women’s institute focusing on program design, facilitation and training. The Advisory Board and I developed an annual conference, focusing on leadership development. The research calls allowed us to get a lock on the specific issues and what the market wanted.

Stay Relevant

In a challenging economy, you’ve got to be more “tuned in” than ever. Use The Research CallSM to detect market shifts and anticipate trends that lead to new, relevant revenue streams aligned with your clients’ and prospects’ most pressing needs. You’ll find untapped potential and future revenue streams!

Gale Crosley

About Gale Crosley

Gale Crosley, CPA, has been awarded The Advisory Board Hall of Fame. She was selected one of the Most Recommended Consultants in the Inside Public Accounting BEST OF THE BEST Annual Survey of Firms for fifteen years, and one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting by AccountingToday for fourteen years. She is an honors accounting graduate from the University of Akron, Ohio, winner of the Simonetti Distinguished Business Alumni Award, and an Editorial Advisor for the Journal of Accountancy. Gale is founder and principal of Crosley+Company, providing revenue growth consulting and coaching to CPA firms. She brings more than 30 years of experience, featuring a unique combination as a practicing CPA in two national accounting firms, along with significant experience in business development in the cutting edge technology environment with such firms as IBM and MCI.

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