App advisory starts with fact-finding
In part one of a five-part series on the complex process of systems advisory, Rowan Van Tromp walks through step one of the app advisory process: initial fact find.
Advising clients on the apps best suited to their business can be a complex challenge – even similar businesses will have different approaches and different requirements. A fact find is, therefore, an essential starting point in the systems and technology advisory process.
The basic purpose of a fact-find is information gathering, which sounds simple, but it’s often difficult to know where to know what information to get and when to draw the line of what's chargeable and what’s not.
A well-executed fact find can set the course for a successful and profitable project. Conversely, if this stage is not done well, it can lead to problems later on and impact profitability.
Broadly speaking there are two levels of Fact find. Getting the right balance between the two is essential.
- Initial fact find
- Detailed fact find or project scope (to be covered in part two)
Initial fact find
An initial fact find is a tool to help you initially assess leads by collecting information about their processes and problems. This will drive discussion around what the next steps are and the services they require to help solve their problems.
Aims of an initial fact find:
- Provide structure to the process of managing systems related enquiries
- Understand the problem in enough detail to make recommendations for the next steps
Executing an initial fact find
The first point of contact for a systems enquiry is an existing client or a new prospect.
Initial enquiry for existing clients:
- You might uncover a systems issue as part of a regular meeting with them, or having set up and trained them on cloud accounting software where you’ve gained an understanding of the data flows in their business.
- They may get in touch with their account manager through your offered communication channels.
Encourage your clients to talk about their business and schedule regular catch ups to pick up leads for this type of work.
Initial enquiry for new prospects:
- The systems enquiry might be bundled up as part of an overall enquiry for business services, or you might get a standalone enquiry.
These enquiries are different to accounts and tax enquiries, so treat them separately.
However you receive the initial enquiry, you must have a system in place for whoever receives the enquiry to follow the correct process.
If you allow for phone contact or an initial online meeting, keep it short, keep the conversation around processes at a high level, and don't become a scribe, you'll end up wasting a lot of time. Listen to them, explain your general process, and then ask them to provide more detailed information via your systems discovery form.
With enquiries through non-live communications, train your team to spot them and direct them through your systems discovery form.
At this stage, you need the prospect to provide you with information structured in a format that you can refer back to at any time and easily understand. I like doing this through a form which might look like this example.
Key things to avoid
- Providing immediate recommendations
- Committing to researching solutions without a formal engagement to do so
Do not make a recommendation unless you confidently understand your client’s app issues and you’ve developed processes for scoping and implementing solutions for. Even for apps relating to financial processes you have a strong understanding of.
Doing so is risky without going through a detailed fact-finding process. It is better to provide clients options with a simple report, explaining the app’s functions, its relationship with their existing app stack, and what problems it could solve.
Do you charge for this?
You would likely offer this for free, but if you do charge, it would be a small fee to indicate some commitment on the business's side.
What happens next?
Assess the form submission and decide if it is something that you want to take further.
- Skills and resources needed - do you have them in-house or would you need to engage outside consultancy?
- Time frame - do you have the capacity to deliver to the timeframe they’ve indicated?
If you want to proceed, explain to the client the next step: completing the detailed fact find (or project scope) to map the current process, people, and technology, and to scope out the key app requirements. Use standard text, tailored to the client’s business.
The end of this initial fact find is signified by the provision of a quote for moving into the detailed fact find.
Part two will cover the detailed fact find (project scope).
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Rowan Van Tromp is a director of App Advisory Plus. He is a member of the ACCA and is also a founder of Norwich FoodHub C.I.C. Rowan supports accountants in understanding how to choose and use the right apps for them and their clients.