Gap opens between accountants and tech suppliersby
In recent months it doesn’t feel like the big software developers are on the same wavelength as their accountant partners. John Stokdyk sets the scene for a deeper discussion about these important relationships.
AccountingWEB’s initial Insight survey during the summer identified a puzzling gap between software developers and practitioners when it came to product recommendation and promotion.
Ever since Sage relied on accountants to roll out its PC accounting packages in the 1980s, the profession has introduced small businesspeople to accounting technology. The dynamic is perfectly logical. Accountants are the most trusted advisers among small businesses and the first and most obvious thing clients are going to want advice about is the best way to maintain their books.
But with the cloud accounting revolution in full swing, are software suppliers losing sight of the client-accountant relationship that supports their accounting systems? In many practices, those programs co-exist with similar applications because accountants fit their services into the client’s business infrastructure rather than the other way round.
To explore the state of this relationship, we brought together App Advisory Plus founder Will Farnell, Aynsley Damery from Clarity HQ and practitioner Jessica Pillow (Pillow May) for an Accounting Excellence Talk on vendors, firms and the battle for client service.
How it’s always been
Accountant and app advisory consultant Will Farnell has been one of the most vocal commentators on this issue in recent months. “There are certainly discussions within the profession about the intentions of the larger app providers and whether their focus is on the accountant partner channel, or whether the endgame of 5.9m small businesses in the UK is the true target,” he said during the 60min discussion.
“It’s no different than 20 years ago… There has always been conflict between vendors and accountants over the way products have been pushed out to prospects... It’s just the way it is.”
To defend his client relationships, Farnell works hard to position his firm as the first port of call, by staying in close touch with clients and using all available means to maintain those relationships.
At Pillow May, Jessica Pillow noted a growing remoteness from software providers during the pandemic. It appeared that the more the big platforms spent their money on TV advertising, the less effort they put into maintaining relationships and supporting accountant partners. Her biggest problem was a visible decline in technical support.
“Often clients come to us with a problem, but we need high-level support to help them. That’s the bit we’re struggling with,” she said.
All of the panellists contrasted the current situation to the intimacy of vendor relationships in the pioneering days of cloud accounting in 2009-11. Back then, the suppliers had very small teams and were looking for accountants to champion their tools, Farnell explained. On the plus side, accountants could pick up the phone to the managing director to sort out any problems. “But there was also the downside of sometimes using software that was not ready,” he said.
“They’ve got broader stakeholder groups to take care of [now] and have matured into vast corporations with huge amounts of investor money. That’s going to change the overarching objective. Being realistic, it’s understandable that we don’t get the attention we once did.”
But Pillow was not convinced. “Why do the fundamentals of account management get lost just because you grow? It's about being close to the customer and understanding what they need. They might understand that we can’t grow their software because we’ve got to the limit of what it can do. But it’s still important that we service their customers and our customers well. We need second line support, we need to know about the product updates... We’re not getting that and I just don’t know why,”
Build better partnerships
As a practitioner-turned-developer at Clarity HQ, Aynsley Damery was perplexed by the crossed-wires between the two camps. “It’s so easy to fix,” he advised. “Listen to your customers and be nice to them. For two accountants working day-in day out, there’s been a simple request that isn’t going to cost software companies that much to support.”
In Damery’s view, good software partnerships aren’t about one partner dominating the other, but working together with shared values in a win-win situation. To achieve that ideal, software suppliers need to know their customers well enough to support them properly.
“I want to be truly understood,” Damery said. “No two customers are the same... and I want my account manager to understand our practice, how we use software and our relationships with clients - all the nuances of different kinds of accountancy practice.”
The software vendor-accountant relationship continues to be the focus of a continuing research programme by our new insight service. To hear more about the latest findings, register for the Accounting Software State of the Nation keynote presentation at the AccountingWEB Live Expo on Wednesday 1 December. All attendees to this session will receive a free copy of the full insight report. Non Expo attendees can purchase the report from AccountingWEB for £495+VAT.
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