Ever thought of playing a game with your clients?

One of the more interesting and enjoyable experiences I’ve had in the past year is spending some quality time with Paul Kennedy and his team in his Goffs Oak office in the UK. I’m about spend another 5 months there to finish a project that I think all accountants (and other business advisors) should seriously consider.

Paul Kennedy has built an amazingly successful practice (O’Byrne & Kennedy – www.obk.co.uk) that provides a soup-to-nuts solution for progress business people. There are five things that cause me to describe his practice as “amazingly successful.”  They are:

  1. The high level of team engagement,
  2. The extraordinary level of engagement from, and the relationship he has with, his clients,
  3. The very high quality of clients he has attracted to the firm,
  4. The fact that (for the most part) he absolutely LOVES what he does and the variety of work he gets to indulge in, and
  5. The fact that the practice is phenomenally profitable.

If any of this piques your interest take a few moments out of your day to read a blog post I wrote about a “typical” day in his office.

There are many practice-changing lessons that I describe in the post so I think it’s worth reading for that reason alone especially if you’re interested in moving into the “advisor space” – I HATE that term but every Tom, Dick, and Harry (me included) seems to use it so I guess you’ll know what it means. However, one of the things I want to highlight concerns the OBK’s SME MBA program that they’ve been running for many years and which, amongst other things, is the firm’s principal marketing and customer selection tool.

Take a look at the following short video of Paul talking about the marketing leverage he achieves with the course.

And that brings me to the purpose of my visit to the firm last year and my return this year.

I have been at Paul for many years to put his MBA program into a form that would make it available to the accounting profession generally. But it’s not easy to take an engaged, incredibly busy executive away from the work he does on a day-to-day basis, so I said to him “if you give me an office and access to the internet I’ll work with you to create an online version of the MBA program.”

This is a big project because it involves not just content creation and curation but also instructional design and working with different learning management systems.  Because of the magnitude of the project I’m again heading back to the UK for another 5 months to continue working on it.

Enter the game

One of the things we decided to do as part of the learning experience is incorporate a business simulation game. As it happened when I was teaching I had written a simulation that I used in courses I taught in Management Accounting, Entrepreneurship, Management Decision Theory, and Business Strategy.

In addition to using it as a teaching tool, when I later became a partner in an accounting firm we decided to offer the game to high schools in our community. This attracted sponsorship from a local Government funded small business development agency, a big 4 bank and IBM and resulted in the participation by several hundred students from several schools in year 11 (age about 16-17 years) who were studying economics or business studies.

The students LOVED it as did their teachers and, as it happened, it turned into a major positioning and marketing resource for our firm. There’s no question in my mind that THE MOST EFFECTIVE MARKETING strategy for professional service firms especially is to be seen to do something for others without looking for, or expecting, anything in return. When an accounting firm does something like this it gets noticed (by the local press for example) for all the right reasons and in the process, is able to claim the mantle of “business advisor” specialist – think back to Paul’s comments about “positioning” in the video above.

Getting back to the OBK-MBA.

The participants last year also loved playing the game mainly because of its competitive context. But it also serves as an excellent learning tool for things like decision-making in the face of uncertainty, financial statement analysis, cost concepts, cost volume profit analysis, gross and net margins, cash flow and profit relationships, business valuation issues, financial structure (debt vs equity), performance evaluation, pricing issues, customer nurturing, competitive strategy etc. etc. This is essential knowledge that the majority of SME owners and managers do not possess, but should possess, and because the game runs over an extended period (8 quarters over 8 months –although it could also be played in a day if you wished) the concepts are re-visited every month and therefore reinforce the learning experience.

One of the things I learnt very early in my professional accounting career was that clients who have a basic understanding of financial concepts are much more likely to listen to advice and seek a “partnering relationship” than those who simply have no idea what we’re talking about and believe that accounting is all smoke and mirrors and that they must pay for services they really don’t want but are required by law (i.e. tax returns.)

I also learned that clients who show no interest in these things rarely achieve any more than mediocre success. Paul Kennedy can attest to this because those of his great clients who have attended his MBA program almost always refer someone and/or send their team members along … clearly he’s doing something right.

If you’d like to take a look at the Participants’ Guide, click on this link to download it and if you would like to try out an excel version of the game drop me an email and I’ll send it to you. (ric.payne@principa.net – please do not request it via this blog’s comment arena).

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